Most of us inherit a garden
when we move, or at least the semblance of a garden. I would imagine that if
you’ve gone to the effort to pick up this magazine and are reading it, then you
most likely want a garden that reflects your own wants, needs and desires.
How does one go about this? In
our design business, my partner and I utilize some basic ideas.
As we become more densely
urbanized, the need for privacy can be quite important. Unless one’s an
exhibitionist, it’s generally nice not
having to see the neighbors all the time. Columnar trees and shrubs work
best as screening plants in settings where space is at a premium. Remember, the
suggested growing size on plant tags is for the entire continental US. Add at
least 50% for both height and width, as our climate is benign and
Don’t plant a cultivar that will end up losing most of its lower foliage.
Research is always
important before purchasing, but even that can lead you astray, as it has us on
occasion. Garden tours are an excellent way to discover what works and what
Structures, whether a fence or
arbor, can aid in creating privacy. One needs to spend money so it lasts for the long term. Warped, crooked, and out of plumb
are not attributes
you want in your structure. Our climate is perfect for rot, so treated wood is
A friendly hint: most vines
will want to race to the top of a structure, and may not provide screening
around the bottom, where needed. And how much maintenance are you willing to do? Be
long, dreary winters, we often site fall- and spring-blooming plants where
they’ll be seen—whether from the sidewalk to the front door, taking out
garbage, or in view from the kitchen window. Some winter blooming plants offer
fragrance, such as: Daphne bholua, Daphne odora, Mahonia x. media and Sarcococca species. Others offer months of flowers, including: Helleborus x. hybridus and H. niger, and Cyclamen
Remember, plants that offer
winter flowers may need some protection from the worst of our winds and cold.
Summer is easy to fill with
flowers. If an area where you like to hang out has a predominance of summer blooming
plants, will you look at the space throughout the year? If so, try and include
a few plants that have good “bones,” so in winter, you aren’t left looking at a
patch of mud. Be careful, as many evergreen plants don’t enjoy being crowded by
rambunctious perennials. Some evergreens, including Taxus (yew)
(boxwood) usually stay well clad. Many conifers, however, will suffer from
“gaposis,” leaving ugly bare spots.
have room, a tree with nice bark can add lots to the view. Acer griseum (paper bark maple), Lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle) and Stewartia species are all beautiful. What about
art? Sculpture or a well shaped/glazed container? A pot doesn’t need to be
planted to be attractive.
I like some fragrance. Yes,
flowers can attract bees, so you need to use some sense selecting plants for
your outdoor dining area. Remember where winds predominately blow from, as
weather patterns change through the year. No sense in planting, say, a Trachelospermum
jasminoides (star jasmine) if all the fragrance ends up on your
Some plants are evening
scented, while others pour forth in the daytime. Cocktail hour or after dinner
lingering would demand certain plants, whereas an early-to-bed, early-to-rise
person would require differing species.
Foliage can be very fragrant.
We sometimes will site summer containers where one will have to brush by, say,
a lemon scented Pelargonium ‘Mabel Gray’.
Foliage vs. Flowers
Remember, if one looks at a
photo-driven garden book, the photographer has likely picked the best day of
the year to take each photograph. Try and think about what the planting you
pine for might look like if nothing was in flower.
If a plant has boring or ugly
foliage, even if its’ flowers are beautiful, we’ll likely not use it. If we do,
it’ll be somewhat hidden so when not in flower, one won’t have to see it.
How often will you go out and
groom? Some plants, such as Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, will offer
months of color with little to no deadheading needed. One of those monstrous
“dinner plate” sized dahlias will need constant attention. A garden will
quickly reveal how energetic or lazy its owner is—either writing checks or
using elbow grease.
When in doubt, start with good
foliage and consider plants that have showy flowers as adornment. Several
fabulous and well cared for flowering plants will add a lot more pizzazz to a
garden, than a lot of ill-tended “prisoners.”
With foliage, one can have
repeats of similar size or shape to create a calm effect. One can juxtapose
wildly varying outlines and size of leaf for a much more dynamic effect. Both
are equally valid design concepts.
So many books have been written
on color! My partner, Charles, has an exquisite (and sometimes twisted) sense
of color. I have a good sense of color, but words often escape me in trying to
describe them. My basic rule is, if you like it—go for it. Do you really want
an epitaph that reads, “She offended no one?” Boring…
If you have doubts about what
might work, take a cue from nature. Train your eyes to really see and
investigate all the colors within the bark of a tree, the rays of a flower, or
lichens on a stone. One’s imagination needs to be set free. Mistakes are
necessary, can often be painted over (gates, walls etc.-I’m not sending you
down the rabbit hole yet), or pulled out by the roots and composted. The most
important thing in gardening, in my opinion, is to have fun. As the saying
goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Glenn Withey is co-curator
of Dunn Gardens and co-owner of Withey Price Landscape & Design, LLC.