The Garden As Conversation

When Karen and Wade Tillman contacted us to create their garden, they came equipped with clear ecological goals, beautiful bones for a project, and a wealth of ideas. “Unfortunately Wade and I didn’t have the same ideas,” laughs Karen, “but I guess a good gardener is also a good negotiator.” While their creative impulses might have been different, they were nonetheless the opening lines of dialogue that resulted in a beautiful, functional landscape. In working with Wade and Karen, our goal became to reflect the grace and stature of their home with an elegant garden, but also to install plants that would feed both the souls and the bellies of the Tillman family.


The first thread of conversation blossomed and developed between the Tillmans’ residence and the garden’s seating area. “Our home is like a Victorian farmhouse,” says Karen, “so we wanted garden elements that played off that look.” Patrick Logan of Artistry Works installed patios and pathways using brick from the Tillmans’ former chimney as well as brick recovered from the Paso earthquake of 2003.

With the brickwork voicing Victorian elegance, we turned to the plants to interject a Mediterranean accent. Around the patio we planted bunches of buttery yellow gaillardia, strappy kniphofia, and bright purple buddleia, all contributing color, shape, and height.

Good conversation goes well with something to munch on, so interspersed among the ornamentals we planted a host of edibles for feasting as well as foliage. “We believe that if you’re watering, you should be watering with a purpose,” says Karen. And there is now plenty of purpose! Artichokes, blueberries, figs, lemons, oranges, and espaliered apples all chime in, while a neat row of lettuces lines the patio. Surrounding the bricks we also planted a “living arbor” with a peach and two plum trees. These will be trained in an arch overhead to provide leafy shade as well as seasonal fruit. “My favorites are the artichokes,” says Karen. “They make the garden look fresh and fun.”

Karen and Wade’s garden has become s a dialogue between old and new, between function and form, and between an English Tea Garden and the rustic character of a Mediterranean spread. “The garden is gorgeous,” says Karen. “It’s really opened up the possibilities of what activities we can do outside: my daughter loves eating dinner out there, and counting the fig blossoms; it’s great to walk through while snacking on a handful of blueberries; it’s where we drink our coffee and where we drink our wine.”

Karen finds that she chats regularly about her garden.  “After the garden was finished, I thought, ‘This is why we live downtown,’” she says. “People walking by stop and talk with us now. The dirt that was there before didn’t really inspire conversation,” she laughs. “Our garden brought us more into the community. It’s really enriched our lives.” 

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