In The Garden With: Andrew Keys

by Rochelle Greayer

in People

I am so happy to introduce you to my friend Andy Keys.  Andy’s is a first-rate plant know-it-all and his first book (soon to be followed by another) is out this month.  In Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?: 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants he inspires readers to think outside of the tried and not necessicarily true garden stalwarts that we all have a tendency to buy.   I wholeheartedly endorse the message of breaking out of a rut, trying something new and mixing it up — even if all that means is making some new planting decisions. – rochelle

andrew keysHow would you define your style (garden, fashion, interiors, other, or all of the above)?

My style inside and out is a smorgasbord of easygoing, elegant decay. I like things a little wild, a little worn, a little gone to seed. I try to color inside the lines of design principles enough to keep it cohesive and still leave room for experiments. I always mix styles, but I always make reference to nature, with dashes of Modernism, and quirk that stops short of comedy.

birdcage light

Do you have a garden? What is it like?

I live in an old colonial in the center of a bucolic Massachusetts town, so my garden here is a mashup of my response to that, through the scope of my individual taste, my lust for plants, and my need to test out plants and design ideas. (Right now, I’m obsessed with mixing grasses and plants with bold foliage.) It’s a wild collection, hemmed in just enough by design basics: lots of oddities, lots of grasses, perennials, deciduous trees and shrubs, a few key conifers. It’s not no-maintenance, but it’s low-maintenance in the sense that I do virtually nothing to it during the growing season beyond a periodic weeding. My “one day” garden would be a bit more finished in terms of bones—hardscaping and whatnot—and where I’ve found that sweet spot between simplicity in plant palette and a mixture of many plants.

Berkheya purpurea

Do you have any favorite or sentimental plants or flowers?  Why are they a favorite?

YES! My book was inspired by my sentimentality for plants! I grew up in the South—Mississippi, not far from New Orleans—and even though Boston is definitely home now, I’ve pined for the plants of my youth I can’t grow outdoors here: sweet olive, live oak, scrub palmetto, star jasmine, star anise, gardenia, longleaf pine. My inability to grow those plants (or at least grow them well) inspired me to search out new favorite plants I could grow that tugged at my heartstrings in the same way. It seemed like the kind of thing other people might relate to. The book comes out in November, so we’ll see!

Lindera and tetrapanax

What is your earliest or favorite gardening related memory?

I grew up playing in the woods behind my house, and I remember vividly playing in loose understory groves of some ancient devil’s walking stick (a plant I grow now). I also remember the first time I found wild mountain laurel in bloom, and the same with star anise—they were so weird and wonderful, and like nothing anyone was growing in their yards.

elements in andrew keys garden

What are three cardinal design rules that you think apply to outdoor projects?

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat: most gardeners I know like to grow lots of different plants, and I’m no different. In terms of design principles, the key in my mind is to choose certain elements to repeat throughout your garden to knit the whole thing together. It can be a specific color, texture, shape, or even on particular plant.
  2. Get outside your comfort zone: if you want to grow as a creative person, you’ve got to constantly look for new ways to push the limits of what you’re comfortable with, be they big or small. Experiment is quite often the mother of invention and inspiration.
  3. Chill the **** out: if there’s one thing I’ve consistently observed among family, friends, clients, plant people of all stripes—and my own damn self—it’s that we tend to overthink things. People: plants will die. Design plans will not be 100% perfect. You will live. Life will go on! You will find something new to plant in place of the one that died. You’ll move the one you don’t like the placement of six inches to the left—and it will change your life. But remember that, above all, at least in the big picture, this should bring you joy.

Andy Recommends….

  • Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, Connecticut is my favorite place within driving distance to shop for plants, and guess what? If you’re not local, they do mail order too!
  • I also love to shop in person at Avant Gardens, and Opus Plants is amazing if you can catch him at a plant sale.
  • I’m a huge fan of flea markets for home and garden, and my local is Todd Farm. (I link to Yelp because the Todds, who own the property, have split on how to manage it and the market, and there are two sites now—how’s that for quirky New England?)
  • I also try to make it to the Brimfield Fair once a year. (The editor of this here blog is a big fan too.)
  • It’s also hard to beat the Crate & Barrel Outlet in Kittery, Maine

images andrew keys