The garden, my garden is an extension of my inner being. It is personal, not just a hobby. It exists not just geographically but metaphysically. The Faire Garden is not a location that stays put. It is the garden I create wherever I happen to be. At the moment it is in Southeast Tennessee, but it could be anyplace. The act of gardening is in the striving to achieve a vision that has been formed by every garden that has been visited, every book that has been read, every magazine article that has been studied and even every blog post that has been poured over and absorbed. The vision is a great cloud of words and pictures swirling inside the hippocampus. It is at this time of year, as the summer lushness winds down, that critical inspection of the garden as a whole and the individual parts can be objectively executed. We want it to be better. It can be better, but how? Why does the hypertufa planter shown above please us so? What is it about that miniature landscape that works so well to give us delight and please the eye? There is color, texture, form, contrast and healthy plants all working together in harmony. Not to mention here, that will be another subject in this series of posts, the ease of care. This planter gets watered and occasional pruning. It looks good all year, even mid winter. This is the vision I have for the entire garden. It is our goal to translate these ideas into job lists that when accomplished will transform this garden into the pleasure producing spot of my dreams and strivings. I invite you to come along on this journey and feel free to offer your opinions. Shall we proceed?
Along the wall at the back of the house is a forty foot bed that gets lots of attention. It is planted with a variety of daffodils, grape hyacinths and small fritillarias that make early spring sing with joy. After that, it is disappointing by comparison. We have used many annuals for color, believing that color was the missing link. There was once a row of lavenders to provide heavenly scent, they all died but two, for the ground is thick red clay under the layers of mulch. What has worked here is Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica, one of the highlights of the hypertufa container that works so well. It has movement, color,and is not too tall to block the view up the hill. It disappears during winter though. There is diversity of leaf form and color with the golden creeping jenny and the Euphobia dulcis ‘Chameleon’. What is lacking is flower color and a larger leaf. Is that asking too much?
Above is the bed at the side of the garage deck. It is a success with the use of the blood grass, creeping thymes giving form contrast and four large plants for substance and dimension, common pussywillow, coppiced, Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ for its black berries and fall leaf color, Rosa ‘About Face’ for peach flower color and a self sown snakeroot, Ageratina altissima for fall presence and insect attraction. Rosemary at the right gives evergreen interest.
A view from under the garage deck just to the right of the previous shot shows the standard trained Pee Gee Hydrangea as focal point but the surrounding plants, while pretty are too similar in leaf form. The volunteer purple perillas keep this from being a sea of green spikes. This bed is the white/yellow garden. That may have not been a good idea as there is not enough contrast. Some of you may think there is nothing wrong here and you are right. But it can be better. What can be added or subtracted to improve this design? That is the driving force behind the desire for change. Knowing that it can be improved.
Another view of the same area shows more of the reasons for dissatisfaction. It is a jumble without design, an accumulation of a variety of plants that are not being used to the best effect. This is a true long shot of the garden behind the garage that includes the orange berries of the giant pyracantha hedge, easily fifteen feet tall and fifty feet long. The neighbor’s mature maple is a borrowed view. You can see the immensity of it knowing the height of the pyracantha. The fall colors of the leaves of this magnificent tree are always stupendous. We are glad to not have to deal with those leaves after they fall however wonderful is the compost they make.
The planting under the Pee Gee shows the failure of delight even better. Again without the weedy perilla it would be even worse. Barely showing up is the budded dwarf goldenrod that will help out with some golden yellow to brighten this spot. The edges are lined with the plentiful grape hyacinths for spring interest and there is a row of small blue Veronica ‘Royal Candles ‘
mixed in there as well. The idea of a yellow/white bed is going to need some tweaking in the plant choices. Last year several echinaceas were added, at no small expense. They have all but disappeared. Some died, and none have grown larger. More study is needed here.
A pleasure at the moment is the fergully area, notice the edge of the compost bin at the far right of this shot. Tall perennials Joe Pye weed and what we call the tall sunflower, rudbeckia lanciniata
are joined by a single volunteer Datura metel.
The large leaves of the datura are what is missing in the yellow/white bed, don’t you agree? Another lesson to be gleaned here is the height of the plants. The back yard is big, three city lots actually and spread out in a way that the entire space cannot be viewed from any one spot. A whole bunch of little plants with little leaves, no matter how beautiful in those macro shots just are not up to the task of meeting expectations. We need more plants with larger leaves. And a mass planting of fewer plants that have multi seasonal interest.
Beautiful and tough Salvia greggii
is a fine example of the little leaf syndrome. Add to that little flowers and you may begin to see the problem. The red is great, it draws the eye just as expected, but there is no contrast of texture and form, and let’s not forget size. But there is hope in the upper right corner of this photo, let’s check it out.
The bed in front of the side of the shed was given the redo treatment last fall. There is a small boxwood hedge that needs to do some more growing that will offer evergreen color and geometry in addition to holding up floppy plants heavy with flower heads and trying to keep their footing on this very steep slope. The blackberry lilies have been spread from collected and sown seeds and are now numerous enough for some impact. Their iris shaped leaves are a good foil to the now brown eryngiums located here. The grass Stipa tenuissima
has been spread here for movement and diversity with its winter leaf color against the boxwood. The hypericum at the right has finally grown to a size that calls attention to the yellow spring flowers, purplish leaf color and dark berries. The color added by the Heleniums is turning this bed into one of the successes. We just need more of these plants to fill in the blank spaces.
Just to show you why this is named blackberry lily. These are ready to be sown in the ground now, and some already have been planted. We need a mass of these plants, for they are very floppy and need to be in a group to hold each other up.
At the end of the long wall behind the main house is the pond. Again this is not adequate to the vision. The red Japanese maples have begun to recover from the direct hit of the Easter freeze of 2007. We lost four out of eight of this type of tree and consider it a blessing that these two were spared. But that disaster did set back the vision for this spot. The pond was redone that same year a month earlier and the hopes were high. The villain for the last two years has been the drought, all but knocking out the hostas that surround the top of the pond. Hostas were used extensively in this shady area of the hill and looked good in the first few years. The lack of water has killed several outright and damaged severely what is still alive. We need that large leaf with the blue and yellow coloring of the cultivars planted here. Is there a substitution that can be made? Something xeric?
To begin the wrap up of this portion of the new design plan we give you a shot taken from the back of the house at the long wall. The space between the house and wall is nine feet and the whole area is covered in river bottom gravel from the Tennessee river. Nearly all of the container collection lives along the wall where the plantings can be watered easily and tended to lovingly. There has never been a year with the containers that we were satisfied with the way they looked. We have tried all perennials for year around interest, all coleus, bulbs with pansies, this year the theme was orange annuals. While nice, this year is like all the rest, with a grade of Cminus being generous.
For those of you who come to this blog to see macro shots of brightly colored flowers, here is your fix. This is the regular shot of a dark orange zinnia with some red Salvia coccinea
to the far left, yellow melampodium just left and Verbena bonariensis
And the same shot cropped.
This is the first installment of the new design series. It has yet to be determined if these will go in sequence or have some other type of posts interspersed between them. On a technical note, all of the photos were taken on the same day at the same time of day, early morning just as the sun was shining with a slant from the East. That is usually a good time for photographing the garden, but it still looks very different in person. Nothing can compare to experiencing a garden in whole with bird songs, insect and wind movement, smells and sensations. The garden is a beauty, there is no disputing that. But it is not static and in the changing there is much improvement that can and will be made, some sooner and some more long term. Plans and tastes can even change before the stage setting bears fruit. Fall leads to winter where gardening is done here in bundled garb and the biggest changes get carried out with moist soil and without the distraction of weeds or butterflies. We can make this place prettier and at the same time easier to tend. It can be done!