Garden Profile: Discover a Beautiful, Working Garden

This low-maintenance herb and kitchen garden went from unruly to efficient.

| December/January 2010

Imagine a dozen mints run amok. That’s just what Suzanne Dalton faced a few years ago in her northern Michigan garden, where exuberance was (and still is) a virtue. Created by a couple of artists—Suzanne is a designer and fiber sculptor and her husband, Clyde Foles, is an industrial designer and watercolorist—the garden is a lovely, living tapestry of garden rooms and terraces, where pear trees form tunnels, lavender spills from rock walls and 5,000 bulbs bloom each spring.

Yet while no one was looking, the mint ran away with the thyme, and the herb plot became a “lost zone,” recalls Suzanne. So she stepped back, thought it out and adopted a new approach to gardening—simplicity.

Back to Basics

Getting there began with gardening basics: The area needed a complete overhaul from the ground up. The couple yanked out overgrown plants and dug up the soil to eliminate runaway roots, then constructed a new raised bed. They confined the most aggressive herbs to pots, which they sunk into the bed, then surrounded the plantings with a thin layer of river rock. Voilà—creepers and self-seeders were kept in bounds, and tender herbs like French tarragon and rosemary could easily be brought inside for the winter. Suzanne installed a lightweight fountain in the bed’s center and placed a bistro table nearby where the gardeners and visitors could soak in the surrounding sights and scents.

In the walkways, they replaced rocks and weeds with a layer of landscape fabric, a durable material that blocks weeds but lets in rainwater. “Now I don’t have to weed—I just have to sweep,” she says. “We’re simplifying so we can spend more time enjoying.” The fabric has held up well, she says, “but I warn visitors, ‘No spike heels!’”

There also are more mass plantings—large swaths of single varieties, rather than a patchwork of mixed varieties. The mass plantings grow so densely that weeds don’t have a chance, and their bold strokes of color make a more dramatic display from a distance.

Herbs play starring roles elsewhere in the garden, as well. Structurally beautiful, 6-foot-tall angelica grows near the back deck, and ‘Lady’ English lavender, a diminutive variety, spills from a rock wall. (The wall is like a series of pots that can be changed up on a whim. Suzanne plants the herbs in the wall’s crevices, tailoring the soil mix to the specific plant.)

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