Massing or mingling, a (somewhat) moot point.

My argumentative friend Paul vanMeter died February 6.  Suddenly, shockingly, he is gone.  He was an astute and opinionated observer of the intersection of culture and wildness, and a talented landscape designer who incorporated those lessons in big and beautiful ways.

One of our last texting-conversations was about beginning this  blog.  I wasn’t sure what the first posts should be about.  Background on the nursery?  Practical information?  Paul suggested jumping right in to a contentious subject.


He and I actually saw this one mostly the same way.

In spontaneously occurring vegetation, plants mainly mingle.  There may be some areas where a few species dominate, but for the most part, every inch, every layer, is used by various plants finding their ecological happy place.  They coexist, they fight it out, they evolve.  Some species die off, others take over.  The vagaries of weather, animal browsing, and other outside forces are constantly changing what grows in a particular patch of land.  Naturalistic or meadow-inspired plantings take this tapestry approach and weave some seriously lyrical landscapes.

Jones-Road-adam-woodruffJones Road garden, Adam Woodruff + Associates

In many manmade designs, the opposite is true.  We are encouraged to distill and simplify the essence of a place, to make it legible by making it bold and massing large single-species drifts or uncomplicated combinations.  The landscape is made readable by the geometric or blocky quality of the plantings.  Pattern and texture become a set of curated and careful brushstrokes.

DSC02261Lurie Garden, Piet Oudolf

And which is better?

I think a more apt question might be “what purposes does your landscape serve”?  Is it to be aesthetically pleasing to its human viewers?  Does it offer screening or connection to the surrounding land?  Does it delight your eye?  Your other senses?  Does it bring you comfort and solace, serenity or energy?  Does it connect you to your environment?

Don’t forget we’re not the only ones using this landscape.  Does it provide service to the birds?  The insects?  The mammals?  Can it offer a link, a corridor to a greater landscape?  Does it begin to address some of the inevitable damage we’ve done through constant use and reuse of the land? Does it help reduce the amount you ask of the earth and its resources?

We encourage you to look through our plant offerings.  They’ve been selected because they perform multiple functions.  They are nectar and food sources.  They capture storm water and prevent erosion.  And they provide beautiful color and texture.  Pick one reason.  Pick them all.

Just get wild.

I hope Paul would agree.


  1. I am a fan of mass mingling!

  2. Love it! Thanks Naomi – I’ve backed slowly into a state of acceptance that despite our design intentions, garden landscapes will grow and change and mutate and various plants will migrate to where they like it best. Others die off. Surprising strangers get introduced by birds, wind, soil seed bank, or simply by mistake… And deer have become harsh critics – the ultimate arbitrators of what remains of one’s best design intentions…

    1. Surprising strangers and harsh critics indeed … landscape as performance art.

      My grandmother used to say (roughly, it was another language) “Man plans and God laughs”. The garden, when watched over time, reinforces that sentiment. It’s amazing how much it changes and how much effort it needed to try and halt, or at least curate, that process.

      Thanks for visiting, Mark!

  3. Which is better, indeed? Excellent qualifiers to that question Naomi. Funny how devisive this topic seems, but then again a garden is a very personal thing isn’t it?

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