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Create a Garden With Patina

I have walked in a garden, pristine and pure, perfectly manicured and ordered, and though beautiful, it lacked soul. I could not feel the echos of nature or see the footprints of others before me. It had no history or wear or wrinkles. It was a garden for display, like clothes on a mannequin at a department store. 

A garden needs patina. Age or use will soften the edges, and surfaces will grow beautiful as colors and textures richen. I like a garden with spirit, that reaches and drapes and stretches and pushes boundaries. It's a living organism with multitudes of sounds and smells. Wildlife and insects are abundant. It may be a bit messy, but not necessarily so. I am not talking about neglect. I am talking about giving a garden a personality. A garden should say something, whether it is formal or romantic or playful or quite hedonistic in tone. When we see the garden, we see a reflection that tells us something about its creator.

Old gardens will naturally acquire patina, but new gardens can be personalized for similar effect. Swings, benches and arbors invite the visitor to stay a while. Garden art may be inspirational, playful, or elegant. Ornaments may give a touch of whimsy. Beautiful pots can add color, and wind-chimes can add music. Some of these things may be aged and imperfect or may have great sentimental value. All of these things infuse the garden with energy. They say, Someone has been here. Someone cares about this place. You are welcome, too. Come, enjoy what I have to offer.

As you wander through a garden, there should be a sense of mystery. There should be stories to tell. I have old things in my garden that belonged to my parents and my grandparents. I have things that remind me of my children. There are things that bind me to Lou, that represent our marriage. It is a garden for me, but I hope others will take pleasure in it, too. Here are a few of the things that make my garden special to me.

Mature shrubs, like this very old camellia, just now coming into bloom:

Moss and lichens:

Rusty ornaments:

Pots with great colors and shapes:

Old wood, made into birdhouses and a picket fence:

And someone who enjoys the garden, too. Our dog Lily, who is part collie and part woolly mammoth:

May all of you be blessed, who have taken time to walk a while in Deb's Garden. 


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Reader Comments (22)

Couldn't have said it better myself. Gardens are characters and the more they have of patina, the better. Love the woolly mammoth!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertina

Beautifully felt and written Deb! Each garden is so unique to its gardener. Our gardens are a creative expression... our attempts at creating paradise. So true too there should be a bounty of wildlife! Your photos are lovely and show perfectly in part what makes your garden so you! I enjoy all the objets d'art and your sweet doggie! ;>) Carol

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Loving your woolly mammoth!
I am very sentimental, and have many things in my garden (and my home) that remind me of my family, friends or events. I am sure that a lot of people would think that it is junk, but to me it is important and part of who I am.

Any new concrete item that comes into my garden gets rubbed with soil, a bath of buttermilk and frequent repetition of this treatment until it ages enough to get the precusor of moss started.

Love that Lily!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

Great article, Deb! Moss is a helper in my garden. It ages garden ornaments in no time. Love your rusty garden elements!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Deb, what a beautiful sentiment. I love the idea that our experiments, our mistakes, and the ways that we learn from the garden all contribute to giving our gardens personality. -Jean

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Great post ! I agree that a garden has to display the gestalt of the gardener to be special. A garden without character is just a bunch of plants.

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersanddune

Deborah, you garden is lovely. Those items you show are some of the mysteries and discoveries in a garden. I love it when a child "discovers" something - such wonder! may we never lose it and it shows that you still have it - Gloria

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGloriaBonde

Lovely series of photos, injoyed this post very much

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStone Art Blog

I loved seeing what makes your garden special. not just pleasing to look at, but meaningful to you. Loved how you captured the special feel of each object in your photo montage!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Deb - you are incredibly eloquent, spiced with a charming sense of humor (loved your comment about your woolly-mamoth)! Your current blog (I haven't gotten any further because I just had to comment!) pulled me in and spoke to the heart and soul of a garden.

In a very short period of time, I have learned there are an amazing number of multi-talented gardeners that share their wealth of information on garden blogs. Your blog is a great place to come and visit! Be back soon... -Shyrlene

P.S. Thanks for coming to visit me through Blotanical!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShyrlene

I know I would feel very much at home in your garden. I've always loved old gardens, and anything that's too clean and shiny gets the aging treatment in my garden.

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Hi, I came here because of your comment about hellebores on Randy and Meg's blog. I just started growing them last year, and am excited that one plant has open blooms, and several have buds.

I enjoyed this post. I'm thinking a difference between the first gardens you were talking about and others is the real neat ones are more landscaped. I myself am a plant collector, and have this need to fill spaces. I love all of your garden decor and Lily.

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCorner Garden Sue

Aw, your wooly mammoth is adorable! And your garden definitely has the patina of age. So beautiful!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

Beautifully said Deb~Gardens need that special patina that give it character, that make them our own. gail

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergail

I enjoyed that walk through your garden, with all its patina sheen. The thoughts remind of my mother's garden. She's been in the same spot for over 30 years. My garden is still too new (5 years) to have that graceful maturity. Someday...if we don't move again. Love your dog/woolly mammoth!

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorida Girl

Poignant. I am the opposite of a patient person, but I am trying ever so hard to understand this lesson. The fact of the matter is though, its going to take time to have what you have and all old gardens have, and I'm just going to have to wait for it.

March 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Dear Deborah, I found this to be an exceedingly atmospheric and evocative piece of writing whose sentiments I entirely agree with. Gardens do, indeed, need to have that rather indefinable special something. I also much enjoyed looking at the examples you gave of what makes your garden meaningful to you. Any one of the items pictured I should happily walk away with, including the dog.

I have enjoyed this posting immensely.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Hope

This is one of those posts in which are so well written and well expressed the pictures become secondary. I totally agree a garden without soul and whispering is no garden at all.

Such a lovely post Deb - I too don't like the newness of gardens - I like to see moss and lichens on things too and I give it a helping hand by painting yogurt on pots etc. Having a stroll in the garden should be like telling a story with lots of places to pause and contemplate.

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

You have a wonderful garden Deb. I hope, eventually, to give my own garden a patina. We're just getting started so we have a long way to go.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJayne

What a truly beautiful post Deborah!
Your garden just came to life for me with both the images of the objects (and woolly mammoth) you adore and your beautiful words :)

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

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