Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2003
Regional Report

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The bamboo fence, the recycled concrete pavers, and the weedy look make John Greenlee's garden in Brisbane unique.

Greenlee's Garden

I made a visit to John Greenlee's home in Brisbane last week. John is a nationally renown landscape designer and nurseryman who was hosting an open house for the visiting Perennial Plant Association members. When my friend Susan, who is publishing John's upcoming book, suggested that I accompany her to the open house, I jumped at the chance.

I had worked with John at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in February where he had won first place for his garden vignette. We did a Henry's Garden live from the show, and John Greenlee was one of the people we interviewed. He is quite the character, and his gardens reflect his unique personality.

John's Garden Style
John's theory is that gardens should be earth friendly, provide homes for wildlife, require very little maintenance and, of course, be beautiful. He achieves this seemingly impossible combination by planting what he calls "meadows." John Greenlee's meadow gardens aren't so much fields of grass as they are a collection of diverse plant material with similar growing requirements. The overall feel is a bit weedy, but diversification is the key to a healthy garden.

Monoculture is a term that means growing one kind of plant in a small area, such a turf lawn or a boxwood hedge. These kinds of plantings are an open invitation to insects and disease. It's like you have put up a giant sign that says "Eat Here!" That's why farmers have to use so many pesticides. They are growing huge monocultures, and pests are attracted to the abundance of one particular type of plant (food) growing all together.

John Greenlee's gardens are the exact opposite. In his garden you can find a single burgundy heuchera nestled next to a purple fountain grass with a silver dusty miller thrown in just to grab your eye. Tucked between the broken bits of concrete that he uses instead of a flagstone path are herbs and grasses. Near the front door, between the pavers, is a pumpkin plant that arrived as an uninvited guest from last year's Halloween pumpkin carving.

Whimsical Elements of the Garden
The fencing is all made of recycled material from John's Los Angeles nursery. Long pieces of bamboo, willow, and reeds have been woven to look like giant grass mats. What was originally an ugly chain link fence is now a central part of the garden design. And speaking of design, John painted the house to match an existing pepper tree.

The Greenlee garden consists of various rooms where you are invited to linger and explore. Unique, quirky, and whimsical are all words that come to mind when walking the broken concrete path that leads you on an expedition of adventure around the house. Lizards bask in the sun on broken stones, hummingbirds zip around the climbing roses, and butterflies sip nectar from a huge variety of flowers. Even the deck is made from recycled material.

I loved John Greenlee's garden and think it may be the wave of the future for busy homeowners. Although the garden takes some maintenance during the first year to help the plants become established, after that it pretty much looks after itself. Earth-friendly, self-maintaining, and beautiful. You can't ask for much more than that!
"He who plants a garden, plants happiness." (Chinese proverb)

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