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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Naturalistic Minus Chaotic

The term naturalistic is being thrown around a great deal these days with regards to a specific style of gardening. My interpretation may be a little different than a gardener with lots of acreage or one with open meadows. A genuine naturalistic garden carved out of a woodland or lakeside would be a dream come true. At the same time I think a naturalistic style garden can be achieved even in the smallest settings.

I submit that to achieve a naturalistic 'feel' in a residential neighborhood it takes a great deal of planning and even orchestration. Which might not make sense at first. Can the words 'design' and 'naturalistic' be used simultaneously to describe this style of garden?

The mere mention of the word 'naturalistic' in reference to residential landscaping often conjures up visions of a messy and confusing mix of plantlife that has no sense of order. A disorderly roadside or mixed woodsy appearance might come to mind.

While I've seen attempts at naturalistic Florida gardens that fit this portrayal I lean towards the opinion that this is one of the overarching misconceptions of this type of gardening.

For a home gardener living in a residential neighborhood it's key to create a sense of cohesiveness to the eye even in a naturalistic setting.

For me, getting away from neatly trimmed hedgerows and massive amounts of well-manicured lawn was the starting point. It is the elimination of these elements that inspired my attempts at a more relaxed atmosphere in my garden. But then what?

As decisions were made to remove more and more of the lawn, achieving a more naturalistic environment has been done incrementally. Being that I'm a DIY gardener it's been necessary to take out sections of the turf slowly. Each time the digging begins a well thought-out plan for what will replace it is already in view.

I want to attract more wildlife and do my bit for the eco-system by adhering to our Florida-Friendly principles in my residential garden but I'm not a fan of chaos or confusion.

So what then is meant by naturalistic in this instance? What I've tried to do in my garden is mimic the way things appear in nature. But that doesn't mean letting anything and everything grow wildly. With artful placement of correct plant choices the goal is that each area flows into the next.

Is this a style of gardening you are also trying to achieve? What is your idea of naturalistic? What is your garden style and how have you gotten there?

Up next: Tips on Designing a More Naturalistic Garden and I'll give you my perspective on blending natives into the garden with an appealing result.

Update: Follow up post with tips is a click away here.


  1. Good post Meems and I can't wait for the next one. You have a great wealth of knowledge on gardening and I really appreciate you sharing it with us readers.

    What plant is the butterfly feeding on? Also the pic above the butterfly one..what is that pink flower?



  2. Good morning Meems ~ This was a great first post to read. Inspiring. I'd have to say I'm a bit of a naturalistic/chaotic/cottage gardener. Reading your post made me want to jump out of my chair, run outside and do something. But alas, it's not quite light out yet, I've not had my coffee either, and the mosquitoes would hone in on me in no time. So, I will take your words and run them around in my mind, thinking of ways to rework my gardens, slowly, especially since it is summer.


  3. I kind of giggled at the thought of a "well thought out plan". I usually have more of an "idea" when I start ripping and tearing. Often it doesn't end up exactly like I think. I am usually delighted with the end result. I like surprises even when I surprise myself. I definitly go for that naturalistic feel. I could do with a whole lot more native plants. That is also part of the fun of gardening. Getting new plants.

  4. I love the naturalistic setting. Having a woodland garden would be magic, but that ain't gonna happen in suburbia!
    I lack the vision that you are able to create for your garden. I think it's a true gift, and you use it so effectively.
    I look forward to your next post. Maybe it'll help me figure it all out. Thanks for the information, as always!

  5. Siesta Sister,
    I think it's more that I just like to talk it up about gardening and find ways to do it. LOL The purple flowers are Agastache 'black adder'. It smells like licorice and the bees and butterflies love it. A perennial here/ dies back in winter but comes back quickly. The pink one is the bloom on the native ground cover mimosa strigallosa. It's partially what I used to replace the grass in the front garden this spring. I really like it so far.

    Everyone has their own style. None are incorrect and yours is lovely. I know my garden can always use tweaks and rejuvenation in places so it's the fun part of sharing our ideas that makes blogging a beneficial part of gardening. Enjoy your day!

    I know planning is not for everyone. And, like you, even my "plans" don't always turn out exactly like I first thought. The idea for me is that I have to "see it" before I get started on a project. Or at least know for certain it can be done and will be done. The surprises are always part of the fun as long as they aren't things like running into electrical wiring or drain fields which could prevent the original idea from being completed once everything is torn up. New plants will always be part of my inspiration for tearing out more lawn. LOL

    Acres of woodlands on a lake=DREAMY. For now I create my own peaceful mini-woodland. Someday you're going to get there. I just know it.

  6. I love to see the images of your garden with its bold colours and textures. Truly marvellous!


  7. I can plan other peoples gardens easily.... mine not so much. I tend to second guess every decision. Then there is my husband that is a true landscape contractor and likes everything symmetrical and perfect. (this is why I second guess, trying to please us both) I think we argue about the garden/landscape the most in our marriage :) I am just starting with 2 acres of woods, so it may take my whole life to get the garden I dream of!

    You have beautiful gardens!!

  8. Great thoughts - I think "native gardens" often throw out all design principles in favor of chaos. If our natural areas, whether Fla or the desert or ___ looked as chaotic as native gardens, few would visit them for their peace.

  9. Danielle,
    Ahhh, two acres of woods... my dream. Had to giggle at the "most argued"...not here. I guess I should count my blessings Mr. Meems doesn't garden but does whole heartedly support my 'fun'. Now the house? That's another story. LOL

    Desert Dweller,
    I guess that is why this discussion... native gardens can be peaceful. If more home gardeners thought they could garden with natives and still have a restful, cohesive garden I think we'd see more of them. In Florida we like our perectly green lawns and sheared shrubs... but so much maintenance and headaches involved. I'd like to see more residential homes feel comfortable removing the grass they don't need. But then again it's not pleasing to see a hodge-podge of plants thrown around here and there in place of it.

  10. Oh boy, this is certainly an area I need to improve. I love the natural woodlands feel to a garden and want to use more natives. I tend to have things too messy for my own liking but I'm slowly getting the idea - mostly from your blog:) Great photos to inspire and words to contemplate. Can't wait for the next post!

  11. Oh, Meems, I couldn't agree more, and you have a talent (hard-earned, I'm sure) for "doing" naturalistic in an orderly way without it looking "planned" - as though it just happened in nature - which, of course, it didn't and wouldn't. Natural Florida is beautiful but not in a suburban front yard. Yours on the other hand is beautiful. I never liked English cottage gardens. They just looked like tall weeds to me. I need order, but I like the garden to be full, so I pack the space around my roses with as many as I can fit. But perhaps mine isn't as orderly as I think it is. LOL Thankfully, there's no right and wrong in gardening.

    I am going to have to get educated on native plants. It's hard to select appropriate plants from a list of names that I've never heard of, don't know what they look like or what (and how big) they will become in the garden. Mistakes get made, but that is one way of learning, and we can't give up. Your photos are excellent teachers. I am going to have use more flax lily in my shade beds. It really brightens the shade and is so architectural. Unclipped is beautiful!

  12. I can see what you are doing but it is hard to put into words. I think if you look at nature, there are drifts of a particular plant instead single plants dotted about. That is what I see in your garden, an orderliness that is not contrived like a commercial planting. Even Nature plants in a straight line if there is a fence.

  13. Hi Meems,
    Oh yes, naturalistic has become a byword for my garden style. I keep the front more 'organized' with beds and a small, curved lawn. The back, however, is starts in an organized manner closer to the house, but becomes wilder as you get to the back fence. Wildlife arrive daily and I've not heard one complaint from any of the animals or birds that it is too overgrown. :-) I guess that it's more of a wildlife habitat blended with a garden. The motivating question is now, "Who's the garden for?" I ask that question daily.
    Nice post. David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston :-)

  14. It can get really philosophical. I think mimicking nature is difficult to do but it starts with layers. Top layer contains trees and on down to a well-defined mulch pathway. When I gaze at your photos I see the inspiring implementation. Great post!

  15. Kay,
    You are blessed with good bones in your garden to make this happen... and you are doing it as well. I love what you've done under the oaks. Thanks for your kind words.

    You've hit on something with orderly AND full. These are the elements I strive for. You've really done a good job of naturalistic I think. The OGRs in your garden lend themselves to this look. I will discuss in the follow up blog the benefit of using the flax lily ... or any other 'steady' element... adds to the cohesive feel.

    You are right. I've tried not to look commercial. I used to with the typical plantings and annuals... I've pulled far away from that the last 10 years.

    It is my backyard that still has some play-lawn left in it. The front is lawn-less as of this spring. I do love the wildlife that shares the garden with us and is constantly present in my garden. The question I ask myself is 'What Do I Want From My Garden?'

    Would love to hear you get philosophical. It is hard and certainly I don't think in its rawest formations that it looks good in a residential neighborhood. It's almost a faux-nature that a home garden can create. But that sounds awful doesn't it!

  16. Oh I look forward to more lessons on how I can possibly get my garden to look as full and lush as yours. One thing I would like you to address is what you do with plants that go dormant at certain seasons, and what you do with that empty space. One feature I have learned from you is to move around pots of color, which is great. thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

  17. africanaussie,
    I am honored you take away helpful tools from my blog. In my follow up post I didn't address this question as I had already written the post and felt I had rambled on enough. But to answer it to you here I think I have managed that mostly by planting my dormant tropicals tightly with perennials. For the most part they wriggle their way up through plants when they peep back out of the earth. Caladiums for instance are *in between* aztec grasses, irises, holly ferns... they rarely are planted in a drift of their own where they can be missed when they go dormant. I hope that helps answer or enlighten the parts you were asking about.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

Back Garden: October 2010

Louise Philippe: Antique Rose

Tropical Pathway