Funky Gardening

By Charlie Thigpen

Photography by Chuck St. John

A few years ago, I left the corporate world and felt lost as I began to search for what I would do next. Then Linda Askey called and asked if I could help design her garden. It was perfect, because she needed help, and I needed some work.

I knew that it would be a fun and interesting project, but it was a little intimidating because it would be the first time I designed a garden for someone that knew more about plants than I did.

Linda had been my boss and great friend at Southern Living magazine.  I respected her and knew she would have lots of input, and I was excited to be working with her.   I knew the best part would be the funk and whimsy that she likes to incorporate into the garden. I had designed formal, cottage, woodland and many other styles of gardens, but now I would be working on a funky garden.

Plans and Preparation

Together we painted lines in the dirt. Nothing was put on paper, but we went through a few cans of spray paint as we worked out the dimensions of beds and pathways. Linda wanted me to draw the lines and she would color in between them. The only problem was that she wasn’t very patient. I asked her to let me get the drainage, soil preparation, arbors and fencing in place, and then we’d set out plants. In the mornings, I’d show up for work, and she’d confess that she couldn’t resist the urge to plant the night before.   Linda needs plants much like the rest of us need air and water to survive.

Kitchen Garden

We started by working on a small kitchen garden that would surround her existing greenhouse and feature herbs, vegetables and fruiting plants. A dry stacked stone wall was built on the lower side of the garden to create a level surface. No mortar was used in the wall, because Linda wanted to tuck plants such as thyme and oregano into the cracks and crevices between the stones. A French drain was installed on the upper side of the garden to help redirect the water and prevent washing. Loads of topsoil and organic matter were incorporated into the existing soil.

I installed an arbor and fencing and put a simple cedar façade on the front of the greenhouse to dress it up. I got a friend to build three tuteurs that we could move around the garden and let plants such as tomatoes, beans and cucumbers run up them. We painted the tuteurs red to inject color into the garden. I also made a flying pig out of scrap lumber to top an arbor. The pig was also painted red, and it spins with the wind.

Circular Garden

Once the kitchen garden was finished, we installed pathways leading to another garden. The previous owners of the home had an above-ground circular swimming pool, which Linda promptly removed. Since there was already a round spot cleared, I thought we should install a circular garden with a fire pit in the center.  One side of the circle has an 18-inch high stone wall, creating a nice sitting area.

Linda wanted to use mostly white flowering plants to surround the garden with a few chartreuse foliage plants. The white flowers would stand out at night as people gathered around the fire pit. Linda also found a source for recycled crushed glass to surround the fire pit. The glass sparkles in the sunlight and also reflects flames from the fire pit giving the garden a unique look.  Linda sets a large planter in her metal fire pit in the summer for a nice centerpiece.

Succulents, Grasses and Conifers

Between the kitchen garden and circular garden was a dry, sunny area that was well suited for, but not limited to, succulents, grasses and conifers.  Most of the succulents were placed above a series of low stonewalls with the taller plants creating the backdrop.  Now that all of the plants have been in for a few years they’re meshing together creating a tapestry of colors, textures, shapes and forms.

Better with Age

After I work on most gardens, I leave the site wondering what the garden will look like in a few years. With Linda’s, I knew that it would get better. She would add her funky touches and would weed, water and maintain the plants.

It is by no means a perfect garden because she has had to deal with feral hogs busting through her deer fence, troublesome armadillos, insects and unpredictable weather. But Linda’s garden is fun and great looking, and she has an unbelievable plant collection. She also knows each plant, its habits and where it came from. She is one of the most gifted garden writers and knowledgeable horticulturists I know, and I’m so glad she called me for a little help.

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