Les Lutz

Trees take the longer view of life. As any gardener knows, planting a tree is not for your enjoyment but really for your children or those of the next generation.

Whenever I visit the gardens I’ve worked for in my career, I’m always reminded of this fact.

The trees that I planted in 1985 are now casting shade as I had hoped. The sunny borders below the trees have slowly migrated to shade borders with ferns, heuchera and hosta instead of the sun-loving perennials of years ago.

As trees grow, and gardens evolve, so too does our taste in plants.

Over the years I’ve evolved and now use a new and different palette of plants than I have in the past. Of course, there are many plants that have remained on the list since the beginning. Trees like Sugar Maple, or Red Oak, or a host of other native, beautiful trees that form the backbone of our gardens. And our gardens are becoming more “native.”

Plants that were once all the rage are no longer in vogue. In many cases, plants that we once considered vigorous and easily grown have turned out to be aggressive and, in some cases, invasive. I’ve always loved the Doublefile Viburnum. Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum is a wonderful plant that has unfortunately begun to show up in the wild and has recently been added to the “invasive species” list in several states.

We have to evolve and grow. As I’ve mentioned before, our individual tastes in gardening and plant selection evolves as much as the trees grow. I know my personal tastes in garden design and plant selection have changed since I first started designing gardens in the 1970s.

Gardening, much like life, is a journey and not necessarily a destination. We start with a plan and then life happens. A favorite tree dies and suddenly we no longer have a shade garden, and much as we try, we probably won’t have a shade garden again in our lifetime, unless, of course, we move. But, new and interesting plants are always coming our way. And the world of plants is ever expanding.

So, too, does our taste in garden design. Several years ago Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, removed a beautiful green lawn that was adjacent to the mansion home and planted a meadow. At first I was surprised and a bit taken aback by the meadow planted in what was such a formal spot. But the meadow is beautiful. It’s filled with a constant variety of wonderful native species and there’s always something in flower, and the gracefulness of the grasses lend a calming elegance to the space. A meadow can be such a beautiful space with the textures, the muted colors and the beautiful, graceful arching habit of the grasses.

Gardening is an evolution that we need to embrace. New plant species, new garden styles and trends are what make gardens and their creation such a rewarding part of my life, and hopefully yours too.

Les Lutz is the director of horticulture and facilities management at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.

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