Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When is a garden really a garden?

I wish you could have seen this very spot some 20 years ago.  There was nothing but a sloping lawn down to the street.  The house was in plain view from the circle of the cul-de-sac.  And, my friend, who loved gardens and often had Rosemary Verey as a guest in her home, was frustrated.

So, noted garden designer Ryan Gainey took my friend's love of French gardens and transformed her front lawn into a usable space and made it inviting, even in winter.

Retaining walls were built, and crytomerias were planted along with cherry trees and viburnums and a cascading Lady Banks rose.  The plantings surround the space which leads to the front door (it is to the right of this area).

Fast forward to this past December.  I took this photograph to show that a "garden" needn't be boring or neglected in winter, nor does it have to have bright colored flowers.  Somehow, the ice cream parlor looking chairs are very cheerful.  I don't know that my friend ever sits out there, maybe on a mild, sunny day.  She has another wonderful garden on the other side of the house that is an absolutely stunning parterre, with variegated and solid green boxwoods made into a knot garden, in homage to the late Rosemary Verey.

I'm having to re-think my whole garden thing.  All the plants that are so delectable to the deer need to be moved to the farm where there is a fence.  I'm going to have to rely more on shrubbery and textures and different colors of green to achieve the look I want.  I'm almost - but not quite - resigned to the fact that I'm not going to be able to grow all those flowers I've dreamed about for years.

It has taken me a long time to realize this.  For years, I had no full sun anywhere on this four-acre property.  Then, three years ago, a neighbor's giant oak tree was uprooted in a storm with straight line winds.  The tree fell on the circa 1927 cottage and obliterated half of it.  In the same storm, a very tall pine tree began leaning in the direction of the house.  I had to have it taken down.

So, that left me with a few spots (not many) of full sun.  The trouble is that I need retaining walls and a deer fence to have any hope of growing sun-loving perennials and annuals in a garden setting.  Foxgloves are about the only flowers that work, and they are scattered about in no particular pattern, just where they have reseeded.  

What I have been able to do, though, is work on structure here at my house, so that I have two new areas that have the good bones of a garden if not all the plants I want.  I still have a lot of experimenting to do.  For example, just when I think the deer don't like Hydrangea macrophylla like they do the paniculatas and arborescens ('Annabelle'), they eat certain lacecaps.

All in all, I'm having to rethink my definition of a garden.  I don't know if I'll be able to let go of my desire for masses of roses and great swaths of perennials cascading over paths.  That's what I love best at heart.


  1. Hi Martha,
    I am a big fan our your garden blog and am from Detroit area in Michigan. I have been using Plantskydd in our 1 acre collector's garden for 7 years and this organic product has stopped the browsing of deer, rabbits, voles and squirrels in our garden. I notice you write about this problem a lot and that it is definitely affecting how you garden. Don't throw in your trowel yet, dear gardener! This product is organic and OMRI approved. It comes in a granular, ready-to-use spray and a powder concentrate. The latter is what I use most as their is no smell and I have 1000's of perennials and shrubs to spray. I need volume. I thought I'd share this with you since you seem to be broken hearted about this ongoing dilemma in your garden. Best to you, Julia Hofley

  2. Julia,
    This is great to know. I have never heard of this product, but I'll look it up. I don't have near the volume of perennials you have, but maybe this could mean not having to move shrubs and lilies and roses and on and on. Thank you for this post!
    All best,