Several years ago I went to a social mixer being held at a brewery by the now defunct group the Midwest Ecological Landscape Alliance (MELA).
I was then in the process of changing my view of what gardening could be and this group seemed to be made up of like minded people.
I was changing from a control oriented style gardening I had learned at the Anderson Japanese Gardens where I was lucky enough to spend almost a decade.
What I was changing to was gardening with a purpose other than just our aesthetic enjoyment.
A Chance Meeting
Well long story short, I started up a conversation with a couple of interesting characters. Christine was the head of horticulture at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Ken, her husband, was a landscape foreman at an ecologically focused landscape firm.
As we talked, we found out we both lived in the same town. Then we found out it was the same street. Actually, it was only about a block away from each other!
I had in fact, admired their yard every time I drove by their house in the short time I was in my new house.
Dynamic vs Static Landscapes
You see, their yard always kept changing. Not in the way mine was changing. Mine involved me removing sod and planting new plants and eventually being very tired and sore.
Their yard changes effortlessly as their plants develop through the year. There are not only new flowers all the time, but also a changing mosaic of textures, leaf shapes, seed heads and colors.
It was quite different than the static image of a landscape we tried to maintain at the Japanese garden where the gardeners main job was to “keep the plants from growing”.
Take the following picture as an example. While this scene is stunning, it requires a tremendous amount of skilled work to maintain year after year.
I was very lucky to be able to develop some of those skills and knowledge through my experience working with Tim, Iain, Keith and Hoichi over the years I was there. Had it not been for vertigo I developed and the need to work on 16 foot ladders, I may still be there.
The sheared shrubs are easy. The trees would look completely different and spoil the effect of this scene, if it was not for the skilled pruning of the gardeners. It is certainly not nature. It is a created and manipulated scene to invoke a feeling of nature.
Don’t take me wrong, Ken’s yard is a lot of work too. He is constantly experimenting and making changes and adjustments, because he is after all a gardener. I think that is how to best learn.
As I have gotten to know him and Christine, they both have generously shared their experience and knowledge which dwarfs mine, with me.
Landscaping with a Purpose
Their yard is not only about aesthetics, it has a distinct purpose.
Biodiversity as a goal
Their yard is an ecologically sound landscape that supports life. Not only the vast diversity of plants it contains, but also all the native fauna they support.
Would you like to see more pictures of Ken’s yard as well as learn more about his ecological approach to landscaping?
If so, I would encourage you grab your favorite beverage, sit in a comfortable chair, push play and hit the Fullscreen button and hear it in his own words.