Our mission at Mezzacello is Grow, Maintain, Sustain, Explain. Having to water the formal garden constantly is a violation of at least three of these tenets. So while we were designing the gardens at Mezzacello we took the time to arrange the beds to maximize irrigation and water flow. We also dug trenches beneath the beds and lined them with straw, twigs, rocks and river gravel. The surface area of the rocks and twigs holds a large amount of water. When it rains, the swales refill and release their water naturally. The soil at a Mezzacello is heavy alluvial clay so it holds water well, but when it dries it cracks. The swale keeps all the plants capable of getting their roots to the swale green and healthy and minimizes the amount of watering required. On the edges of all the formal beds, mounds of mounding monkey grass (lariope) capture and redirect water to the interiors of the beds and towards the swales.

An illustration of a swale. Jim Bruner | Mezzacello

The second benefit of the swale is that it favors plants that can regulate their water efficiently. Some plants just didn’t make it. We know better now. Boxwoods, peonies, poppies. alliums, gladiolus, foxglove, lariope, knockout roses, quince, hornbeams, Lenten rose, pachysandra, lilac, and anemone. All of these plants have adapted well to the swale system at Mezzacello. That leaves us free to decorate the gardens with show pieces staged in pots with swale reservoirs built in. This makes the gardens appear more exotic and formal. It is also far more sustainable and enjoyable. Oh and much easier to maintain as well. So we can focus on the growing part!

Mounded monkey grass drives water towards the swales. Jim Bruner | Mezzacello

There is no greater sense of peace and pride than living in a garden that matches your ambition and your ability. The pride of knowing the system you built is lush, functional, sustainable and manageable is fulfilling. The formal gardens at Mezzacello are an important part of the enclosed sustainable ecosystems that comprise the gardens. The formal gardens provide us beauty and shade. They feed our souls with their serenity and privacy. Ultimately this ecosystem feeds our bodies with the compost and fruits, roots, and flowers.

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