A writer for the New York Times once described Portland's Chinese Garden as one that "relies on pattern, structure and metaphor instead of the floral can-can of typical American gardens." His description made me laugh, and I think he's being unduly harsh, but he does have a point. How many of us see a successful design as being so filled with plants that there are no empty spaces? I plead guilty, but my - and your - mitigating circumstances are practical in nature. With fewer bare spots come fewer weeds able to get the light and rain they need to wreak havoc on us. Still, being in this inspirational place in downtown Portland, which has so much architecture giving it proportion and definition, I can't help but think that if I only had a team of artisans to do all the imagining and an army of gardeners for the dirty work, I, too, could create a simple space. Light would flow through my garden unobstructed. Rain droplets would sit ever so austerely and elegantly on the leaves of my carefully placed plantings. Weeds would be invisible. All would pull together to create a poem of greenery and color. Symmetry. Rich patterns. A framed view in every direction. My masterpiece.
Instead, I fear my urban garden is more of a floral can-can, and instead of elegant raindrops making my leaves glisten, I'm more likely to have hard soil and dusty paths. Instead of great artisanship, I have some birdhouses and sculptures from the Flower Show. But I'm not ashamed of my garden. It may be more Moulin Rouge than Suzhou, China. And I like it. (Though I wouldn't mind some help with the dirty work.)