Change

Daisy the Cow at the Mountsier Estate this year. (Photography by Derek Reeves)

Daisy the Cow at the Mountsier Estate this year. (Photography by Derek Reeves)

Change is inevitable. We can accept it or resist it. Our acceptance or resistance to change mostly depends on our personalities and the situation. While all things good are easy to embrace, with bad news, denial and anger can take over until reality settles in. Then there is the mundanity of daily life; so much pattern, repetition, and habit leave us set in our ways and in our comfort zone.

In a garden, change is inevitable. Plants grow, die, don’t perform as we designed or dreamed, or even exceed our expectations.  Plants change. Light patterns shift from season to season and day to day.

Children and gardens offer a fresh outlook on the world, if we choose to embrace them. The most obvious and transformational aspect of the garden is at planting time and in the first three years. Seeing the chaos of construction rendered into order is a fast-paced dramatic change. As the trees grow, they form walls, ceilings, and focal points that create space.  This change is slow but it is planned for. The same is true with shrubs on a smaller scale. Perennials, with a few exceptions, like heroically-scaled grasses are the carpet and texture of the place.

The guest house and the art walk at Mountsier Estate nearly twenty years ago. (Photography by Jerry Harpur)

The guest house and the art walk at Mountsier Estate nearly twenty years ago. (Photography by Jerry Harpur)

The more subtle change that happens later, say after the third year, is less dramatic but more profound. Living with a garden over decades is the wholehearted acceptance of life itself. An embrace of birth, juvenility, adulthood, senescence, and death. What we really want is that perfect place in the prime of life where the vigor of young adulthood is vital, energetic, and exciting. Where enough maturity is achieved without the horizon of older age.

At the age of fifty-two, some of my older garden’s trees have lived a complete life cycle. They have had to be removed, rethought, and replanted. I find this exuberating! Looking at the original design intent, analyzing it to see if those ideas are still valid and beautiful, and replanting to embark on a new idea that validates and strengthens the original intent is the zenith of creative design for me.

The art walk and Daisy the Cow at the Mountsier Estate in recent years. (Photography by Rob Cardillo)

The art walk and Daisy the Cow at the Mountsier Estate in recent years. (Photography by Rob Cardillo)

Living with a garden day in and day out, and absorbing the daily rhythms of that garden is so much more profound to me than the excitement of construction. The careful observation of the maturing garden and constant tweaking in small ways is satisfying. The pleasure of small changes and happenstance is magnified.  Improvements are made.  Mistakes are edited and redirected into better results. There are the fond memories of sharing the garden with family and friends of the past and the anticipation of the garden party for the coming July. Having coffee and reading the Sunday paper on the terrace is relaxing and centering.

A garden large or small is the manifestation of time itself, and time is, in essence, change. Change keeps us engaged even when it is not asked for. So plant a garden, take pictures of it over time, and enjoy it privately and celebrate it with others. Live in the moment, but also remember your past experience with fondness and dream about the future. Accept change and embrace it. 

Richard Hartlage

Richard Hartlage is the founding principal and CEO of Land Morphology. His award-winning, innovative designs are renowned as emotive, immersive spaces that incorporate sophisticated horticulture, artful detailing, and historical knowledge that heighten the human experience of the natural world. His passion for horticulture, cultivated over fifteen years working public gardens and estates, is applied to each design from the conceptual phase through development of maintenance protocol and beyond.