Tag Archives: garden design

Porch Update & the Big Idea

It’s been an exciting week, as porch construction is now progressing at a brisk pace.  When I arrived home Sunday evening after more than 3 weeks of travel, only the floor was finished, but framing took just a few days and this afternoon a roof membrane was rolled out in anticipation of shingles.

Monday morning

Monday morning

Wednesday morning

Wednesday morning

Thursday afternoon

Thursday afternoon

We’ve also received the happy news that the custom windows are complete and will be installed after the holiday weekend.  The subcontractor who will build the basement-level patio is also slated for a consultation within the week.

All of these are good things, but my thoughts are completely monopolized by a BIG IDEA.

I have a list of tips for making the most of a garden tour which I share when leading a group.  One of those ideas is to continually reference what you see on tour to your landscape at home, imagining how features or plants might work in your personal garden.

What design might work in this long but narrow space?

What design might work in this long but narrow space?

Imagine my excitement, then, when I saw a garden design at Mottram Hall, a grand property hotel in the Cheshire countryside, that offered a solution for organizing my long but narrow space.

It’s simple really—a five part garden connected like a string of pearls.

The garden at Mottram Hall, set within a large rectangle of lawn, comprised 3 circles—a large center circle with two smaller circles at each end—linked by a pair of Arts & Crafts pergolas.

One end of the Mottram Hall garden (L to R):  large circle, Arts & Crafts pergola, small circle

One end of the Mottram Hall garden (L to R): large circle, Arts & Crafts pergola, small circle

Mottram Hall garden, view across the center circle, from one pergola to the other.

Mottram Hall garden, view across the center circle, from one pergola to the other.

The question, however, is what form should the 5-part garden take?  Since the space will often be viewed from above and the garden will be set among surrounding beds of plants, rather than a lawn, pergolas are not a feasible choice.  Plus, because the width of the garden is uniformly narrow, the center section should be an oval or rectangle, not a large circle.  Here are a few ideas…

DSC_5301

So, what do you think?  Is a five-part design a good choice for the space?  Do you have a favorite among the options above?  And, what other possibilities come to mind?

Revamping the Foundation Planting

It’s been a week since I said I would show the new garden, so I guess you’ve noticed I’m dragging my feet. To tell the truth, it’s been a lot harder to pull my thoughts together than I expected and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because shade gardening is a new medium for me and I’m not confident in my vision.

In fact, more than anything, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. After spending a lot of time reading about shade gardens and going through my photo library to pinpoint what I like about them, I’ve put all that aside to follow my instincts.

So, here we go!

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

As you can see, the areas on either side of the front door are relatively small because the sweeping driveway adjoins the front stoop. As you look to the right of the door, the “before” planting included Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine) on the wall, Loropetalum chinense (Chinese fringe) under the windows, a Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon) and a hodgepodge of roses and sun-loving perennials at the front of the bed, an Acer japonicum (fullmoon Japanese maple) in the right corner, and an abundance of weeds, especially pokeweed, which I soon discovered has a very long tap root.

After renovation, April 2013.

After renovation, April 2013.

In the revamp, I chose to focus on texture, rather than color or bloom. I made this choice, in part, because my gut told me the hardscape needed to be softened and the house, which looked like it floated on a sea of asphalt, could be better grounded. Since lawn was impractical, Ophiopogon japonicus (mondo grass) was the logical solution.

Two of the original plants, the Confederate jasmine and the fullmoon Japanese maple, were utilized in the new design and give it instant maturity. In addition to the ornamental grass, a pool of Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern) was planted under the maple, three stately Buxus sempervirens (common boxwood) were added in front of the windows, and a Fatsia japonica (fatsia or Japanese aralia) was planted at the corner of the house.

Finally, for feature interest, Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ was added near the stoop. This hybrid grows well in the South and will bloom in summer with 6-foot tall stalks of white flowers with hood-like purple bracts.

Last month, I commissioned two identical metal trellises for either side of the windows. One will replace the plastic support under the Confederate jasmine and the other will provide a frame for ‘Applejack’, a shade-tolerant Buck rose that can be grown as a short climber. ‘Applejack’, lightly fragrant with the scent of apples and cloves, has perky pink single blooms.

Though the garden is shady, this area does get some hot sun in the middle of the day. I’m not sure the rose will be a success, but figure it’s worth a try.

Initially, I planned to add Aspidistra elatior (cast iron plant) behind the boxwood shrubs. Now, however, I’m afraid they would be sunburned. (What do you think? Do you have a suggestion for an alternative?) If I don’t come up with something interesting, I may plant more mondo grass.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

One other thing that may have caught your eye is the dry creek bed. When I cleared the bed, I found a drainage grate in the center of the space. Knowing I would always struggle to keep the grate open if storm water flowed over a mulched bed, I decided to make life easy by channeling the water. The dry creek works like a charm, adds an extra point of interest, and relaxes the formality of the planting scheme.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Similar changes were made to the left side of the front stoop. There is one noticeable difference, however. A ‘Jane’ magnolia, too large and spreading under the eaves of the house, was replaced by an upright Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese stewartia).

Front stoop, April 2013.

Front stoop, April 2013.

The stoop itself is ornamented with a collection of ceramic pots that are planted with seasonal ornamentals, a birdbath, and a wicker rocker.

September 2010

September 2010

Glorious spring, 2012.

Glorious spring, 2012.

Remembering When

All day today I’ve been thinking about Helen’s post on The Patient Gardener’s Weblog, which asks what’s more important—plants or design? In my response to Helen, I admitted I’m a design person but also noted that I’ve grown in my appreciation for plants, as well as authentic gardens (those in harmony with their surroundings and the gardener’s daily life).

Front, before

Front, before

Front, after

Front, after

Side, before

Side, before

Side, after

Side, after

Back, before

Back, before

Back, after

Back, after

After hours of pondering, here’s the essential truth: I don’t think I realized how much I like plants until I moved to a garden that doesn’t provide enough light to grow everything and anything I want.

I grew up in the country so my earliest memories are bound up with farm life…sitting on my grandfather’s lap while he graded chicken eggs, handing off tobacco leaves to my mother for tying, pulling a bucket of turnips for my grandmother…the list goes on and on.

And honestly, when I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from all that. It wasn’t until Tim and I bought our first home that I gave gardening another thought. Now, nearly 30 years later, we’re on our 4th house and 4th garden.

The photos here show the suburban home we bought in November 2000 and sold in August 2011 just prior to moving to our current neighborhood closer to downtown Greenville. I remember the first months in this house, still unpacking boxes, when I gazed out the windows and imagined what the garden would become. I had very strong ideas about what I wanted, and though I made plenty of mistakes along the way, I never wavered in my vision.

In some respects, it was easy to impose my will on the landscape because it was such a blank slate. After the bulldozers left and the house was built, only foundation plants and lawn were added by the home’s original owners.

The only tricky part, really, was the slightly sloping backyard, and that problem was solved by Dabney Peeples (both friend and landscape designer) who suggested a retaining wall to flatten the area behind the house and separate it from an adjacent area with mature hardwood trees.

I miss this garden and the lovely views afforded by every window. But I don’t miss the hours it took to cut the grass, rake the gravel paths, water the containers and vegetable beds, and keep the flower borders tidy. Neither does Tim. Caring for this garden was a full job every weekend for two people.

What about the new garden? The simplest explanation is to say I’m still sorting it out. The landscape here has been cultivated by a succession of hands-on gardeners since the 1950’s and thus contains a wide range of plant material of various ages, growing conditions are vastly different, and perhaps most important, many of my notions about gardening are in transition.

Nonetheless, I’ll share the progress made in the new garden, such as it is, in my next post.

Back, after, view from house into garden.  My favorite spot to sit on a May morning with a cup of coffee in hand and Rudy and Bella in my lap.

Back, after, view from house into garden. My favorite spot to sit on a May morning with a cup of coffee in hand and Rudy and Bella in my lap.

Brilliant!

I’m in Philadelphia for the British invasion! Yes, you heard me right; the English have arrived on our shores once again — not by boat but by flower!

Gates of the Royal Palace offer an over-the-top floral welcome to the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show.

Gates of the Royal Palace offer an over-the-top floral welcome to the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show.

Grand entrance of birch allee and Big Ben.

Grand entrance of birch allee and Big Ben.

Beginning tomorrow at its 11:00 a.m. opening, the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show will be “Brilliant!” The show, inspired by the creative genius of Great Britain, pays tribute to both the cultural icons of England and its continuing influence on garden design.

Yesterday evening I joined other garden writers and photographers for a sneak peek at this year’s show and will return again in a few hours to see if exhibitors can pull it all together before tonight’s Black Tie Preview Party.

It was quite extraordinary to be led into the 10-acre exhibition hall in my red hardhat for an insider’s look at the construction of the show. A few exhibits were in their final form, but many were in the early stages of development.

Though my photos don’t quite capture the chaos, small cranes and tractors ruled the floor, while bulky boxes of plants and 5-gallon buckets of cut flowers were everywhere. The room was incredibly cold to maintain floral freshness (my fingers and toes were ice long before the end of the tour), but despite the frigid temperature the heady fragrance of blooms filled the vast hall.

Every detail complete at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Every detail complete at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

White Wedding under construction.

White Wedding under construction.

After the tour, Alan Jaffe, PHS Communications Director, hosted a light dinner at the Convention Center. Sam Lemheney, PHS Senior Vice President of Shows and Events, provided an overview of the creation of this year’s show, spilling the beans that the idea for “Brilliant!” stemmed from a creative brainstorming session in London over a few pints. Many thanks to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for their kind hospitality.

The special media event sponsored by PHS was also an opportunity to reconnect with garden writer friends such as Kirk Brown, aka John Bartram at the recent GGMG symposium, and Charlotte Kidd, fellow writer for The National Gardening Association. I made a few new friends too, including Steve Whysall of Vancouver, Canada. Be sure to catch Steve’s blog for The Vancouver Sun and also stay tuned here for more news on the latest British incursion.

That's all for now from groovy London, baby!

That’s all for now from groovy London, baby!

Cogitating

Cogitating is one of my husband’s favorite words and it’s no wonder, Tim is a man who likes to think about things. In fact, he values thinking about stuff for a long time; weighing pros and cons and examining issues and possibilities from every angle.

By and large, I’m not a cogitator. I’m a doer. And when I’m not doing, I’m procrastinating. I like to believe I’m quick-witted, and smart about some things, but in general I’m emotional and intuitive rather than thoughtful.

This past summer I took a photograph of a man cogitating. The image, made at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, England, shows a man dressed for brisk weather, even in July, sitting on a semicircular bench situated within the long border.

The perfect bench at RHS Harlow Carr.

The perfect bench at RHS Harlow Carr.

I know the man was cogitating because I watched him pace the dimension of the bench before sitting down, and after I took the photograph, I saw him motion his wife over to examine the seat too. He was cogitating, in the full sense of the word—pondering, even musing—what a similar bench would be like in his own garden.

When I look at this picture now, so many months later, I feel the joy of that day. I experience again the pure glee that so many gardeners visiting Harlow Carr, be they from Yorkshire or South Carolina, were engaged in a day of discovery.

I wonder, though, if the man noted the window-like paving that grounded the bench and its clever suggestion that a seat within a border creates a unique view. And if, when he built his bench at home, he thought to place an enchanting, peek-a-boo screen of grasses to flutter in the breeze like curtains?

Recently, I told my readers in The Greenville News that I would cogitate about a new planting scheme for the large, half-moon-shaped bed that comprises the view from my home’s front windows. I want to transform this space to add more color, not only with blooms, but also with foliage, and I know this action merits thoughtful consideration.

But perusing photos for inspiration, searching shade-gardening books for plant options, weighing pros and cons and examining issues and possibilities from every angle doesn’t feel like progress to me; it feels like procrastination.

What I really want to do is to commence digging, prying out old Clarissa hollies and the mishmash, dog’s dish of evergreen azaleas. My fingers itch to transplant the hellebores from their hideout under the dogwood tree to the foot of the bed where eyes can more easily find their luminous flowers. I’m eager to spread a life-sustaining layer of compost and, most of all, I’m desperate for the streak of genius that will produce the perfect plan in five-minutes flat. Or less.

Problem is, can I do it? Can I rely solely on heart and intuition? Or by embracing my own method, will I end up with just an ordinary space, rather than a unique and magical garden to fill my window on the world?