Time and time again I drove past thousands of flowering Crocosmia on the roadsides of New Zealand, remarking to myself, “I’ll stop in a few miles and take a photo of this.” As a plant of South African origin, Crocosmia apparently loves Kiwi roadsides. I never stopped to take that picture, so the closest I can come is this Crocosmia planting pondside at the Christchurch Botanical Garden, strangely in the native plant section of that garden.
My thought, of course, is to imitate the New Zealand roadside effect–Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ in long grass–as ornament to my naturalistic garden. It will flare up in flower, then disappear, like the orange day lilies, into the grass.
I use that word “naturalistic” with thoughtful consideration, having recently read serious on-line postings on this issue–on the inaccuracy, downright dishonesty, and/or inappropriateness of that word. One is Michael King’s blog post on Perennial Meadows here; another is Emma White’s thought-provoking essay here. Both are now on the thinkingardens web site.
Michael’s point seems to be that “naturalistic” planting design has become commodified, and is now simply a formula (in the hands of lesser designers) widely used simply because it’s become a popular style, usually without any attention to sense of place or to the creative needs of the garden and the garden maker, in fact, that it stifles creativity. He has nothing against the style itself, only that it has become formulaic. He would also like to abolish use of the term “naturalistic” because he sees its use as dishonest, promising a true naturalism, a nature-based kind of garden, when it is not that at all.
Emma White’s well written and well reasoned essay tries to understand the meaning of the words “nature” and “naturalistic” as applied to gardens, and in her exploration she encounters a series of ambiguities and dead ends. She concludes her discussion by asking, “Is it time to rethink the language we are using? Could this be the end of the term ‘naturalistic planting’, or least the end of its ambiguity? It’s up to you.”
In contrast to these seriously considered opinions, I have no issue with using “naturalistic planting” to describe what I do in my garden or what many others do. But I’ve selected the meaning I want to use and it is mainly an aesthetic one. When I describe my garden as a naturalistic planting, I mean it is an artificial creation, designed to be aesthetically pleasing, but an artificial planting that imitates nature, that very much creates its own nature, using plants from all over the world, but plants well suited to my local conditions and selected to complement the garden’s sense of place. My use of the word “artificial” means nothing more than creation of a living community, or communities, of plants, just not communities you would find “naturally” anywhere in nature.
For a detailed discussion of the meaning of “natural” in today’s world, I recommend Emma Marris’ important book, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. I began my garden several years before Marris’ book was published, at first feeling quite guilty that I wasn’t limiting my plant palette to native plants (whatever those are; the question remains open), and using the horticultural and scientific writings of Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf to guide me. Now I find ecologists all over the world are are recognizing that we live in a world of created nature–no untouched, pristine nature exists–and our only choice, our only chance, is to learn to manage that created nature.
I know Lucifer is one Crocosmia that can survive my zone 6 climate and that it likes moisture (perhaps not as much moisture as I have), so time will tell whether this plant is destined to permanently join the other plants in my naturalistic garden.