Monday, April 30, 2012

Top Ten List... Books 3, 4 and 5

Several years ago, about a hundred local residents and I attended a workshop on developing a new garden and xeriscaping.  As the speakers talked about maintenance of a meadow and which mature trees to salvage in our private woodlands, we all realized their suggestions might be of a much greater scale than our own backyards.

I have a small garden, much smaller than the seven acres recommended during that workshop, and in fact, much smaller than most suburban landscapes.  Space is at a premium and my garden is under scrutiny from many different angles, literally.  So I really appreciate David Stevens’ guidance in Small Space Gardens and Backyard Blueprints: Style, Design and Details for Outdoor Living.  Both books loosely group garden design into four stages.
Stage 1
David recommends we keep it simple when planning our small garden and first decide how we want to use the space.  Instead of following the latest fashion, it’s more important to base our plans on our actual needs.  I often employ a similar technique when helping friends decorate their homes.  For example, who says a separate dining room is necessary if you seldom eat at home?  Maybe the space would be better used as a second living room, office or library.

David suggests we create a wish list, which in the garden may include:
comfortable places to sit and enjoy the garden;
protected places to cook, dine and socialize;
areas to grow food, store water and compost;
if you have children or pets, places for them to play;
space for exercise and chores, such as laundry;
definition of property boundaries;
and storage.
Perhaps you are a lover of a certain species of flora, such as Dianthus or Iris.  Displaying a collection of plants is just as important as exhibiting art or collectibles in your home.  So add it to your wish list.

Stage 2
In general, we must work with what we have.  This means understanding the soil conditions, sun and wind exposure and microclimate of our garden; addressing water-logged or exceptionally dry and uneven or sloped areas; and assessing views beyond the garden.  Hand-me-downs and antiques are usually some of the most beloved objects in our homes.  And existing plants and mature trees make a garden unique.
This Silver Maple is the only large tree in our little garden.
A lot of people may have removed it, but we love the shelter it provides in the summer,
its beautiful bright green foliage in the spring and golden leaves that last into December.
Stage 3
Consider style.  We can comb ideas from garden traditions without copying them exactly.  I often ask decorating clients to provide me with “inspirations” to help me better understand their personal styles.  A photo from vacation or a favorite sweater may supply as much insight as a page from a décor magazine.  Ultimately, here is your goal: your garden should reflect your personality, and your house and garden should relate well to one another.

Stage 4
And finally small urban gardens are often rather long and lean: “shotgun”style.  It seems counter intuitive, but by dividing space into rooms, you actually make the whole garden feel larger and more regular in shape.  It is all about controlling the view:
limiting the view to build intimacy;
directing the view to increase a sense of journey and adventure;
borrowing views from outside your yard;
and inventing or implying more space just out of sight.

Many of the same ideas are discussed in Valerie Easton’s A Pattern Garden: The Essential Elements of Garden Making.  Patterns are the fundamentals that lead to successful garden design, no matter what the size and scope of the garden.  Patterns transcend style and location and even time.
Valerie lists 14 patterns:
Scale… once again, scale is about how a garden relates to its house and other surroundings.  You’ll notice scale tops Valerie’s list.

Patterns 2 through 5 are about movement and discovery in the garden.
Garden Rooms… shape space and define use.
Pathways… provide direction and a sense of entry.
Bridges and Gates… facilitate movement and add decoration.

Shelters and Borders… create privacy and protection and define property and garden room boundaries.  Valerie talks about enclosure and exposure.  Shelters include arbors, pergolas and gazebos; borders include fences, walls and hedges.
Patios or Terraces… offer space for living.
Sheds or Work Spaces… provide utility and storage.
Patterns can develop as your garden evolves.
At first, we had a rather low fence across our back property line,
but 4 years ago, our neighbors built a second house just a few feet away.
So, Walter constructed this lovely, tall lattice fence to give us more privacy.
This is a little "breakfast" patio at Glen Burnie House and Gardens...
a garden can be historic and livable!
Focal Points… create visual and physical destinations.
Water… even the smallest birdbath or fountain engages the senses and attracts wildlife.
Ornamentation and Containers… bring your own humor and personality to the garden.
I finally brought water to my garden last year by burying
this pretty pot about 8 inches and adding a solar fountain.
A "shrunken" clay head keeps this potted Spirea from looking too serious!
And finally Materials… link and support all the other patterns.  Materials are the physical, well materials, like wood, stone, paving and gravel, in the garden.
I like this combination of brick and concrete
in a small urban garden sandwiched between two buildings.
It is part pathway, part courtyard, part garden floor.
I know it may all sound a little theoretical, and you might be wondering “Where the heck are the plants in all these patterns?”  Just remember… plants must adhere or relate to each pattern.  Plants climb up arbors and trellises.  They serve as hedges and soften pathways.  They embellish our garden rooms and containers.  Distinguished plants excel as focal points, and every plant in our garden should help us maintain (or even play) with scale.

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