Creation of an extraordinary ornamental garden—one that pulls you to walk through its path—requires evaluation. What captures the attention? What creates the aesthetic intrigue? An artist or landscape designer follows steps to achieve a balance of interest sometimes so ingrained they defy explanation. But here is an attempt towards explanation.
To cultivate a garden that even occasionally reveals a show-stopping design calls for a knack in combining elements. For me there’s this creative flash that empowers me and I’m lost for hours rearranging what I imagine may prove to be one of those combos. Of course its not pre-planned for me although there is a diary around that does have notations for sometimes the flash occurs when I can’t possibly drop everything and garden!. To paint a masterpiece in nature starts small and perfection is haphazard.
The garden is in such a state of flux that one must accept fleeing beauty for within a few weeks the whole scape transforms to a new color scheme with new growth and redefined boundaries plus it’s then proportionally a new ball game!. Anyway what this column has for you is to share what works sometimes!
In November and December the garden goes through one of its more devastating transitions though winter can be gorgeous in this area. Your garden can have a special winter beauty. When considering what to plant visit nurseries, gardens, arboretums, and try to remember what you liked. Know your plant options. Think of your space as you might a floral design. Use the same elements to design your landscape. One resource lists light, space, line, form, color, texture, pattern, and size as the elements but its very subjective and almost inexplicable as to what WORKS. But first define the boundaries ( sometimes these are monetary! )…then work some magic in the space.
Here’s one space that has managed to please this fussy plant collector for a few seasons. Within a 5 foot section of a west-facing view in a long winding mixed border bed this combination grows. Hidden since about mid-spring with leaves and blooming bulbs, now the frost has killed the foliage and bared the structure. A 9’ native red cedar is trimmed to allow the bark to show. Next to it, tucked in behind on the left, a now bare sand cherry, prunus subhirtella or cistena,( probably mis-marked but both are gorgeous) with mahogany bark grows. Its branches create a flowing motion which I attempt to maintain with selective pruning ( each spring after flowering ).
In another season its leaves are dark red with early pale pink flowers. It flowers sparsely on bare branches. It’s young ( 2 years ) and only 4’ hopefully it will be the variety that grows to 6-10 feet and not 30’. Under it are two santolina neopolitana, a silver variety with longer branching and whiter color tone than the standard chamaecyparissus. Behind the well pruned shrub rose, the Fairy, with a few dried pink buds still hanging on its evergreen branches there’s a miscanthus with its shimmering plumes.
A chrysanthemum that has grown well, blooming since mid July in a fuchsia color, is wandering through this as it was NOT replanted or thinned last spring. Somehow a rampant oregano has managed to sneak in but its okay and provides a green ground cover through the winter. Oh, and there’s a bergenia with its flat shiny leaf that’s just beginning to color from green to dark red around its edges. A few stachys or fuzzy lamb’s ears are up next to the mums which will die soon enough. And that’s a small patch of almost red black ajuga spreading around too! The left – most part of this arrangement is a slow growing green juniper about 2’ tall ( for three years now), I don’t know its variety.
This grouping seems to have a nice balance of contrast, textures, and proportion, its lines and boundaries feel defined and the color elements remain interesting all winter till the muscari starts off the growing season. This bed grows next to the bird feeder which seems to require and get almost daily attention through the winter plus it’s visible at sunset from the back door and two west windows. Did I plan that? Sometimes its a little planning and a lot of sometime else entirely!