Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Behind the garden bench


Oh, how I wish there had been digital cameras around when we were shooting A Gardener's Diary for HGTV.

When we taped our first episode in 1994 (our show launched with the channel on December 31,1994; actually, A Gardener's Diary aired the next day, January 1, 1995), cell phones were new and cumbersome (and crazy expensive per call).  Looking up information about a flower on the Internet wasn't possible.  To research plants we featured at the end of each episode, I used multiple catalogs and books to come up with a few short facts and to get the botanical name right.

HGTV required us to take still shots on color and black and white film and have them developed for promotional purposes (they never used a single photograph).   I mostly used those throwaway cameras for scouting so I could show garden scenes to my co-producer when I returned from a trip and also satisfy HGTV's requirement.  As a result, I have boxes of unusable photographs of gardens dating back to the mid-1990's.

But I digress.  The reason I so wish that affordable digital cameras had existed was because of all the great garden scenes I got to see.  We taped 240 episodes all over the country.  I was the main scout, so I would fly to a city and visit several gardens.  I saw so many incredible places with great design ideas that I would like to pass on to you.

In one of our episodes in California, there was a segment about how to place a garden bench.  This was an unusual garden, set on terraces carved out of a steep slope.  Basically, there were paths going zig-zag across the terrain with small vignettes along the way.

One such scene consisted of a bench set among pink David Austin roses ('Gertrude Jekyll', I think). The garden's owners/designers explained that a bench should always have a tall, solid plant in back of it so that when you are seated, you feel secure.

Now, this would not apply to every bench, but in the case of this one garden, you would want something behind you so you wouldn't have the sensation that you could fall backwards down a slope several hundred feet long.

But, I've always thought about that suggestion every time I've passed a garden seat of any kind.  I think there's a bit of truth in it, especially in my case.

My friend Benjie gave me a concrete bench in exchange for my designing his garden.  I was thrilled, because it became the perfect focal point for my arch garden.  You look down through the arches to see the bench at the end.

But, I need some backing.  I already have some uneven English boxwoods as a border atop a retaining wall that is around six feet tall.  There's really not a chance you'd fall over the wall, but I still want something in back of that bench.

You can see by the photograph, there is a 'Graham Stuart Thomas' English rose hovering over the seat.  This is coming from a tuteur in the corner where I plopped the rose after letting it languish in a container for two seasons.  The soil is rather poor, and the spot gets about half the sun needed by the rose.  Still, it gave me an idea of what I might do.  If I improved the soil, planted another 'Graham Stuart Thomas'  (or maybe two), and installed a sturdy free-standing trellis, I might get the effect I want.

Of course, I don't want to stick myself with thorns (not that I've ever spent more than two minutes on that bench), but I could move the bench out a bit.  If I ever did sit down long enough, I would be rewarded with a lovely scent.

I also love this rose - the weird yellow color just appeals to me.  The other day, before it dropped below freezing, it had two open blooms (we're talking January).  It's a great repeat bloomer, and if I treated the roses right, they might thrive.

There's only one thing.  You can barely see it in the photo, but a Japanese holly that grows quite tall came up volunteer next to the bench on the opposite side.  I've been clipping it so it will form a single, narrow shape.  I had once envisioned attaching it to a wide arch going over the bench.  I don't dare move it for fear I would kill it, so I'm not sure how I can cram this all in to one space.

But, all this gives me something to contemplate on this cold, sunny day.  I have a while to figure it out before I order the own-root roses from Pat Henry at Roses Unlimited in South Carolina.  And, where will I find a sturdy stand-alone trellis?  That's going to be difficult.  Maybe I can have it made if I can figure out what it should look like.  Just something else to dream about.