Friday, May 21, 2010

Formal + Scruffy at CNU - Garden Growing Wild

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is conducting it's 18th conference in Atlanta this week. I attended a day of free events put on by NextGen, the next generation of New Urbanists.

When landscape architect / new urbanist Benjamin Morton showed this slide, he probably didn't know he'd nailed me. I'm formal + scruffy except I'm not formal.

This is the actual view from a European parliament building. It overlooks a kitchen garden.

Here is Ben Morton, landscape Architect at Carol R. Johnson Associates. He believes that landscape architecture should play a bigger role in new urbanism. The street plans write checks that the plants can't cash (see "Top Gun" script).
He said some startling things about trees planted between sidewalks and streets. He reminded me that oaks that are a trademark of my neighborhood crack our sidewalks and streets, crush our houses, and sometimes kill our neighbors.

Back to Scruffy
Some Morningside streets require much more landscape maintenance than others. I would shame Johnson Road. But my street is a bit less formal, easier and cheaper to maintain, and charmingly scruffy.
Chez Kearns with a lawn of clover, wild strawberry, moss, and mondo.

A Pattern Language has a euphemism for scruffy: "Pattern 172. GARDEN GROWING WILD." Not this:
"Many gardens are formal and artificial. The flower beds are trimmed like table cloths or painted designs. The lawns are clipped like perfect plastic fur. These gardens have none of the quality which brings a garden to life... "
But this:
"A garden growing wild is healthier, more capable of stable growth, than the more clipped and artificial garden. The garden can be left alone, it will not go to ruin in one or two seasons."
Anyway, I'm heeding Ben Morton's call to scruffy.


  1. I would have loved to have been there for what sounds like such an interesting and candid talk. I was a few blocks away when the tragedy happened and I'll never forget it.

    But yes, back to scruffy, I gravitate toward the slightly chaotic look and like Design*Sponge's phrase: We Like it Wild.

  2. Mrs. Greenthumbs (Cassandra Danz) would have agreed: if it's too much trouble it's not the right plant. Thanks for validating my style.

  3. Great presentation. Landscape architecture has not been fully discussed at the Congress. This is a needed discussion.

  4. Interesting what he said about trees. I love trees, old big trees, but I have a healthy respect for what damage they can cause.

    I like the scruffy style. In fact, I was in a different neighborhood earlier today noting that the street had achieved a beautiful, yet little bit wild look. It is much less expensive to go that route and very smart.

  5. Show photos of the window boxes and mint!

  6. From Dan Curl:

    From Dan:

    Come look at the 100ft Pecans in the backyard of our Clifton house. They are two of the very few remainders of the original Candler Park grove. They drop limbs on neighbors and just cost us 1500 to limb up.

    Japanese manicure their landscapes and create magnificent, though artificial, beauty. Theirs is nature-like (perfect man-made naturalism), unlike the formal English garden.

    I very very fondly remember the heaving sidewalks in Chico California where my grandparents lived. Valley Oaks there grew to immense proportions. Summers in Chico are hot (100-115) so the big trees were a blessing.

    Remember this on my Dead Oak blog?
    Hooker Oak was very close to the "One Mile Dam", a favorite swimming pool on Chico Creek. This was feed by Sierra Nevada snowmelt and is incredibly refreshing

    PS. Wallace Stegner


Blog Archive