In the Garden – Reining In a Runaway Yard

PAGE DICKEY, 70, and her husband, Bosco Schell, 76, were soaking up the sun on their terrace here one afternoon a few weeks ago — floppy hats in place against the rays — explaining how they were simplifying their garden. Sort of.

“The first step is to replace perennials with shrubs and ground covers,” Ms. Dickey said, sipping her coffee after a hearty lunch of her homemade minestrone, whose onions, leeks, garlic and chard came straight from the garden. “We need an overall plan: more green architecture and less plants.”

Mr. Schell, a retired book editor, grew up in Hungary, where his family had a walled kitchen garden. He had peeled the Empires and Mutsus gathered from the orchard here for the fresh applesauce we had eaten, dribbled with cream.

“We talk about simplifying, but the whole joy of gardening is being creative,” he said. “And creativity usually means adding. You go to a nursery and you say, ‘Oh! That’s the perfect plant for us!’ ” (Like the little potted strawberry bush, named Venus, that they fell in love with at a plant sale, and then wandered around with for days, seeking a place for it.)

“Instead of simplifying, we’re complicating,” he added with a chuckle. Mr. Schell, who fled Budapest at 11, when the Germans invaded, can’t bear to throw away any plant; he makes more from seeds and cuttings, to give away or donate to plant sales at the local library.

As Ms. Dickey writes in “Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden,” to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February, “A husband is all very well, but a husband in the garden is a mixed blessing.”