Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Garden Diary: Reflections

Barring some brief, miraculous frosty transmogrification, the garden is gone for the year. I'm ready to burn what I can and cut the rest. Winter's barely here and I want to move on. 

I have projects, changes to make, things to do. I was recently notified, you see, that the garden will be on the Garden Conservancy Open Days next year. Nothing like a deadline for motivation. Right now, unfortunately, this feels like work. Where's that delight in gentle, impulsive garden making? I want play and pleasure--not work. For years toiling in the corporate coal mines I kept as my mantra (or complaint) Robert Frost's words in Two Tramps in Mud Time:

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

It seems I never accomplished that goal, so as next best, I've semiretired to garden play, or so I thought. Could it be the competitive instinct is inborn, so deeply ingrained, I can't stop it? So to prepare for next summer, I've started on a series of changes, "improvements" as they were fond of calling them in 18th century English landscape culture, more I'm sure than I'll have time or money for. Down the road, I hope I'll be able to remember this is play too.

The first project is this one ...

We just finished the new reflecting pool. Much work remains--building a low stone retaining wall for the gravel bed, deciding what pattern to use for the paving, entirely replanting the area around the pool. I want a touch of formality, probably mostly shaped box wood and Thuja spires, contrasting with the wildness and informality, especially here near the house and pool, where straight lines and right angles lend a greater sense of geometric order.

Hidden under the bank going up to the house, I hardly see this new pool area from above. But from down in the garden, it's been an annoyance. The garden is young--barely seven years--and I just hadn't had time to deal with it.  I planted a Salix 'Hakuro-nishiki', which grew fast and helped cover up the inattention, but it was time to fix this.

View coming down the stairs from the house.

My initial thought was to create a simple path and paved area, and new plantings, to add strolling options and a more engaging experience in the garden. Then it occurred to me I could make room to add a reflecting pool. (I've been exceedingly happy with the new pool in the small Brooklyn garden, so the thought of adding a reflective element at Federal Twist caught my interest.) The ideas started morphing and I realized I could also take this opportunity to remove a gravel path I've always disliked, reuse the gravel in the new pool area, and turn the unsuccessful path into a new planting area, even mound new soil on the path, creating a kind of irregular berm, with the hope the improvement in drainage will allow me to grow some plants that don't thrive in heavy wetness.

Once the pool was finished, however, I wasn't satisfied. I wish it were larger, but topography prevents that. Much more importantly, it doesn't look like it belongs. So instead of using this new area as open negative space, which I had planned to do, I'll enclose and partially hide the pool within close plantings of shrubs, grasses and perennials. It can be glimpsed through the plantings, but will remain an enticing, seemingly out-of-reach mirage from many parts of the garden. The photo below shows something of the veiled, partial glimpses I'd like to create.

When the area around the pool is fully planted, it will be partially hidden, veiled by vegetation.

I made these mark-ups with a simple program called Skitch to better envision how massing might work to make the reflecting pool a private area for contemplation. First, the view from the south, shown below. Small paths will allow entry from the left, the right, and the back. The green shapes may be shrubs such as box wood and spires of Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae), which does very well in my wet soil, and is an extraordinarily beautiful, native evergreen in spite of what you might think! The yellows and blues show how various mounding and vertical grasses and perennials might be used to create privacy and screen views into and out of the area--and to hide the unsightly deer exclusion fence at the back (another problem solved).

Below is a view from the opposite (north) side. Another aspect of the new plantings--apart from screening and visual pleasure they can give--is controlling reflections in the pool. To some extent I can experiment by moving plants around in containers, but intuition will certainly play an important role. I can already see that distant trees will probably dominate the reflected view, and am pleased with that. Again, apart from the green lines, which indicate Thuja and box, the other colors represent general concepts for massing of grasses and perennials, and perhaps other shrubs such as Lindera angustifolia (if I can find it), viburnums, or coppiced willows (I'm particularly interested in finding Rosemary willow, Salix elaeagnos 'Angustifolia'.)

This final view shows the area from behind the path I'm removing. This will become a messy, sprawling (read "naturalistic") berm  planted with shrubs and perennials, giving some added height. Though I will order a few "prize" plants from remote sources, I need large, well established specimens from local nurseries to get a finished effect in time for next summer. That means using what's available locally and remaining open to improvisation.

I think using Skitch has awakened my sense of play. We'll see.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I woke to a frosty morning, an icy crust on the garden, a low brilliant sun lighting the mess that remains from Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm in local recorded history, and a heavy wet snow that fell a few days after. I thought the garden was at an end, but these photos give the lie to that. Instead, they celebrate the strong, intricate structure of the grasses and perennials at Federal Twist. The frost and light create a delicate, ephemeral landscape.

I rarely take a "how to" approach to blog posts, but it may be helpful to see how some plants weathered the storms and remain to give pleasure, so I'll name the survivors below. The empty spaces usually incidate plants there earlier in the season didn't last through the storms. I'll name some of them too, though I certainly don't suggest you avoid them.

Eupatorium perfoliatum, Sedum 'Herbstfreude' in back

Asters, stalks of Filipendula Rubra, Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerester' at back

Same plants with Sedum in front

Rudbeckia maxima added

Rudbeckia maxima


Filipendula, Calamagrostis

Asters, Panicum 'Dallas Blues'

Flattened plants:  Aster puniceus, day lilies, Sanguisorba, Filipendula. Standing:  Euphorbia palustris, Miscanthus purpurescens, Miscanthus 'Silberfeder', Vernonia ...

Rudbeckia maxima, Calamagrostis a. 'Karl Foerester', Filipendula, Sedum 'Herbstfreude'

Eupatorium perfoliatum (again), Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Most of the remaining plants have been identified at least once, so you're on your own.

Eupatorium perfoliatum, Bergenia, boxwood, Hydrangea quercifolia, miscanthus and Thuja occidentalis

The Hydrangea quercifolia in the next three photos turned very late, leaving this dark wine color.

Panicum 'Dallas Blues', outstanding in icy raiment.

The Filipendula and Eupatorium atropurpureum will retain dried flowers and leaves in most winters. But the extraordinarily violent winds of Sandy left only the upright structure.

This view of the house explains the reason for a naturalistic garden.

The boxwood and Thuja evergreens add more than just color interest in winter. They make an important contribution to structure. I plan to add more.

The large empty area is home to a community of Filipendula rubra 'Venusta', a source of pleasure from late spring, usually well into winter. It's weight even took down patches of Joe Pye Weed, as well as asters and sanguisorbas.

Pycnanthemum muticum

Salix sachalinensis 'Sekka' pruned high to reveal sculptural trunks

Miscanthus 'Silberfeder', Pycnanthemum muticum

Andropogon virginicus, Sedum

Vernonia, Panicum 'Dallas Blues', Silphium terebenthinaceum, Pycnantheum muticum, Miscanthus 'Silberfeder' across the back, Inula racemosa 'Sonnenspeer', Aster tartaricus in front

Miscanthus giganteus (the big one)

At risk of boring some, I want to add many more miscanthus next year. It can't be beat as a ruthless ground cover, and it lasts through all kinds of weather. I do want to introduce more named cultivars. I have only two Ferner osten, which has extraordinary autumn color and a well controlled form.

Marc Rosenquist's sculpture, Pay Dirt, looks great with the forest trees.

Time: about 8:30 in the morning.


Related Posts with Thumbnails