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Design Demystified: Bone Structure

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At this time of year, when the plants have gone dormant and are building strength for the spring, we once again get to see the understructure of the garden. Evergreens that may have been eclipsed by brighter perennials, stone steps or pathways that have been used but not noticed, and the shapes of borders suddenly take center stage again. Without them we would not enjoy the things we take for granted in the garden so much, like the way our eye moves from one part of the garden to another, or the easy access to a favorite seat. When the garden is in full bloom, some of the framework gets lost. But then winter comes, and once again we see the bone structure.

This is a chance to see what we like and don’t like, where things might need fixing, or adding to. Perhaps a boring corner of the garden could use a fun path, or maybe an evergreen would be just the thing to look out the kitchen window at on a cold winter morning. Now is the time to assess.

“Ok”, you say, “but now you’re getting all designer-y on me, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  Fair enough. Here are some pictures to try to help explain. 

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This garden is a mess at the moment. (It’s mine, so I can say that.) But it does have things that are interesting even when the plants have gone dormant. The boxwood “gatekeepers” where you exit the garden add color and form to the garden. The statue in the middle and the path configuration are interesting to look at. While some tidying is in order, you have to admit that you do spend a little time looking around before you decide there are better things to look at. 

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This small garden at the Denver Botanical Garden (The DBG is worth going out of your way to see, by the way) has something of interest in every season. Predominantly hardscape, it has a balance and structure that is pleasing to look at.

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Also at the Denver Botanical Garden, this Japanese-style garden does the opposite of the formal hardscape garden. Here, evergreens of different textures that are trimmed to be formal, yet natural, and sweeping beds of mulch vs areas of lawn create the structure. A rock adds contrast, the way the minimal plantings in the hardscape garden did.

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This rock garden isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it is interesting, and gives a texture to what would otherwise be a rather boring hill. And in the summer when the plants are in bloom, it’s a riot of color!

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And finally, here’s a way to create an interesting pathway, complete with swirls and eddies that make you think of water. The fallen leaves look like jewels against the grey, and can you imagine it with a dusting of snow? It also massages your feet if you walk on it in thin soled shoes. 

So look out of the window this winter. Wander around and see if everything flows like you want it to. Now is the time to make mental notes about what you like and don’t like about the garden, without all the flowers. After all, around here, it’s a long winter. Shouldn’t the garden be fun to look at all year? 

1 thought on “Design Demystified: Bone Structure”

  1. That is why I do no design. I find it baffling. My colleague down south does it, and happens to be very proficient at it, but I just grow the material. It is gratifying to see my material go to good homes.

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