The Abundant Garden

This time of year, when everything blooms at once, I realize that I should work a little harder to keep something flowering all year long. In the winter, when my front garden is cut down to nothing but dead sticks and pale green shoots, the place looks more like an abandoned lot than a carefully tended garden.  But I love these peak seasons when everything’s overflowing and out of control. That’s why I was drawn to Debra Prinzing’s new book, The Abundant Garden: A Celebration of Color, Texture, and Bloom, just out from Cool Springs Press.  It’s all about celebrating big, showy, wild gardens.  This time of year, I’m not in the mood for “refined” or “understated,” and neither is she. 

Prinzing, a garden columnist and speaker, profiles nine gardens that all operate under the principle that too much is never enough. She offers this definition of an abundant garden: “It means you can’t see the dirt.” She sets out nine design concepts that the abundant gardens in her book illustrate; here are just a few of them:


Intimacy: No matter how big and showy a garden is, little enclosed spaces give you a way to settle down into it and take it in a little at a time. Even if your garden has no fancy gazebos or sunken patios, you can cut a path through the jungle and put a chair at the end of it. There’s your intimate space.

Layering: This is about more than putting the short plants in the front and the tall plants in the back. It’s about letting plants “grow true to their forms,” as Prinzing puts it, and letting plants fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

Patterns: Let shapes, colors, and textures repeat themselves throughout the garden. There’s something about repetitions and echoes in a garden that can make the most overgrown tangle look pulled together.

Timelessness: Now, this is a tricky one. An old garden feels mysterious, grand, and elegant, but it’s not exactly a look you can create overnight. Prinzing suggests grouping younger trees into a dense grove, framing views of adjacent gardens and parks, and incorporating moss-covered boulders, weathered wood, and aged copper into the design to help make it old before its time.

She goes on to illustrate these ideas with photographs of gardens—many of them in the Pacific Northwest—that take a painterly approach to color, use odd and interesting materials (colored golf balls sunk into a concrete planter, flowery old china hung in the kitchen garden), and create the sort of layers and patterns that allow a garden to look abundant without sinking into complete chaos.

The Abundant Garden is a gorgeous, coffee-table sort of book, the kind of thing that’s nice to page through in the middle of the winter, but I was glad to find it in June, when my own garden is galloping along and I need to be reminded to take a step back, look at the big picture, and think about what changes I might like to make before next year. But of course, the changes aren’t entirely up to me. Spontaneity is another one of the gardening principles Prinzing advocates; in the introduction she writes that “Abundant gardens are thoughtfully grown, yet there’s also something serendipitous about them. Mother nature has her way in an abundant garden, embroidering that which human hands have formed with self-sowing plants and unexpected surprises.”


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