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Designers on High-Maintenance Gardens


One of the team blogs that I follow is called the Garden Designer Roundtable, where designers from the U.S. and U.K. weigh in on a common topic.  Recently they tackled the issue of maintenance, which is a hot topic among designers and garden coaches like me – because everyone wants it “low” or “none.”  But before getting to low or no-maintenance, we all recognize high-maintenance gardens, right?

Like Nemours Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware, which I visited just this summer.  New Jersey garden designer Susan Cohan visited it with me (and a dozen other “media”) and cited it in her Roundtable blog article about maintenance:

There are 4.5 miles of clipped hedging including boxwood, privet and barberry in the gardens…There are acres of annuals.  A.I. duPont  had a staff of more than 300 to prune, pinch back, weed and maintain the formal gardens as well as the estate’s farm.

These bygone estate gardens, which we should consider museums of our own garden history, are unsustainable without huge, well-trained staffs of gardeners and the working parts that served them.


Another designer (in Stamford, CT) made the point that generally, the more formal the design, the more work it takes to maintain.  Again, Nemours illustrates the point.





But before you pooh-pooh this example as reflecting a long-gone era of excess in everything – money, extravagance, huge crews of workers – I have one more example, of a recently installed landscape in the suburban of D.C.


Notice the palms that can’t survive our winters and need to be replaced or moved to greenhouses.  Plus, all the trees near the house are topiaried.   And while lawn doesn’t have to be a huge maintenance job, keeping it perfect definitely is, and I bet this one will be pristine, like a golf course.

So, these are our lessons in high-maintenance garden design, a style that most of us can’t afford.  And even if we could, most gardeners today prefer a different look – more naturalistic, and a lot less work.  Examples coming next week!

Posted by Susan Harris.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carol, good to know. They looked real when I saw them, which may have been when the garden was first installed. Wild-looking, huh?

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