Versailles, the fanciest garden of them all. Image from Wikimedia commons

Versailles, the fanciest garden of them all. Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

I’m getting a little uncomfortable with something, and I’d like the Ranting World to let me know if I’m on point or totally off the mark.

As I look through magazines and design blogs, I see fancy gardens everywhere. Industries are colluding to make us desire an outdoor lifestyle that is better than the indoor lifestyle of many! Is ornamental gardening an activity only for the wealthy, the retired, the leisure class?

I have a sneaking suspicion that it very well may be.

I design gardens in a fancy city. I know how much the gardens seen in the glossy pages of magazines cost to build, and those prices are not for the faint of heart. And that is just for the basics! If you want the whole shebang – the custom daybed and tiled coffee tables, the sparkly Moroccan light fixtures hanging from the trees, the gurgling water feature (not just a pump in a pot from the nursery – a real design-y supermodel of a water feature), the poured concrete firepit, the outdoor kitchen … wow, you are going to be paying. And paying. And PAYING.

We as a country are inching out of a severe economic decline. People are starting to feel flush again, and the gardening industry is rebounding. But have we learned anything from what just happened to us? Should we be indulging ourselves the way we did before, when Brazilian Ironwood was our decking material of choice and a big, crazy lighting system was just the thing we needed to show off how AWESOME our fancy garden was in the middle of the night – just in case anyone missed it during the day?

Yes, we seem to have more discretionary income. And putting money into a garden is a very good thing, especially if you are doing it with some good sense and some trusted guidance. But is creating an outdoor living room and kitchen literally twenty feet from your indoor living room and kitchen the best use of resources?

If you are listening to design blogs and magazines – YES. Building an outdoor kitchen 18.75 inches away from your indoor kitchen is EXACTLY the thing to do. And the $4k custom daybed with cushions done up in a swanky fabric with puffy pillows and a throw made out of recycled saris – well, if you AREN’T getting one, start saving up, because that is what every well-appointed garden needs. And if you are an Urban Pioneer, even better! You can have your very own souped-up Dwell-approved backyard farm, complete with a rustic potting shed stocked with mason jars ready to be heaped full of homegrown abundance. Oops! No abundance? Well you can hire your own backyard farmer, with an extra charge for a beard, a flannel shirt, and a hipster beanie. They have all come from co-ops right outside of Portland, and they can grow your food for you.

I don’t know. I am really tired of the overdone outdoor spaces. Maybe I am shooting myself in the foot (which I’ve been known to do from time to time), because I make my living designing spaces like what I’ve been snarkily describing. But my eyes are hurting from the excess, and so is my heart. Seeing the differences between these “Anything Goes” gardens, with all of their aspirational swagger, and the humble immigrant gardens in my neighborhood where every inch is given over to growing food for the family – well … it gives me pause. I know there is alot of sincerity in the new ways of gardening so please forgive me for poking fun- but as our economy recovers, I am desperate for us not to lose sight of the things we learned. How to better use our resources. How to prioritize our needs. How to say no to ourselves. And how to take a little less for ourselves and share with those around us.

Surely we can enjoy our outdoor spaces without needing to create our own versions of Versaille and Petit Trianon? Or are we all gardening in the shadow of Marie Antoinette, merrily tending our chickens in our uber-cool custom super coops, while off in the distance there are people for whom having chickens isn’t a suburban fancy, but a very real and necessary food source?

I don’t know the answer, but it is something worth thinking about. Maybe we can put the brakes on gardening under the affluence … or is excess an inevitability when times are good?