Beth’s Garden: Guest Blog by Beth Rawlinson

Until a few years ago, the only plant I ever had under my care was a small cactus. To be sure that it survived, I went so far as to put it in my carryon bag when I moved from New York to Wisconsin. I think that cactus lasted about 5 years until somehow it died. I don’t know why, maybe I loved it too much and overwatered it. Maybe the sunlight that it got from my apartment window was not quite enough to keep it going. Whatever the case, it was the only gardening success story that I had to share.

My career has been in illustration and design. I recently worked on a project that took every free moment I had, a challenge with two small children. When I was done with the project, I was burned out. I couldn’t focus on anything creative. While driving home one day, I passed a house that until recently had been very dull looking. It was a small 1970s tract style house with a flat roof, inexpensive windows, and faded stucco façade. I had stopped noticing it when I passed by. But this time I actually stopped the car to look at it. Seemingly overnight, it had been transformed into an absolutely fantastic house. It looks like it belongs in the countryside of Provence. The front is covered in stone and the windows are framed by age worn periwinkle colored shutters. It has a peaked roof covered with old clay tiles. Mature olive trees now line the front yard, and the garden is a collection of purple and white flowers. It is heaven. It is perfect. It completely inspired me.

I would love to be able to hire the designers who reworked that house, but I know that I cannot afford them. So after staring at my front yard for an excessive amount of time, I decided to take a shot at it myself. I have always been afraid of gardening. To be honest, I really don’t like worms and snails. I have a fear that everything I plant will die and that I will accidentally plant bulbs upside down. But the image I have of the house nearby got me to pick up the shovel and dig.

My approach has been to see the garden as a blank canvas. I decided to start with one main element, hydrangeas, and then figure it out as I go. I had pictures stuck in my head of some amazing hydrangeas that my husband took at a Heronswood Open House. Some are white and look like fireworks. One is a midnight purple and unlike anything I had seen before. Until seeing those pictures, I had not cared much for hydrangeas, but as I viewed his pictures, my attitude instantly changed.

My newfound enthusiasm for gardening comes from mixing colors and shapes together that make each other stand out. I have planted chocolate cosmos next to white roses and framed the pale green Limelight hydrangeas with cornflower blue bachelor buttons and lavender. I love adding little dots of color to jump out and break up the color scheme. I think of it as weaving colors and textures, and I am hooked.

My husband is away. My children have patiently visited nurseries with me and played in the yard while I have dug. They don’t know it yet, but tonight they are having a picnic outdoors that will allow me to keep digging into the evening.

When my husband returns, he will see a very different front yard. I am taking advantage of these days when I can plant with abandon. When he returns, I’ll be under the eye of a horticulturalist, and it will not be so easy to make mistakes. I think the mistakes are sometimes the best part. I was told once in the beginning of my design career not to take any design classes. The reason being that it was best not to learn someone else’s style. I am using this approach with our garden and having a huge amount of fun in the process.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2011 at 2:12 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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16 Responses to “Beth’s Garden: Guest Blog by Beth Rawlinson”

  1. Cathy W said:

    How nice to hear that someone else finds enjoyment in their garden mistakes! Not only is it a learning experience about plants, but also of yourself. I like the advise you were given – thanks. cw

    • Beth said:

      Thank you Cathy. I completely appreciate your comments. I think we would get along pretty well.

  2. mark said:

    Might be a little crowded before too long.

    • Beth said:

      Thank you for your advice Mark. I think it is a matter of style. I like when the flowers overlap a little such as the bachelor buttons are currently mixing with the Lavender. And heck, I can always move them around if need be. The fun is in making mistakes!

  3. Kathy said:

    Loved this blog! I also get so inspired on drives and walks when I see a beautiful planting. The plant combinations are endless and mixing plants is so much fun. I’m curious what the pink-flowered plant in your photo is. I probably should recognize it but I don’t. Keep gardening!

    • Beth said:

      Thank you so much Kathy. The pink flower is called Gaura “Ballerina Rose”. I fell in love with it because the stems are thin as wire and the flower seems to dance at the top. It is doing really well too.

  4. Nancy said:

    I loved your story and your garden is beautiful. Keep up the good work!
    When I am at a nursery and see a beautiful plant– I check for which light it needs. I usually buy partial light-morning sun and then mix shade. I figure out where to plant it when I get home. The nice thing of doing it that way is that, I have the plant I want.
    Go for it and keep gardening!! It is so fulfilling!

    • Beth said:

      Thank you Nancy. That is really good advice that I will put to use. Most of my plants seem very happy, but there are a few that might like to have a word with me.

  5. Panama Smith said:

    If you bring your life experience to your gardening projects it will bring you joy. There is no greater satisfaction than to take the knowledge we already own and use it in a new way. I hope you find equality with your husband, everywhere, including the garden.

    • Beth said:

      Thank you Panama. He was very complimentary when he returned which was a relief! I am enjoying this. I have to compliment you on your name. I love it.

  6. Anne Logue said:

    I loved your story. It is so fantastic to see how one’s persons passion can ignite our own. My gardening sense is like yours, more as an artist and not a horticulturist. Thank you for sharing your gardening story. I love to create beautiful environments and flowers are a beautiful way to tell a story.

    • Beth said:

      Thank you Anne. Your comments give me confidence in my gardening adventure.

  7. Lovely post! Well written, fun to read. I wish you the best with your sweet soil and creative eye.

    • Beth said:

      Thank you Lynn. I am new to gardening and to writing. This was a moment of inspiration for me. I am grateful for your kind comments.

  8. Doug Johnson said:

    Hi Beth,

    Loved your garden story. Somehow I stumbled on this blog site wondering where you guys live in Santa Barbara. Jean and I visited wine country last spring in SLO and drove down to Santa Barbara pier for seafood. We wished we had your addr. but sadly didn’t. Your old house has recently sold again. Hi to Nick, Henry and ???. Best. Doug and Jean

    • Beth said:

      Hi Doug. What a great surprise to hear from you. Yes, we are in Santa Barbara still. I’ll send a note to your e-mail address so I can be more chatty. Beth

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