I think one of the most common mistakes we all make with our gardens is what I call Cottage-garden Fever. Cottage gardens are chaotic mixes of one of this and one of that, and while the big mess may be quite charming sometimes, the unfortunate result is a lack of fundamental power. Gardens that use less species and more individuals of the species that are used are far more powerful. Japanese gardens provide a good example of the simplicity-equals-power theory.
Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to treat our gardens like botanical gardens in which the collections of rare plants take precedence. In California, I worked for some pretty snooty nurseries—the kind with limousine slots in the parking lot—and we nurserymen used to poke fun at our customers who had that sort of landscape. “Portuguese landscaping” we’d call it: “One of every single plant they liked in the nursery.” Of course, now that I live in Europe and know a bit more about the landscaping here, I know that most of the gardens in Portugal actually show a wonderful restraint that makes the gardens quite attractive.
I suffer dreadfully from Cottage-garden Fever, and I’m a sucker for anything that looks good in the nursery. But I know about this problem I have, and I’m pushing myself hard to resist and just propagate and spread the plant species I already have in the garden instead of buying new plant species to fill the blank spots.
Photo by Rick Gush
I’m similarly afflicted in the agricultural department as well. I’d love to have a tractor, a vineyard, a greenhouse, an olive orchard and every piece of equipment in the farm store, but I don’t really need any of that. I now have the space where I could raise bees, chickens, rabbits or even a goat if I wished. The attraction is very strong, even though we don’t actually eat many eggs or meats. I also have a fantasy about having a few goats and making our own cheese.
I do know, however, that I’ve already got more than I can really handle with the vegetable garden. I’ve got all the tools and equipment I need, and taking on the responsibility for some animals’ well-being is not a decision to be taken lightly.
All this made the recent ag fair in Rapallo a bit difficult for me. It’s a swell event with a bunch of booths selling all sorts of plants, animals and ag equipment. Bees, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats and sheep were all offered for sale. The annual event also features a stop on the Italian semi-pro team chainsaw circuit, and they play one of their dates here at this fair every year. I already borrowed a friend’s chainsaw to cut down the few dozen scrub trees on the garden site, so I don’t really need a chainsaw, but I will admit I find them very attractive.
So, I suppose it was a good thing that my wife accompanied me on my visit to the fair this year, as I successfully toured all the booths and exhibits without buying a new chainsaw, a new flowering plant or a gaggle of geese. I think the garden will be more powerful as a result.