Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How Much Perfection?

After seeing so many perfect looking gardens in Portland recently, and whilst tidying up in our garden earlier I found myself thinking and wondering, how much perfection is needed when you open a garden?



We don't do open days but we do show our garden to individuals or groups of people. In fact we have two groups coming over the weekend. Although we're both relaxed and easy going about it (most of the time at least) we still anticipate and prepare for anyone's arrival with that extra bit of effort in tidying up than what we usually do just for ourselves. In doing so I also can't help but wonder what are people's expectations, do they expect perfection? They better not for our garden ain't perfect. We're happy to show but they'll have to take it as it is. Perhaps such attitude lets us prepare without panicking.

With the events coming up and work on the garden it makes you also reflect on what is there already and what still needs to be done. At the end of the garden after the filter house we are once again catching up with the jobs. The fences still need to be completed, im not sure exactly what we will do, Gaz was looking through the Buy Fencing Direct site to help us decide, something functional, or something more "designer", time and budget will no doubt influence us.

But what about me, do I expect perfection whenever I visit a garden? Honestly, I don't for nearly all of the time I just let myself get consumed with the emotion of happiness of just being there. I take in the beauty and look for inspiration, so much so that any 'flaw' just goes over my head without any notice.



Does this sound really positive? Well everytime we visit a garden we start in a positive mind frame and most of the time it stays that way for the duration of our visit. Sure some gardens we'll love more than others but there will always be something special in each of them, ideas and inspiration to take home with.

Positive but not blind. Yes we've seen poor gardens too, and even more annoying is that we have even paid to see them. Thankfully they are very few, rare, and far in between.

Going back to 'flaws', so I rarely notice them in other gardens. But I do notice gardens that are too perfect, too unflawed. Contradicting sentences? A garden that is too perfect, like being lifted from a photo spread in a magazine that has been airbrushed too much I find disconcerting, even strange. Where has the character of the garden gone? What does it say about the gardener apart from being too clean? And is that so bad?



There is perfect, then there's too perfect. Like a human face, put on too much concealing makeup and you also erase the character of a face. You get a mask instead. But isn't it more fascinating to find out more about the person behind the mask?

I'm rambling on too much now...

So how much perfection?

To answer my own question I'd say, perhaps perfect enough to show respect to whoever is visiting and not to embarrass yourself. But not too perfect so as to lose character. 

What about you, how much perfection?

Mark :-)

38 comments:

  1. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect a certain degree of tidiness. And I'm willing to overlook some weeds or less than perfect specimens if there are interesting plants, plant combos, or other features that I might want to consider implementing in my own garden. I've sometimes found character-less gardens on tours, but usually I chalk that up to it being a professional installation by a landscaper.

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    1. You're right about characterless gardens Alison, some of these types of gardens are pretty but screams 'maintenance contract'. As for tidiness, that's a basic requirement I suppose but I'm not referring to naturalistic planting or quirky rough around the edges types of gardens. We once went to an open garden wherein you can see some litter in between shrubs, I mean why throw those things in the garden when they can easily be put in the bin in the first place. And rubbish in a garden? Tsk

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  2. Your post calls to mind the classic gardeners lament: "You should have seen it last week..." We invest so much of ourselves in our gardens, we want visitors to appreciate it as we do but gardens, like people, don't/can't always present their best faces. Those who know us - and our gardens - take things as they come, exclaiming over the nicest features and letting the rest slide, knowing that, with the next visit, there will be other wonderful things to see.

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    1. And those people are the enlightened ones Kris, and they tend to be the best types of visitors :)

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  3. When people--or especially magazines!--show a photo of a garden, or of a particular plant, they're always showing it at its very best. I'm guilty of this myself but always find it somewhat disingenuous, even dishonest, as it subtly implies that the garden or plant always looks like that, or ought to look like that. What good is a garden that looks perfect just long enough for a snapshot one weekend out of the year?

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    1. Some gardening magazines can be naughty like that John, as you said disingenuous and rather dishonest. A garden that looks great and relatively perfect all year round is a reflection on the fine skills of the gardener.

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  4. Oh you guys, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, you know, with the recent events here in Portland. I kept flip flopping back and forth between thinking "give yourself a break, they know you've been working on other things recently and making sure everyone has lunch is more important than pulling every but of oxalis" to thinking that you all deserved perfection. It's a slippery slope and I suspect the answer is different for everyone.

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    1. You did a great job preparing your garden for the fling Loree, and to be honest your garden looks perfect all the time based on what we see on the blog :) on the run up to the fling we did think about the sense of pressure you guys must be feeling then, especially for you and Scott who are organisers with gardens on the itinerary too. Both aspects pulled off with great aplomb!

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  5. Like myself, my garden usually looks a bit frumpy. It does look really great for about fifteen minutes on August 15th at about midnight; the rest of the time, chaos. I garden for myself and if people are to visit, I'll sometimes try to blow a bit of the bamboo litter off the paths so that they can see where they're going.

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    1. Bless you Peter :) your garden is your private sanctuary and those who get the chance to visit are lucky!

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  6. What interesting food for thought!
    My garden is far from perfect in a conventional way, it's certainly not neat and tidy! I don't open it to visitors but did allow a journalist amd photographer in the other week.
    I hope my garden looks loved by someone who loves plants and wildlife. I've been to some 'perfectly neat and tidy' gardens that feel empty and unloved - my garden was just like that when we moved here 15yrs ago.

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    1. Your garden is perfect Celia, it's a reflection of you and its a beauty :)

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  7. You mean perfection like "this plant looks a little rough, let's remove it and replace with something else because they'll be here in 2 hours?" Nope, no way. Having visitors in the garden is like having visitors in the house: without them you'd never tidy up (am I revealing too much?)

    If a garden's focus is to be constantly shown off and visitors are regular, then I'd expect it to have a higher level of perfection. Your own personal space with visits once in a while, less so.

    One tip: invite mainly non-gardeners or gardening beginners. If you must invite other gardeners, try to get a look at their gardens first so you know how much effort to put in. ;)

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    1. Your comment about tidying up made me laugh Alan! Good idea about inviting non gardeners and beginners only, and checking out the gardens of experienced visitors too beforehand, especially if they seem to be the type that's judgemental...

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  8. The above comment from Celia has taken the words out of my mouth :) If I'm garden visiting a loved garden is to my mind more important than perfection.

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  9. I think gardeners understand there is no such thing as perfection. Most of us can't put a dome over the garden and control everything within it. I've visited some very famous gardens and found weeds, but that's not the reason we visit is it? I want to see what others have done that I might not have thought of and see plants that I've not come across before. It isn't the weeds I'll be taking away, it's the ideas.

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    1. Yes, definitely Jessica. Inspiration, the best thing you can take home after visiting a garden.

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  10. I like it when you ramble. The comparison to a face and the choice between perfection and character hits home. I'm always teetering toward the goal of perfection, knowing full well that it will never be achieved. When those rare moments of a little piece of perfection arise, I just hope I have the camera handy because they are fleeting.

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    1. Thank you Ricki :) one of the great things about a garden is that perfection can happen at any point, small and big things happening at different times, even at the same time too. Fleeting moments to relish, even better if you have a camera on hand.

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  11. Define perfection. One of my favorite gardens I've seen on tour was far from perfect but had tons of character and some gardens that are arranged "just so" have been uninteresting. Inspiration is what I typically seek in a garden visit and I usually find it unless the mess is a distraction or the plants consist of a boring row of annuals.

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    1. I recognise that the definition of perfection is wide and can be subjective Shirley. The great benefit of visiting gardens are the inspirations you take home with you. Mess and rigidity don't belong in my personal definition of it, that I know :)

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  12. Hmm problem posting here today so not sure if you get two posts from me or not. Anyway I do not expect perfection, nor would anyone get it here but I do like things tidied up some. :)
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Tidiness, not too much though depending on the style of the garden is a basic requirement I suppose Cher :)

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  13. This is an interesting dilemma that we struggle with at Sissinghurst too. As the garden is open all year round for seven days a week, there is an expectation that it will always look perfect. However, people forget that gardens have seasons. Flowers come and go, bulbs flower and die and certain areas of the garden can't always look perfect. Our hope is that visitors will always find something that is looking perfect right at that moment and think 'wow'. As you rightly say, total perfection is sterile and lacking in character. After all, we're in a garden not a museum. Helen (gardener)

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    1. The expectations are much higher for you guys as the garden is a destination and an attraction with a fee but I can imagine nearly all of your visitors are satisfied with what they see at any point of the year. That's a good point there, a garden is a garden with the cycle of life going on all the time. Should never be likened to a museum :)

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  14. What a fascinating subject and I guess there is a difference between perfection and pristine but I can't explain it. We all know what nice teeth look like but some people require just a lighter shade of white. I could go on forever about this topic but I feel an urgent need to go outside and clear some of the leaf litter on the paths :-)

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    1. I personally interchange the words perfect and pristine depending on the line of conversation, more often meld together Don. As for the teeth, well why not :))

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  15. One garden I saw that was a complete and utter mess was John Greenlee's former garden--he'd already moved away but the property was not yet sold. The house was unoccupied and the garden unattended for quite a long time. It was all overgrown, and had obviously been a laboratory for this and that unusual plant, yet it was quite amazing. You could see the outlines of what had been wonderful under the plants that had gone wild and taken over.

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    1. Gardens left to their own devices for quite some time can look amazing too Gail. I can just imagine what it would have been like wandering there. It's like discovering a lost garden, or a set for Secret Garden or Great Expectations.

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  16. I don't get to visit many gardens, but when I do I am in search of inspiration not perfection. If there are areas clearly under development that excites me, because it says the garden is a living, growing, changing thing, with gardeners who are still developing ideas rather than trying to freeze time. I think that can be the problem with some of the large historic gardens, they can almost seem botoxed, and can feel sterile. I was walking past a garden the other day that some interesting looking shrubs but a very high wall. I nosily lifted my camera up above wall height and took a shit, blind, and discovered a beautiful little knot garden growing around a well pump, and a barrow full of tools and weeds. That's my kind of garden!

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    1. Sounds like a great find Janet, a knot garden surrounding a well! Is there a chance you might be able to pop round and see it properly someday soon? Inspiration is something we can all bring home with us when visiting a garden.

      Btw, careful with your spelling, a wrong vowel on one of your words resulted in something that made me giggle this morning :)

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    2. Oops! My tablet has interesting ideas about how to complete words...

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    3. Oops! My tablet has interesting ideas about how to complete words...

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  17. I don´t expect perfection...I think gardens are beautiful even without tidying them up.

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    1. Spoken by a true plants person that you are Lisa :)

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  18. Hi guys, I don't know if you've ever heard of the famous essayist, Saki, but he wrote a short piece that speaks perfectly to this topic. The story is called "The Occasional Garden" and it is the story of a high-society lady who hires the O.O.S.A. (the Occasional-Oasis Supply Assoc.) who exist solely " for backyards that are of no practical use for gardens, but are required to blossom into decorative scenic backgrounds at states intervals, as when a luncheon or dinner party is contemplated." I won't give away the plot, but suffice it to say that Ms. Gwenda Pollingham did not enjoy her lunch. It's a hoot of a story and very apropos of your topic! Warmly, Susie

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  19. I tend to be a perfectionist, but perfect means allowing personality to show and making it look inviting. I like things perfectly imperfect, which I believe is the same thing you said. Having said that, I see every flaw in my garden, and without resources or stamina to correct them all, I tend to fret a bit when people are coming to see my garden. But then we end up having such a good time, who cares about the flaws! Hopefully, my flaws will serve to motivate those who are completely intimidated by grand gardens with lots of staff to maintain them.

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