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.