Text By Vicki L. Ingham
Within the formal structure of a suburban landscape, Jon Martinez creates an exuberant cottage garden.
Jon Martinez, owner of Bloom flower shop in Birmingham, Alabama, approaches gardening much the way he does floral design. “I use things in groups,” he says, “but in the garden, I tend to put things in groups randomly. I don’t plan at all.” Anything that catches his eye—whether flower, fruit, vegetable, or herb—gets added to the mix. “Then I bring it all together with a focal point, something vibrant, like pots of red geraniums,” he explains. “The background is loose and airy, with no concentration of colors, and the red provides the focus.” The result is casual and unstudied yet contained—but sometimes just barely.
When he began working on the landscape around his home nearly two years ago, the “bones” were already in place. Pink crape myrtles, boxwood, and monkey grass provided a formal structure beside the parking area, and tall privacy fencing defined an adjacent front garden anchored by a mature oak. Within these well-defined spaces, Jon planted a wild, loose, and wonderful cottage garden. “I love the random, wild look,” he says.
Like English gardeners, Jon blends the decorative with the functional and makes no distinction between ornamental and edible plants. Cabbages join zinnias and caladiums in the front beds. A cherry tomato plant drapes the post supporting a freestanding outdoor swing in the side garden. The tomato vine turned out to be like Jack’s beanstalk—it kept growing in spite of repeated trimming, finally escaping over a hedge of holly and clambering down the hill. The secret to this prolific growth was a planting technique suggested for growing lavender in the South. Jon dug a bed 2 feet deep, filled it with about 8 inches of coarse builder’s sand, topped it with a fifty-fifty mix of pebbles and good organic soil, and finished with a layer of pebbles. The stones keep the base of the hairy stems dry and warm, and the soil amendments encourage good drainage to prevent root and stem rot.
In the front garden Jon planted shade-loving hydrangeas, phlox, impatiens, and ferns. “I don’t really pay attention to color schemes,” he says, “except in the garden with the hydrangeas.” There, white flowers brighten the shade of the oak tree, while fuchsia and hot pink accents relate to the lavender-blue Scaevola that fills the basin of a large fountain.
On the deck overlooking the front garden, annuals, vines, and herbs in containers of varying heights and sizes offer a lush display of season-long color. Although Jon describes his approach as unplanned, his intuitive sense of color, texture, and proportion produces harmonious combinations and striking contrasts. Whether it’s cabbages and caladiums or basil and impatiens, his seemingly random groupings celebrate the aesthetic potential of everything that grows in a profusion of happy chances.
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