Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden Diary: March of progress

I take a risk posting photos of my garden at this time of the year. Will you understand that gardens change continuously throughout the year? Will you view these photos knowing a perennial and grass prairie (a very wet prairie in this case) has to be appreciated for what it is now, even though not a traditional 'vision' of early spring, and viewed with its later season potential held gently in the mind's eye? This is the most barren time of the year, standing water, mud where the soil is disturbed, but all this is natural and appropriate (though a sheet of daffodils is possible, and hoped for, some day; possibly Caltha palustris; in fact, many plants with 'palustris' in their names).

If the top photo looks suspiciously like the one in my March 16 post, look more closely and you'll see the elevated stone planting bed at the end of the pond is nearing completion. Last Saturday while I mowed the remaining perennials, burned the Miscanthus giganteus and cut multiflora rose at the edge of the property, Joel and his father almost finished the stone structure. You can see from a distance it acts as a visual extension of the pond.

But all is not as planned. I tried to avoid the amoeba shape Peter H. criticized. I wanted to get a graceful curve in the stone, but either my communication ability or Joel's skill weren't up to the task. There is a definite S-curve here, but the final product is a rather clunky looking affair. It still needs some refinement, to be done next weekend, when ten cubic yards of "top soil" arrive to fill it and, I hope, leave some to spare.

We have to remove the plants stranded inside the stone walls. Now that the frozen ground has thawed, we'll be able to do that.

This is not what I expected but I'm trying to persuade myself that appropriate plantings will make this all work together as a unified structural feature. I can't afford to redo it.

I'm trying to visualize this in the photo (below) of the same area from last fall. My intent has been to plant a large oakleaf hydrangea to visually join the stone and the pond, and to use some form of evergreen topiary (simple) to create a sense of formality against the wildness of the rest of the garden.

Now I'm thinking more freely of other options. Perhaps a solid ground cover of Bergenia x 'Winterglut'. The red foliage would make a striking sight in winter and complement oranges of a new bank of Salix alba 'Britzensis'. I know the bergenia holds up well through all kinds of weather (I have it on the terrace outside the house, where it's a pleasure to see against the gravel surface). Perhaps a ground cover of bergenia under the topiary ... I'll know better by mid-summer.


  1. Lovely blog James. I look forward to future posts.

  2. Oakleaf hydrangea or bergenia, plants with big showy leaves that get very colorful in fall and hold something (color or dried flowerhead)through winter.I like what your thinking here.

  3. Hi James...

    I'm flattered and a little surprised that you've taken my suggestions so seriously. Hopefully, I didn't inspire many sleepless hours.

    I like these new ideas as well...A mass of Bergenia with the topiary will be nicely sculptural. Grounding. And this raised bed might be a good excuse to try some early spring flowering bulbs as well, yes?

    James, is it my imagination or are you a little disappointed that you feel the need for a little more architecture or in the wilderness?

    Maybe this is just a projection...



  4. Gloria,
    I'm also planning to build experimental low mounds, about one foot high, planted closely with sesleria autumnalis and bergenia, in hope this will raise their roots sufficiently to allow then to thrive. This will give me more openness in the garden (low level plantings) and winter interest. But this is experimental, I won't know until next year how it works.

  5. Peter,
    I didn't lose sleep over this, but I certainly value advice of others and want to consider other points of view. I'm just not particularly pleased with the result of this project, though I hope to rescue it, partially by disguising it with plantings. I'll definitely need some random clumps at the base of the stone to help integrate it visually. I'm not sure I understand your last question. I'm not disappointed that I feel the need for more "architecture," but I am discouraged that I can't afford to do all the things I want to do. One of my favorite concepts would be an elevated walkway of steel extending out from the house over the garden, but this would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and will never be. I'd also like several marble or granite monuments (similar to grave stones) but that's also a costly endeavor, though possibly one I may be able to make happen some day (if our economy improves sufficiently--or I win the lottery).



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