“Gardening is not a straight line, and you never actually arrive at the finish. These truths apply to the act of building a garden, but also to the practice of gardening. Rarely does a day spent in the garden unfold exactly as planned. That’s a good thing. Enjoy the detours.” — Loree Bohl
THIS PRIZE NUGGET of wisdom falls at the very close of “Fearless Gardening: Be Bold, Break the Rules, Grow What You Love” by Loree Bohl (Timber Press, 2021). But it’s too important to miss, so I thought I’d lead with it here.
I’ve known Bohl for years, and her small Portland garden is one of the most beautifully curated and cohesive gardens I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. “Fearless Gardening” is her first book, but for nearly a decade, the author has been documenting her love for bold foliage, desert landscapes, spiky plants and personality-infused gardens on her blog, Danger Garden (thedangergarden.com).
Bohl is a gardener who knows her plants, which is impressive considering that most of what is growing in her garden (you’ll find a long list on her blog) falls far outside the customary offerings of most regional nurseries. The woman is crazy for all things sharp, textural and foliage-forward: Think architectural aloe and agave; cactus; and a collection of unusual and beautifully tended woody plants, including a big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) named Clifford.
While definitely a collector, Bohl has created a garden that is so much more than simply the place where she keeps her plants. “Gardening is an opportunity to create something completely personal and to see your dream become a reality,” she writes. “Fearless Gardening” is a call to take chances. Treat gardening as an adventure. Explore, experiment and have some fun.
Bohl brings an artist’s eye to the design of her personal garden space and offers countless ideas for making the most of a small garden, including creating garden vignettes with containers, and innovative tips for making the most of vertical planting space, like festooning the trunk of your palm tree with epiphytic bromeliads and tillandsia.
But make no mistake: This hands-on gardener knows her horticulture, from the importance of providing proper drainage to exploiting microclimates, those tiny pockets of warmth or coldness that can shift hardiness zones one way or the other. An active member of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, Bohl counts a number of regional plant professionals, many of whose gardens are featured in the book, among her closest friends, and credits much of what she’s learned over the years to the community’s generous exchange of knowledge — and plants!
Bohl encourages readers to garden for themselves, even if it deviates from everyone else on the block. The book opens with an homage to two remarkably strong plantswomen: Ruth Bancroft, creator of what is today the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California, and Ganna Walska, the eccentric personality behind the garden paradise known as Lotusland in Montecito, California. Bancroft and Walska, who lived to 109 and 96 respectively, were visionary gardeners enamored with cactus and succulents and unafraid to raise some eyebrows.
“Fearless Gardening” might be written through the lens of a desert-loving plant fanatic — and what a beautiful vision it is — but its message pertains to all of us, beginning gardeners and seasoned growers alike. A reminder that this thing we do — haul, dig, plot, plant, prune and edit — is an astonishing adventure, and one that’s meant to be enjoyed.