garden plan

about Karen

about Karen
Interview

Karen in her garden Do you view gardening as an art form?

In short, I do. Gardening combines all the essential elements of traditional art and more. Not only does it involve color, texture, line, form, volume, but it encompasses all the natural world -- wind, rain, heat, wildlife -- plus the elusive elements of time and space. Most art objects are static, where gardens are fluid and dynamic and in a constant state of change. Gardening is like combining painting, music and dance with chemistry, biology and physics.

How does your artwork influence your gardening and how does gardening influence your artwork?

I see art and gardening as a kind of creative circle. One moment I will be weeding in a garden and look up and be struck by a pale yellow columbine floating in a sea of blue flax and the next moment I have got a brush in my hand painting with those same colors. Then I think to myself, what would happen if I lay on a little chartreuse with that yellow and blue, and the next thing you know I have planted some Lady's-mantle in with the columbine and flax.

What are the most important elements of any garden?

It is the combination of a particular gardener and their particular place that makes for a unique garden. Only as a gardener comes to know what they want and what can be done with their distinct patch of earth can good and pleasurable gardening take place.

What tips can you share about soil preparation?

The most important thing about soil preparation can be said in three words: plants, plants and plants. The plants will tell you what they need. The trick is to know something about the place where the plants evolved in the wild. Where did they come from and what was it like there? How much rain did they get? How hot? How cold? How long the season? What kind of soil did they grow in – sandy, heavy loam or something lighter? The answers to these simple questions will go a long way towards informing the gardener what kind of soil will enable plants to thrive.

How do you get a garden to bloom continuously throughout the growing season?

Getting to know the plants is the key. Do not limit the plants one puts into the garden, and consider annuals, biennials and perennials. So many things in gardening turn on the gardener's knowledge of plants – read about them, go see them and grow them. Develop a habit of visiting other gardens, public or private, visit often and take notes. Refer to magazines, books, catalogs, television and now the Internet. Information is everywhere.

Karen in her garden What is the secret of your stunning combination of colors, textures and shapes in your garden?

It is the eye of the gardener that defines what is beautiful and important and what is not. The only judgment that counts in the garden is that of the gardener, so the secret is to please oneself.

When you lay out the design for a garden, how do you begin?

I begin with the larger landscape. Where will the garden be placed and how will it be experienced? Answering these questions is crucial, and then the issues of style and color can be addressed. Will it be formal, informal or a little wild? What colors do I like during any given season?

How did gardening become such a part of your life?

I'll relate what happened to a friend of mine, since I think it is representative of most of us who garden. One day, 20 to 30 years ago, a client brought my friend a small potted annual. Upon reaching home that evening she got a spoon from the kitchen, marched out to a place in the lawn and commenced to dig. She has never stopped digging, though she no longer uses tablespoons. I don't think she knows what happened that day in the lawn. I don't think anyone does.

What is your favorite perennial?

No one who has gardened very long can answer this question, but…nearly any plant that is in front of me at the moment.

What did Gertrude Jekyll (one of this century's most influential horticulturists) say?

Let no one be discouraged by the thought of how much there is to learn. Looking back on nearly 30 years of gardening (the earlier part of it in groping ignorance with scant means of help) I can remember no part of it that was not full of pleasure and encouragement.