Sunday, January 07, 2007
The passage of time transforms a garden. We all know that. Plants grow larger, change shape. Spatial relationships change. Light usually diminishes as plants mature. Colors change with the seasons. While these changes can be observed with all plants, they are perhaps most visible with herbaceous perennials, which display all their changes in a single season, emerging from the earth in spring, maturing, flowering, then dying in fall.
But more subtle alterations occur in the appearance of plantings during the growing season. The crystal clear light of spring and early summer morphs into a moving spotlight of sun by high summer, bleaching colors at mid-day, lessening contrasts of shape and form, generally blurring differences in the character of plants.
Weather conditions too make for quite dramatic changes in appearance. The photo above was made in my Rosemont garden on a hot, very humid, windy day in late July 2003. You can see drama in the wind buffeting the Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerester', introducing an element of chaos and excitment, the haze of humidity in the air, especially in the background, tinting the trees slightly grey-blue, the foreshadowing of autumn in the fading blossom of the Persicaria polymorpha as the cloud-white plumes become spotty with brown of early decay, in contrast with the vitality of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway') in full bloom - shades of those hot scirocco winds in Italy (but this is in the Delaware River Valley).
The tranquillity of the second photo, of the same scene, taken almost a year later in 2004, but in early summer, serves to emphasize the dramatic nature of the first, and clearly demonstrates how local climatic conditions can change the nature of your garden.
In the second image, the cool temperature, still air, low humidity, freshness of foliage, and the vitality and unblemished colors of newly grown cells - in contrast to the fading white bloom of the persicaria in the first photo - lend a peacefulness and clarity totally different from the first. I'd even go so far as to say the weather, light, wind, humidity, and time of year are as much a part of the garden scene as the plants. They're all part of a whole, but you have to look at the whole, not just the parts, to see it.
More obviously, the tree (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Freesia'), has grown taller over the intervening year, the Joe Pye Weed, so prominent in the first image, hasn't yet attained height and is totally invisible behind the persicaria, as is the calamagrostis, yet the catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low') has fattened into glorious clumps of gray with dozens of ascending purple spires.
All of this is obvious to anyone who looks, possibly even banal. But for me it's emblamatic of the mystery of the interrelatedness of everything living. Starting with energy from sunlight, water, earth, the human eye and hand, life in all its varied forms.
The last photo, taken later in the summer of 2004, shows the same scene in larger context. Here the rapidity of growth is even more evident. The catmint is spreading like a sea, the Sedum 'Herbstfreude' is in bloom, and a new area of the garden has been planted in the distance to the left. The changes that have taken place in just over one year are striking, perhaps even threatening a return to total wildness, and demonstrate just how precarious is the order of a garden, calling out for the gardener, who, of course, is part of all this too.