The Charm of Disorder

the charm of flowers
in painterly textures;
heart-ful patina

This haiku moment at our home in Mystic, CT, Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 2022:

A perfect Connecticut shoreline day here in Mystic. We decided to stay closer to home so Roxanne can paint our cottage garden. It’s lovely this afternoon and alive with color, sunlight, and textures. There’s a little breeze in the air, so things are in motion as well.

What IS a cottage garden? I went in search for some definitions, and most were a bit technical for my taste, but THIS one struck a chord:

"Cottage gardens contain a diversity of plants, delighting all the senses and creating a natural, relaxed atmosphere. There are many textural plants available that are pleasing to touch, such as the soft, furry leaves of lamb's ear. A variety of herbs offer enticing aromas…." 1

That’s it… I like this because it captures something more human about the cottage garden; the delight of the senses, relaxation, pleasure. And we have lamb’s ear too!

One of the standouts in the garden this year is rose campion (lychnis coronaria). Roxanne is very proud of what has come up, since she was diligent about shaking seed on the places where she wanted to them to grow over the last couple years, and they have not disappointed. I have to admit, I was skeptical, since rose campion in not one of my favorite plants. Most of my experience with this plant has been seeing them individually scattered around gardens, and they are just not compelling that way; kind of spindly with silvery fingers spread out near the top, with one solitary purple flower at the end. The grey-green of the stalk seems not quite right with the magenta of the flower.

But THIS year, we have them in masses, and oh my! I’ve changed my mind! It’s a different flower in mass. With a mass of these lovelies, a NEW shape takes form that is not there when scattered singly around the garden; the shape of the mass itself, textured with with strong but softened vertical lines, capped by a riot of neon-purple color seemingly afloat on top of the mass. The silvery-gray-green of the stems and their unusual texture, contrast with the color and texture of other masses. It is a delight to the senses!

And THAT is one of the keys to painting a cottage garden for Roxanne; finding the masses. Masses of color, structure, texture, shadow, and light. One technique she talks about is squinting to help uncover the hidden shapes and to find focal point where light and shadow are most contrasted. That really works and helps me to appreciate the diversity of this garden.

A white picket fence provides a strong anchor here for everything else and a brilliant contrast between the shadowed parts and the ones in sunlight. The white of the fence reflects the color of the the nearby flowers as well. A Pee Gee hydrangea in full sun frames the far end of the fence. The mass of rose campion stands like a disorderly crowd along the front of the fence, their stems brilliant in the sunlight, and green-grey in shadow. Pink and cream Eden roses in full bloom lean over the fence, straining to make sure they get into the painting.

The disorder ("painterliness") of the garden is part of its charm, one of the reasons that cottage gardens have this "natural, relaxed atmosphere". It feels like a soft and scuffed pair of denim blue jeans or sitting at an old wooden desk with papers and leather books scattered around. The disorder itself, conveys a sense of something that has revealed a beautiful patina over time, that has been lovingly enjoyed and imprinted with user marks.

And, such disordered places mark the user as well, softening the hard edges. And here is where the mystery begins. Just as the cottage garden has masses of texture, shadow and light, color, and depth; so do we. And if the disorder of the garden is part of its charm, the disorder in us is part of the same charm… it’s beautiful in us… delighting all the senses… pleasing to the touch; the patina of our hearts develop over time, revealing itself to others.

WIth time and wisdom, we begin to let go of control in our lives. We trust that the perennials in our heart will come up when the time is right. We let go of consistency and orderliness, and allow for a diversity of textures. We might even give up weeding and allow a few enterprising volunteers to work their way through the more publicly acceptable parts, adding to the richness of our lives. To the ordered mind, this is an affront, but the heart-centered one relishes the imperfections.

Where might we mass flowers in our hearts in a way that gives rise to NEW shapes within us? Shapes that come shimmer in sunlight and contrast with one another… shapes that make, even the weeds, seem glorious….

Painting by Roxanne Steed
Haiku and meditation by Ronald Steed
Copyright 2022 ©

  1. Quinn, M. (2022, June 10). How to design an old-fashioned cottage garden. Gardener's Path. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from