Sunday, December 28, 2008

Garden Diary: Stripped Bare

Entrance path to future woodland garden

The path meanders through trees toward the main garden

After a major ice storm and rain, the garden is stripped bare of all except hardscape, battered grasses, and mud. Yesterday a heavy fog, brought by a warm front that ended the snow cover, gave the opportunity to measure this year's progress toward creating a sense of mystery, a journey, a narrative - mostly independent of the plantings so prominent in other seasons. The photos in this post were taken yesterday, and you'll see snow and fog in them, and this morning, where you see no snow and no fog. To see detail, you'll need to click on the photos to enlarge them.

Entering through the Woodland Path
To get a sense of narrative, of some as yet untold story, it's best to enter the garden by way of the woodland path. This starts at a gate on the right end of the house and circles around through the woodland garden to the main garden at back. This is a wood chip path shown in the two photos above, and below, where you can see the path meeting a long curving stone wall that carries the view deep into the garden.

The stone walls added this year, and a long, narrow, canal like pond have created structure that controls the movement of both the eye and the body, giving the woodland entrance to the garden a firm direction and flow. Curves do it all... the curving path and wall through the woods, around the end of the house, into the large garden at back (below)...

the curves of two stone walls that enclose the view on the left and right...

the curve of the pond (below) directing the eye along the natural drainage flow across the garden and into the woods beyond...

and the curve of the wall lining the long path (below) as it begins its circle of travel around the entire garden...

... all moving a visitor forward while restraining movement to the limited space between the two curving walls. The fog enhances the sense of mystery, but the structure itself is beginning to suggest a journey.

These views show me I need evergreens to achieve better screening both in summer and especially in winter. I've been reluctant to try anything evergreen in my wet clay (I don't want to spend scarce money on expensive shrubs likely to die, or worse, live long, lingering, ugly deaths). But looking at these photos, I'm convinced it's time to take the risk.

A Second Entrance: Steps
During the the short transit through the woodland garden, a second entrance, from the terrace behind the house, reveals itself (okay, it's only a start).

Built of local stone, these low steps will give access directly from the back of the house onto a soft wood chip path, circling immediately around the stone wall directly to the pond, then continuing out into the middle of the garden.

The rather barren area at the foot of the steps has been planted with a variety of groundcover plugs (tiarella, phlox stolonifera), bunches of Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and legacy daffodils, but it needs winter color. I'm considering willows (maybe Salix alba 'Britzensis') and some form of red twig dogwood, in bunches. You get the idea.

Continuing into the garden (below), glancing to the right, you see the space opening up, looking back over to the pond and the wall at the base of the house ...

... and further right, a small bridged drainage channel to carry off excess water and provide habitat for more bog plants ...

... such as the three Salix alba 'Britzensis' below. I've rooted cuttings of these and should have a virtual wall of them here next year.

And at the end of the wall, the dried remains of a flower of Ligularia japonica (from Plant Delights, where else?).

Next, a Corylopsis spicata and a colony of Lobelia cardinalis (no pictures, nothing to look at now), then my log pile, the remains of a few of the many trees we cut to open a space for the garden, and now a valuable wildlife habitat.

And at the very end of the path, a view of the slope going up to the house, blousy with miscanthus.

This "story" may never be told, not in a finished way. I'm just trying to ask the right questions, to set the stage.


  1. Stories like these are never finished.

  2. Hi there James :)

    Just popped by to wish you a “HAPPY HOGMANAY” and all the best for 2009!!

    Oh… a wood and stone walls and so much space – just wonderful! Really not naming dropping here… but the first couple of photos reminded me of Beth Chatto talking about the beginnings of her woodland garden in her garden video :-D

    You really have wonderful structure for your garden and I am guessing a great eye for seeing how to use it to its advantage too! Looking forward to seeing more in the coming year :-D

  3. How right, Les. For one thing, at a strictly practical level, I'll never have enough money to finish all my projects. At the level of story (meaning), I imagine that will change over time.

  4. New Shoot,
    Interesting you mention bone structure; in a way, I think of this structure as "organic," almost like the skeleton of a giant prehistoric being that may have once existed here.

  5. Shirl,
    If I'm following in Beth Chatto's steps, then bless me! I can't think of a better role model. And a Happy Hogmanay to you!

  6. The dogwood and salix additions will be most beautiful in the winter! Love that plan of yours. And, they might sorta make up for evergreens, which, yes, you should try. And if you find some evergreens that work in wet clay, let me know. I'm a bit tired of arborvitae (I was tired before I planted some, alas). I've been eyeing Klehm's Song Sparrow for dwarf conifers, but am scared to spend the money.

  7. I may be moving toward acceptance of arborvitae again after a long period of dislike. Nandina was a very common plant where I grew up in the south, and I came to hate it. Now I see it as rather exotic, and planted two this fall. I have two arborvitae at the front of the house, and I fully intended to pull them out. Now I've gotten used to them, and come to like the contrast of their winter green against the brown and tan grasses around them. It's much wetter in the main garden at back, so I'm not sure even arborvitae can survive there, but it's likely the first evergreen I'll try. Another possibility, dawn redwood, would be pretty while relatively small, but it will eventually become a giant. I'm at a loss for other alternatives. Perhaps I should try yew, but I read Piet Oudolf lost some of his yews to his high water table.

  8. By accident I saw a "trace" of your blog on my own one and so I found the way to you. With interest I'm reading how you are going to create your new garden. How wonderful and motivating to have a lot of space for realizing the personal dreams and ideas. It must be a treat for the eyes to see the same pictures above in Spring or summer.



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