Starting from Scratch

This is the first time I’ve started a garden with a blank slate. We had a back yard of grass with a postage size concrete patio. We only stepped outside to cut the grass. It seemed as though we were letting a good place go unused especially since it had a very nice view. Being near water is being hyper-watched by county officials. There are many things they don’t let you do. Decks have to stay within very restricted perimeters. We needed a deck to transition to the yard but were only allowed a 10 by 12 footprint. Permits, surveyors, county inspections were necessary. We complied and got a nice little place to sit and watch the boat traffic.

That was step number one. The real transformation would be the installation of a patio, but how big and what shape. I looked for help where I usually do, in books. Susan Morrison’s the less is more garden was helpful. When working with one of her clients she said:

 “Designing the patio with a gracefully curving shape helps de-emphasize the boxy feeling of this long and narrow backyard. Not only does this soften hard edges, but the double curve subtly distinguishes one side from the other, further interrupting the impression of one long continuous space.”

Her words spoke to me. A curved patio it would be. Our sloping yard required a short wall to hold it in place and keep it level. To me that was a bonus. I could plant on the upper level within the wall and below it for a two tiered effect.

 The hardscaping decided, I still had major decisions – what to plant. It was back to the books. Fine Gardening, a respected gardening journal came to the rescue. Their collection of articles, Beds & Borders; Design Ideas for Gardens Large and Small gave me plenty to think about.

Observe before you design and embrace what is good about your site the first article said. I already knew the view was important and had to admit that the site was wet at times. So I needed to shy away from anything tall enough to obstruct the view and had to choose plants that could tolerate sogginess.

Another article said to create unity in the garden. I am among the plant lovers who return from every nursery visit with a new plant I can’t live without. Such habits can produce a garden that gets quickly out of control and unsettling to view. The author had a three part solution. Establish a backbone plant, integrate and repeat color, create flow with water.

I wanted winter interest, so evergreens would be my backbone. I chose boxwood (Boxus) and false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus) for the upper curves of the patio because the soil there was not soggy. Inkberry (Ilex glabra) would surround the lower perimeter because this native can withstand more water. Making sure to plant at least three of each plant I chose water-loving Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). I’m hoping Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) can take some sun while lining the gravel path. It mimics flowing water so beautifully. As far as a color palate, I will repeat the blues, yellows and whites of the front yard.  I have already planted three David Austin Litchfield Angel shrub roses. Their pale blushing cream will work with any color. My son-in-law kindly constructed a curved cedar arbor to compliment the curves of the patio. Next summer another creamy rose, a David Austin climber, Claire Austin, will grace it.

There is so much more garden design to digest. But isn’t that the pleasure of gardening. There is never an end to learning. A garden can always change and get better and so can a gardener.

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