Queen of the world-famous vertical garden planted on the steep eastern slope of Boat Canyon, Hortense Miller, died at the age of 99 on August 7, 2008. She was a feisty environmentalist and author who created one of the best private gardens in the country and whose knowledge of plants was sought by leading horticulturists.
Her garden notes, covering the years from 1978 to the present, are as distinctive for their historical allusions as for their scientific precision--one is as likely to learn something about Charlemagne and Cleopatra as about the unexpected gifts of a fire or the essences of vines and ravens.
In her book The Garden Writings of Hortense MIller, she invites us into her world of plants and animals with spontaneous revelations. Her style is simple, lucid, and elastic--very midwestern in its unpretentiousness--her erudition worn lightly. She is one with her subject, and the overall effect is the feeling of a fresh breeze and the smell of newly-turned earth. Accompanying the text is a biographical essay on Hortense and sixteen pages of beautiful color photographs by Steven Gunther, a landscape photographer well-known for his work in Sunset magazine.
The Tenets of Hortense's Gardening
Hortense Miller was a master gardener before Master Gardeners existed. She loved and respected her land and all the creatures who populated it. She was a maverick and early adapter of of gardening practices that we view as commonplace. Some of her early practices were as follows;
• She planted vertically as seen in the house's master bath.
• She used no pesticides or poisons.
• She provided a view in small doses, although hers was expansive.
• She created paths to follow the contour of the land.
• She chipped up, composted and mulched.
• She created a balance between nature and man-made forms.
• She planted her garden in layers.
• She tried many different things and wasn't too sad if they failed.
• She puttered daily, her sprinklers were not automatic!
• She placed things in what she called their best artistic balance.
• Large flat structures are meant to be painted with pictures, designs and murals.
• Her fences were made cheaply and were light enough for her to build and repair.
• Steps were made from materials in the garden.
• Finally, clean up as you go.