Saturday, August 23, 2014

Divide and conquer to make a garden


When does a yard become a garden?  Or, is there any difference?

I grew up with both.  We had a yard, which we didn't call a garden, but we did say "little lawn" and "big lawn."  Then, between my grandmother's cottage and our house was a sort of formal garden with clipped hedges.  Never mind that the hedges were made of privet, the bane of my mother's existence. But the latter were laid out in a formal garden, with two long hedges with a narrow path in between, leading down to steps at the end.  Then, there was a clipped hedge perimeter.  Various shrubs were planted next to the outer reaches - January jasmine, forsythia, weigela and English dogwood.  In one little area at the opposite corner, my grandmother grew dahlias and had a clipped topiary in the shape of an Easter basket with a handle.

Another feature that divided the little lawn from the side garden where there were pecan trees, lots of daffodils and more weigela, was a tall, white picket fence with an arch over the gate.  In the few photographs showing this area when I was little, it looks like a garden, rather than a yard.  Daylilies grew next to the fence.  Over the years, that gate and picket fence disappeared, or likely came into such disrepair that it was removed.  That's too bad.  I'm sure it was a lot of trouble to keep up and to mow around, but it looked charming next to the homemade, 19th century brick of the house.

The point is that the garden pictured above was once - not all that long ago - what I would call a yard.  Well, at least on this side of the ante-bellum house.  On the other side was a boxwood (not privet!) garden, with squares around cedar trees and a long double row of hedges leading to other parterres.

What the creator of this garden did was carve out vistas and put in hedges and trees and shrubs to delineate areas.  The axes go both ways, and you can step into one area and look to your right and left and see focal points.  Go a little further, and you'll pass between twin planters set on antique stones from the property.  Again, you can look right and left to long views.

Walk straight ahead, and you'll enter a formal square with a stone pool in the middle and hedges outlining the enclosed area with space for perennials to pop up.  All this is set against taller trees or hedges that form a background.  Proceed around the stone basin, and you'll walk under a rose arch into yet another long, hydrangea-lined alleĆ©.  It's all very charming and fun to navigate.  There's a discovery around every corner.

It's true that if you're a child you can play touch football in a big, expansive yard with no trees to speak of.  But, where I grew up, that formal garden was the best hide-and-seek situation you could hope for.  We often had slews of children on summer Sunday evenings, and you could always find a good hiding place.

At the farm, there are large stretches of lawn.  You could set up a badminton or volleyball court, or put up a soccer goal (which someone has done).  But, if I had to choose one or the other, I can't help but love the look and feel of gardens within gardens, and all the romance and mystery and discovery such a plan provides.