Did you think maybe I forgot about finishing the garden tour? Not by a long shot, friends. It’s just that life has been wonderfully full this past month, and I did not want to rush through any of the remaining five featured gardens. Each of them deserves our full attention.
Today I want to share with you the fourth stop, the home of Karen Filley, which is also where we enjoyed a nice boxed lunch in the shade. But before I invite you into Karen’s garden, I have to pause to offer this embarrassing disclaimer: By midday on September 9th, my cell phone was dead. Totally dead. I had taken so many photos already and was on social media so much, sharing the excitement, that it just wore out, haha. Karen was nice enough to let me charge it indoors while we nibbled lunch and sipped iced tea, but by the very tail end of our stay it was only halfway charged again. So I had to literally sprint around her gorgeous property snapping photos here and there, desperately scribbling down corresponding phrases in my notebook. Rumor has it she is an open-hearted hostess who would welcome me back for a more lingering tour some day, and if that happens I will be sure to include you, fair reader, in the fun.
Okay. Let’s talk about lovely things.
Before we even stepped off the tour bus onto her property, Karen had grabbed a microphone and prepped us with some information about the gardens here. She explained how her husband sees “impossible” and “difficult for this climate” as challenges, not boundaries. How they propagate much of their planting material right here in their own greenhouse. And how, yes, they would be happy to share starts and seedlings. Just let her know what you want. You will have to dig it yourself, but you can have stuff. She welcomed us to eat anywhere in the expansive back yard, saving the one table bearing potted orchids, which was reserved for our beloved organizer Pat Chivers (my mentor!). Our hostess made us feel so welcome. I was really excited to get outside, and I was also anxious to charge my phone. Thank you for this favor, Karen!
The curving concrete walk from the bus to the garden gate was stunning enough. Ruffles and ruffles of color. Shade trees as thick and luxurious as the ones you see in the deep south but maybe more casual. And then you walk beneath a magnificent Magnolia around the corner bend, the biggest one I have ever seen outside of New Orleans. Breathtaking.
How best to describe the mood of Karen’s back yard? It emits this very Zen-like vibration, but it also has a lot of artistic energy. The predominant color is jungle green, loaded with texture, but with a spectrum of pinks and purples and other pops of bright, juicy color, more than what you might imagine with just the word Zen in mind. Tropical. Lots of tropical vibes, evidence of her husband’s penchant for a good growing challenge. She has arranged several comfortable places to sit and linger and has added lots of artwork, both expensive looking and quirky, happy, interesting. I found myself thinking she and I could be good friends based solely on her taste in garden accessories.
The back yard is a curving, meandering, kinetic space that begs you to move deeper, deeper, deeper still. It has a flow that leads you calmly and is not the kind of place that wants to be rushed, so I felt so weird running through to snap photos before the bus left me.
The experience here is the most wonderful mix of Louisiana and Oklahoma, but forced into submission, disciplined and held to quite a high standard of performance. It’s like if Oklahoma and Louisiana gardens had a baby and sent it to boarding school in England but it dropped out to pursue an art career in Japan, but then the parents love it so much they can’t stop sending money. Really exciting. I grooved the atmosphere so much.
The meandering paths are so seductive. Then right when your eye needs it you are washed in sunshine with these expansive lawns, all dotted by more seating areas and graceful little tree vistas.
Something I really grooved about Karen’s space was her use of foal points and inviting passageways and landing spots.
Lessons and Takeaways
- The tropical leanings of Karen’s garden oasis is really an encouragement to those of us who only grow, for example, a couple of sweet potato vines or a patch of begonias here and there. The takeaway? Max it out! Grow more of those things. Grow it with other unexpected stuff. Find some banana trees, pair hydrangeas with ajuga, dive right in and grow a tropical party.
- Do not shy away from a challenge. Think about micro climates. Build up your soil. Focus on the plants’ needs and find ways to meet them.
- Plan pathways and design landing spots and focal points throughout. Let your garden become its own tour guide.
- Think about structure and bones and how the gardens will look outside of peak bloom time. (I have a secret wish to tour this property during a snowstorm! The trees, shrubs, pathways, hills, ironwork and pathways are so interesting.)
- One more comment about soil: Karen’s garden is perfumed with peat. The raised beds are built up and thick and almost black. She has grown a crepe myrtle as massive an an oak tree, and the featured banana tree is just stunning. Mammoth. The lesson is feed your soil and go big or go home! This also applies to your container gardens.
- In addition to micro climates, consider micro themes within your garden. Plant Japanese Maples and add Japanese artwork and a bamboo fountain, for example. Grow roses and add English style rose arbors. Use the power of collections to create visual impact and that cohesive feeling that well designed rooms give you.
- Especially challenging plants can be grown in pots that are sunken halfway underground in good weather, then brought indoors to overwinter. Karen did this with a palm tree and I will definitely be stealing the idea.
- Shun emptiness. Where you are not growing plants or flowers or mammoth trees, cultivate an emerald green golf course lawn. The luxurious feeling will make it worth the effort and expense.
- Think about mood and what affect your garden has on people. Karen’s spell is tranquil and seductive. There is a strong feminine energy here that pulses out of every bed, every curve and color. It seems orchestrated and then let loose, an aesthetic well worth pursuing.
- Garden joyfully! Be generous and embracing.
Whew! Friends, looking back through these desperately snapped photos made my mouth water all over again. And reading back through my notes made me want to call Karen and beg for a little Q & A with her and her husband. I feel like they have a lot of knowledge to offer us, with advice ranging from design to science and everything in between. I bet their art pieces each has a cool story, too. I would be very happy to massage my own gardens here at the farm into some semblance of her Zen-like retreat. It’s all just so gorgeous.
Thank you Karen! Thank you so much for the garden tour, for hosting lunch, for offering us baby Redbuds and more, and for letting me charge my phone. You are a generous soul and a talented designer and garden artist.
“A garden without its statue
is like a sentence without its verb.”
~Joseph W. Beach