Last month would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.
My grandmother was not only an artist, she was a “depression baby.” So not only did every material thing have material value, every material thing had aesthetic potential.
Consequently, although I do not feel qualified to make a judgment, there was a sense among my sisters that she was less than well-dressed. Regardless of whether this was true, there is an entertaining legend that my grandmother claimed the great feature of Alfred Dunner clothing is that all separates always match. Even though there is no Alfred Dunner children’s line, it seems that my grandmother’s Dunner sensibility has come down to some of my children when they dress themselves.
So due to the ongoing life of the Dunner legend, my wife recently asked me with tongue in cheek, “Is there an Alfred Dunner principle of landscape design? In other words, does every plant go with every other plant in the garden?”
Even though my wife thought she was spoofing, this is a real question. While doing some unrelated research, I came across a perfectly titled article, “Conquering Collector’s Chaos.” And, you can read articles on both sides of the notion of “Hodge Podge” in landscape design.
The application of the term “Hodge Podge” to landscape design goes back at least to a 1981 article in the New York Times. The negative connotation is that your gardening choices should be more thematic than the smorgasbord at Old Country Buffet. At least that buffet puts the ice milk bar at the end of the dessert table. But the point is that there should be thematic organization in your garden choices.
But this type of “shouldness” begs the question that landscaping is cultivation. And cultivation begs the question that some plants are more preferable than others. In other words, sometimes we spin landscaping and gardening as “natural” activities. However, the reality is that they are human-centered activities using natural products.
The “perfect” garden is nothing more than a master painting. But whereas an oil painting is relatively easy to preserve, in the garden painting, the paints are alive, trying to supplant the others and take over the entire painting.
Apart from cultivation, what type of “painting” would exist around your home? Well, in restaurant terms, the menu would be less of a smorgasbord and more thematic. Certainly, there would not be flowers blooming in neat succession throughout the year, neatly arranged so that taller plants frame a vision of the shorter plants. And this logical arrangement of plants is what keeps your garden’s separates matching. But the great part is that regardless of arrangement, the aesthetic components of the “painting” play a beneficial ecological role.
So, the Alfred Dunner question of matching plants is not really a natural or ecological question but a human one.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.