Design ideas, Garden ramblings, June 2018

Down the garden path

Pathways are an important part of any garden. They get you from here to there, and separate areas of the garden. But their value is not necessarily just in their physical function. Pathways play an important psychological role in the garden, and so it’s important to choose the right material and layout, and to really think about what the path is supposed to accomplish.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

Fruit garden

Example #1: Paths that slow you down. This is part of my garden. It’s a terraced area on a very steep hillside, and when we had the terracing done, it took a long time to figure out how I wanted the layout to be. You enter the garden between the two round boxwoods on the right. From this top layer, there are two ways of getting to the bottom layer- by going down the hill in front of the stump-and-stone table in the center back, or down some steps that you can see the beginning of in the bottom left hand corner.

Without the garden beds, the impulse was to enter the garden and turn immediately towards the steps on the left, without paying attention to the rest of the garden. At the bottom of the steps was a second terrace, an eight foot strip that followed the upper contour, and another set of steps that lead into the woods. The flow of the space basically spit you out of the garden before you had even had a chance to look around.

I wanted to change that. I wanted there to be no direct way to get anywhere in the garden quickly, so that I (a rather impatient person by nature) or a visitor, would have to slow down and enjoy the garden which I was about to put a lot of effort into. So I created the semi-labyrinth that you see in the picture. There are now many ways to get from point a to point b, but none are direct, so you get to spend some time being present and enjoying the space.

The pea stone was also a deliberate choice. I will admit that part of the reason that I chose it was because the driveway in front of my grandparents’ house was covered in pea stone, and the crunching noise that a car or feet would make has a nostalgic aspect for me. But I also chose it because it is soft, and gives underfoot, and adds to the feeling of slowing down.  Pea stone can be a pain and isn’t for everyone, but in this circumstance, given what I wanted to accomplish and my fondness for it, it was perfect. And it serves the purpose well.

Path 2

Example #2: Paths that speed you up. This is a lovely path. It curves out of sight and adds interest and mystery to the garden. But it is not built for wanderers. The narrowness of it combines with the bricks running the long way psychologically hurry you up. While you are meant to enjoy what is on either side, you aren’t encouraged to linger. If I had to guess, it is a garden that is open to the public, and is designed to politely move people along. Imagine, for a moment, that the bricks went horizontally across the path. Would you walk more slowly?

path 1

Example #3: Natural, but formal pathways. I love this picture. The garden is made up of great swirling drifts of plants in organic sweeps, but is manicured and formal at the same time. Choosing a style of pathway to fit those somewhat conflicting criteria could be tricky, but in this case, the designer has  done it perfectly. There are two paths here, and they need to be wide enough to fit the space but inconspicuous enough so as not to take over. These well shaped pieces of wood, arranged in pairs into graceful curves while  allowing grass to grow in between accomplish all that.

stepping stones

Example #4: Natural but informal paths. This pathway is a great example of a side path that would belong in the woods, or be the “road less travelled”. Although its narrowness might suggest that it would make you go more quickly, the natural stepping stones do the reverse, as you would probably be keeping half an eye on the ground to make sure you had your footing. This pathway makes me think of a Japanese designer that I read about once but whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. But I have never forgotten the trick that he used to employ. He liked to design his gardens with stepping stones like these, and he liked curving paths with something special like a view or a specimen tree just out of sight around the corner. Then, he would make sure that the stepping stone that you would step on just before going around the corner and seeing that special something was a little wobbly. You would tread on it, wobble, and look down to  check your footing. As you took your next step, and rounded the corner, your head would come up again and you would get a special surprise. Manipulative, yes, but magical all the same.

And it goes on and on. Think about it next time you walk on a path. How does it make you feel? Does it affect the way you walk on it? What would you change if you could?

 

2018, June 2018, Plant trivia

Mountain Laurel tricks

Mountain Laurel, or Kalmia latifolia, is an evergreen New England native that lights up the woodland border in late spring/early summer. Depending on the variety, they prefer part sun to shade, acid soil, and grow to be 3-8 feet tall, although most are in the 4-5 foot range. They are a lovely addition to the natural woodland margin garden, and need no more marketing than that. But did you know that they have a really clever mechanism for getting pollinated?

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Mountain Laurel flowers are cup shaped, and grow in clusters. The “cups” have tiny pockets arranged evenly around the inside, and as the stamens grow, their filaments (the stalk-like part) bend backwards, allowing their anthers (the part that holds the pollen) to tuck neatly into the pockets. When an unsuspecting bee lands in the middle of the flower, these spring-loaded stamens catapult towards it, hitting it with their anthers and depositing pollen on its back. They can fling their pollen almost 6 inches when this happens. And when the bee flies away, some of the filaments will even bend backwards again and tuck themselves back into place.

Although I don’t recommend doing this often because too much of it could harm the plant, try poking the center of a Mountain Laurel flower sometime when you see one. You will experience what happens to the bee as the anthers spring forward and deposit their pollen on your finger. Isn’t Nature remarkable?!

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2018, June 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to weed

As I wrote the title of this week’s blog entry, I wondered if I should change it to something more “marketable”, like “It’s Game Time”, or “Why Gardeners Drink” – some sort of click-bait. No one really wants to be told to weed when the summer is almost in full swing and there are so many other fun things to do outside.

As for me, I rather like weeding, actually. It’s pretty mindless and the garden always looks better afterwards. I know I’m not alone in these thoughts, but I also know I’m not in the majority. So my advice is this: weed NOW before things get out of control. Grass growing out of mat-forming plants like Phlox can be eradicated now, whereas in a few weeks it will have taken over and set seed. Weeds like crab grass are controllable now, but in a month or so it will have grown so much that it will form a mat that will smother the plants that you want to keep. Check out this picture. There are perennials in there, but the grass has overtaken them to the point where they will likely die.

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Sometimes the reason that we put off weeding is that we don’t really know which plants are weeds and which are not. That’s a valid excuse, if you ask me. But there is help out there. One of my favorite books is a book called Good Weed, Bad Weed by Nancy Gift. (available at Amazon) It has lots of pictures of weeds in their various stages of development and goes into how damaging they can be in the garden. It’s an excellent tool.

Other times the reason we don’t weed is because we are overwhelmed. This is understandable, but it’s only going to get worse, so I suggest this strategy: two or three times a week, do a power hour in the garden. Set yourself an hour – and ONLY an hour, this is important- and focus on weeding and weeding only. Don’t deadhead the daisies, or transplant that Daylily that you have been meaning to move, just weed. you will be amazed by how much you can do.

There is hope! Good luck, and happy weeding. It’s Game Time!

2018, June 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Daylilies

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I have to admit that for a long time I was not a fan of Daylilies. I think that was because, until I started to get really serious about plants, “Daylily” to me meant those orange tiger lilies that you see growing everywhere from peoples gardens to roadsides. Not that a huge drift of tiger lilies isn’t a spectacular thing; but they just didn’t do it for me.

Fast forward a couple of decades, (or maybe three) and they are now one of my favorite flowers in the garden. First of all, there are just so many to choose from! They come in just about every color but blue. Some are scented. Some are long blooming, some are short, and some are tall. Some are single, some double, and some even like a little shade. All have great, green, strappy foliage that contrasts well with just about everything you put them with.

Check them out at your local garden center. Some of my favorites are the “Returns” series, because they bloom almost all season long. There is ‘Happy Returns’, a mid sized yellow one, “Rosy Returns’, a pink version, and ‘Fragrant Returns’, a buttery yellow one than, you guessed it, is perfumed!

Try them out! Red, Pink, Yellow, Green, Peach, Purple, and White is the new orange!

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