To be adventurous

Yesterday, Gail and I had the pleasure of a road trip to a garden in the wilds of southwestern Rhode Island that would have felt as far away as Borneo or any other exotic tropical place if it weren’t for the assortment of familiar native plants tucked in with the hundreds of pots of eucomis, colocasias, bananas, flamboyant trees, and gingers. We were treated to a personal tour led by this garden’s owner and designer, Louis Raymond, who is easily one of the most enthusiastic self-described plant geeks I’ve ever met. Even under the weather with a fever, Louis practically jumped out of his socks every time we noticed a particularly awesome plant or already knew of one of his fabulous finds by name.

I’m not sure many people garden the way Louis does. For one thing he gardens large. He has a Tetrapanax paperifer ‘Steroidal Giant’ planted next to his back door that surprised him by sending out a sucker that popped up in the dirt floor of his cellar — not to mention all of the pups that have come up in his terrace like unexpected dinner guests. But does its propensity to travel far and wide bother or worry him? Not one bit. He LOVES that plant and he’s thrilled that a couple of them didn’t die to the ground over the winter last year, which means he might get flowers this fall. Woot!

A lot of what Louis grows, big or small (mostly big) he grows in nursery pots, which give him all sorts of control. He can rearrange the furniture whenever he wants (I’ll have to go back to see if he does that), he can monitor the wildly different water requirements, and he can more easily overwinter all of the tender things he loves. I would wonder why he doesn’t choose to live in a southern climate except that I bet he’d be compelled to find cold storage for all of the northern climate plants he also dies for. Now he uses his cellar to overwinter some things and rents a cold greenhouse for the rest. If you look at his garden and only see how much work it would take to move everything in and out, you might be overwhelmed and miss its magic. Clearly it’s a labor of true, mad love — as is any great garden.

Louis’ enthusiasm is inspiring. We gardeners don’t mind the work we put in (we can still complain about the weather) because the process is almost the best part. But we all have different thresholds and tolerances for effort. I don’t mind pulling out shoots of rambunctious plants by hand when they go too far but someone else might prefer to confine the same plants to pots dug into the ground. What’s a lot of work in the mind of one gardener is a piece of cake to another and vice versa. I haven’t always enjoyed schlepping plants in and out of the greenhouse but Louis even made that seem like it should be a super fun thing to do — as long as you love the plants you’re moving. Suffice to say, Gail and I both left inspired to be even more adventurous. Stay tuned.

What kind of hoops do you jump through to grow the plants you love?