Looking like a character straight from the pages of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the man appeared, singular and alone, along with a reputation of coming from the great southern heritage of independent thinkers and individualists. He sprayed some water, called a dog, and then he was gone.
His name is Ryan Gainey and we are in his garden, invited but not necessarily welcome.
I became aware of Ryan Gainey because I kept bringing home plants named after him. First there was Ryan's Daisy, and then later a Ryan Gainey hydrangea. When I told him I had cut the hydrangea to 6" after the first year to lessen the shock of transplanting Mr. Gainey looked horrified.
Anyway, I did some research and discovered Ryan Gainey is a long-respected garden designer and writer with a reputation for a strong design aesthetic and directness. He is a self-admitted product of the agrarian Old South, Clemson University, and the U.S. Navy. He is clearly very intelligent, well-read, and a talented narrator of cultural histories. Mr. Gainey's description of fig trees is the best I have ever heard...about any plant.
Ryan Gainey & The Garden of Poetry and Prose
The garden sits in Decatur, Georga on a plot of land 150' x 150'. Mr. Gainey is correct when he says it seems much larger. The particular genius of this garden lies in four areas (at least):
- Use of space. There is thoughtful and efficient use of space in a garden that seems to wander. There are five garden 'rooms', each with its own identity. To create a garden of such stunning breadth on a small suburban island in Decatur is a testament to the firm design values underpinning the garden.
- Verticality. You do not look upon Ryan Gainey's garden. It envelopes you. Gainey is well-known for his love of trees, and it shows in his garden, roofed by canopy. Vines twine upwards. Great and old viburnum growing larger than you imagined possible shower blooms from above. The sense of enclosure, an enclave, is complete.
- The boxwoods. If the trees and vines and shrubs provide a sense of structure, they are supported mightily by the formality of the parterres and the formal hedges. I learned about the value of juxtaposition of formal and informal in the parterre garden at Balboa Park in San Diego...I learned my love for boxwoods by studying Mr. Gainey's work. The formal structure provided by boxwoods and parterre allow bold gardeners to celebrate more natural aesthetics in the rest of the garden.
- Commitment. The greatest gardens are loved over time. Time is the essential ingredient, allowing the gardener to live in the landscape and understand its potential. Ryan Gainey's garden, above all, is a testament to a person loving a specific place with all of their heart and committing to it. It is impressive, both the garden and the accomplishment.
Should you wish to visit Ryan Gainey's garden, it is open to the public. Details may be found at his website. I recommend you go when it is quiet. Apparently on Mother's Day in 2013, 1800 people showed up.