by Laura Frankstone
photographs by Catherine Nguyen
If my garden could talk, you would hear mostly French, with traces of North and South Carolina-inflected English.
I lived in France for three years as a young child; the shapes and patterns of that country’s elegant formal gardens became imprinted in my heart. This was, as far as I could tell, the way things grew.
In my grandmother’s garden in Charlotte, luscious gardenias and glowing panicles of snowball bushes thrilled me to my core. Her verdant oval of lawn studded by white iron glider benches and chairs was my one constant in a childhood of frequent moves, the dislocations of a military family’s life.
My mother-in-law’s Charleston courtyard garden was proof that formal design could live happily in an intimate setting. There grew a deft mix of herbs, flowers, and ferns, with graceful seating for conversation.
My garden’s French accent has grown stronger over the years, with many visits to France. A pilgrimage I made to Le Jardin Agapanthe in Normandy, the gardens of brilliant garden designer Alexandre Thomas, was especially transformative, showing me you can use traditional French garden motifs in free and fresh ways.
My garden tells many stories, those of an artist-gardener who plants for texture, color, and shape, more than from horticultural considerations. It tells stories of my daughter’s wedding, rehearsal parties, receptions, countless dinners, and birthday celebrations of children and grandchildren. It tells the story of 3 a.m. meteor showers, seen from two outdoor lounge chairs given to me expressly for the purpose of stargazing.
What those other gardens told me, and what my garden says, is that in order and beauty, there is comfort. Life provides enough pyrotechnics. Let our gardens give us peace, space for reverie, and delight.