Finding the Balance Between ‘Wild’ and ‘Structured’ in the Garden

My Ideal Is Born of Inspiration

By Joe Cowan

Director of Operations


We are crafting an English landscape garden at our home, and it is beginning to take shape. The creators are me; my wife, Emily; and son, George. Ever since we met at college, Emily and I have taken time to admire gardens. From visiting botanical gardens from Washington, D.C., to San Diego and the community gardens in San Francisco, as well as the Napa garden that started Dr. Cowan’s Garden, we have a special relationship with cultivated landscapes.

I was also immersed in the wild as a child, at wildness-survival camps and while racing through the woods with a bow and arrows. And while reading books like Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire” at college, I began to understand my own idealized view of nature. As I began to understand and appreciate the dichotomy of Dionysian wild and Apollonian structure in gardens, Emily and I were able to develop a deep connection within this concept. It was no coincidence that we ended up getting married in the prettiest garden we could find, nestled in the woods of Maine at Pineland Farms.

And now that we have a small piece of property to shape and cultivate, the idea of an English garden will become a reality. As we introduce our son to Blue Bells, hydrangeas, daisies, and as many other plants as we can identify and incorporate, we will develop our vision that has taken a lifetime to form.

My ideal is based on the gardens my Dad has built as well as nights spent in a lean-to hut in the middle of the Vermont woods, but mostly it’s informed by all the trips to botanical gardens and landscapes that Emily and I experienced over the past 12 years together. George is also an integral part of this. I’m pretty sure that he could name at least a dozen flowers and plants — if he could talk! Developing areas of the garden suitable for a toddler is certainly a challenge. However, if he is interested and it holds his attention for a little while, then it will be totally worth it. This process will pay dividends when we have more children, and it will increase our understanding of gardening in general significantly.

Our hope is to build a place that has a distinct symbiosis with nature, one that is beautiful and functional, and a place our kids can draw inspiration from for generations to come. It will take time, as is true with most things worth doing.

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