Til now, posts on these garden walkabouts have only appeared in summer and fall. Spring just wasn't a good time in the garden on Federal Twist. The site is cold and wet, and most of the perennials that thrive in these conditions get a late start. Only this year is the garden beginning to show significant early season interest.
A part of the change is simply maturity. The communities of plants have had a few years to grow together, forming large masses varying subtly in height, texture and color. I've also added shrubs and small trees--while keeping the largest areas open for perennials only, essential for easy planting management--which provide a sense of scale, and a few evergreens, whose dark silhouettes contrast dramatically with the lighter spring greens and golds of the herbaceous perennials.
Right now the morning sun backlights much of the foliage, looking for all the world like fractured stained glass, and the broken light filtering through the partially leafed trees imbues the space with a sense of peace and optimism. The wind gently whispers; humming birds alight in the aged dogwoods that screen the garden view from the house. It's a most pleasant, but of course, transient scene, a momentary Eden which passes quickly enough ...
... passes, for me that is, to the "mechanics" of the garden, for example, structure, contrast in color and form, garden management practices ...
The graveled paths encircling the planted areas, like the dark evergreens, give a visual weight to the garden ... the stone walls, a hard mineral background contrasting with the soft vegetable tissues ...
It's far too early for the pond to be overgrown with vegetation. For a while, the there's a clean edge and the water surface reflects the sky, a distant dogwood (below), or serves as a simple foil for Camassias planted around the pond's perimeter. It's taken three years for these to settle in and get going. Now I see I should plant more, and in other parts of the garden, especially since they echo the form of the hybrid Petasites flower spikes, which are blooming at the same time.
Less photogenic, but essential to understanding another aspect of garden mechanics--the maintenance or management process--are the spreading mats of perennials. Here, an example of matrix planting, Symphyotrichum puniceum (formerly Aster puniceus or Swamp aster) has formed a wide circular mat that out competes many of the less desirable grasses.
And here, large masses of Filipendula rubra 'Venusta', which have been a strong and stable presence for several years now, even though the soil is crowded with a variety of competing plants. If you want to manage large areas rather than "garden" individual plants, you'll have to learn what plants are appropriate to your conditions. That knowledge isn't always easily available, so a willingness to experiment, and to fail, is necessary. I used to have a community of Liatris pyncnostachia mixed in with the Filipendula. It was a stunning combination, but the Liatris gradually succumbed to competitive pressure and has all but disappeared.
"Nature's first green is gold," Robert Frost, that great and cynical observer of Nature, wrote. To build on that golden theme of early spring, I added three Sunburst Honey Locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos 'Sunburst) in the early days of the garden. They've not grown much, but each spring their brilliant foliage beckons like finely hammered artifacts of gold. I don't want them to become large trees; these golden poles are fine.
Then I discovered the wonderful non-native Euphorbia palustris, which I've scattered around to create more pools of golden color, and I may add more. Note here too (below) the thickly growing mass of violets--functioning here as another important garden management tool--ground cover (matrix planting again).
The more distant view from the raised terrace outside the house shows fine detail to the naked eye but not to the camera. What you do see is the void in the forest in which the garden exists, and that void is a defining characteristic of this garden: a clearing in the woods, a safe place, though a tentative safety that might vanish in the blink of an eye.