Saturday, 15 June 2013

Garden Designs

As the 'great wall' wraps up, my attention is turning to garden design. What to plant and where to plunk it. Although some of my successes have been accidents, I do try to make things work together to create textures and vignettes that are both surprising and interesting.

Before you read too far into this, you should know I have no formal training in this, its just something that's fun to do.

When most people lay out a garden, they will either start with, or only consider the plan view. To me, that is backwards. Plan view is your garden as you would see it if you were floating overhead. I don't plan on sprouting wings anytime soon, and I doubt there is even a halo waiting for me. I begin with an elevation view looking from the angle that matters most. For example, the view from the street or from a window.

When I start, I don't think about plants at all, I think about elements. At this stage there are only 4 elements to the design.

 1. Vertical - these are the spots where the garden will have a high point. High points work to draw a visitor's eye upwards, to block something unsightly, or to give the garden the appearance of being taller or narrower. They can also act as a break in a long horizontal planting or fence line.

 2. Horizontal - these are things that draw a visitor's eye along to a destination, add width or depth to the garden, or act as a border or frame to reveal something behind. For me, most designs begin as a horizontal element, then depth and height are added.

3. Frames, or Depth - once my horizontal and vertical elements are established, it becomes possible to consider foreground and background, and to create 'frames' around features or to capture views behind. An example of a frame could be a view through a cutout in a hedge or through an arbour. It could also be a single feature plant rising into low spot.

4. Surprises - my final feature are surprises or curiosities. These are the things that beg a visitor to come closer and be part of the landscape. Often I use hardscape for this, but a showy plant, or great piece of topiary has the same effect. Many visitors won't be able to relate to your plantings, but they will recall the things that made them laugh, wonder, or sit and enjoy.

 I draw my elevation view at the bottom of the page, and once its key features are in place, I will move to the top of the page to set out the plan view, which I use as my planting guide. As I work on the plan view, I revisit the elevation view to add depth, and work up the features of the plan.

So let's walk through the "Great Wall Garden Design" and maybe you will see some of these items come together.

In this portion of the great wall planting, some of the considerations I had to keep in mind were that the plants had to be relatively short, but that this would be one of the taller sections of this garden (there are three sections). I wanted a strong edge element on both ends of the garden, but I had to beware that one end will be a gazebo passageway to the pool.

Here is the first draft of the plan:

 The planting area here is 119" long, and I haven't really considered depth at all at this point. I drew in the fence rail in the background to give myself a sense of scale, but I didn't add any foreground vs background elements.

The plant choices here were based on two factors - what was on sale, and what basic shapes I needed. To be honest, I went to the nursery knowing the sizes and shapes that were going into this space, and looked for shapes, not plants.

 In case you can't read it, here is the planting list, and why these guys won out...
- Clematis 'Bees Jubilee' - an old favourite. Pink and white striped flowers. This should climb the trellis once I get it built. I may end up with a different variety, there are so many to choose from!
- Hosta 'Sum and Substance' - one of the giant hostas. Although it grows 3' - 5' tall, the branching leaves give a strong horizontal element, and its mound shape softens the straight edges of the wall.
- Iris Domestica 'Blackberry Lily' - this one is new to me, but I fell in love with its mottled flowers and unusual shape (and it was on sale as the last of its kind). It turns out this plant was recently renamed and moved from the lily family to the iris group. I am using its strong vertical lines to break the horizontal strength of the hosts and transition into lower growth geraniums.
-Geranium - pretense, halayanese, phaeum - I was fairly picky with these. I wanted three geraniums that could be planted as a mass, with different bloom periods and colours. I don't know if my selection will work or not. The geraniums at this point maintain the low, mounding shape started by the hostas, and bring some colour to the garden. If they grow to their advertised height (15" - 24") they will form a nice frame with the irises on either side.
- Iris Sibirica 'Shaker's Prayer' - these never-fail plants were shared by a great friend. They form a great whispy vertical component in the garden, and are totally carefree. I'll take a division from another bed.
- Rosa floribunda 'Sight Saver' - I needed a flowering shrub, and who doesn't love a rose? Especially a fragrant floribunda! This rose is linked to a charity which helps the blind in third world countries. It has the right shape and size for this spot, although I could have gotten something taller and bushier.

With the basic plant choices, I can go ahead and think about moving towards plan view now. I know what the structure of the garden will be, and now I can start to introduce 'trimmings'

Once I laid things out in plan view, I could see that there was still space to be filled. Adding rockcress in front of the roses will break up the wall more, and add a splash of bright blue to the foreground of the garden. Where I put in philadelphus (mock orange) I am up in the air. Philadelphus is an old friend with early, fragrant blooms, and season-long blight-free foliage, but I want more of a see-through, vertical element here. Maybe some Lilium Candidum (Madonna lilies) or allium. I dunno. By going taller in the middle, I allow myself the opportunity to put in a super-tall element behind the rose - something like delphinium maybe. This would slope down from the perimeter of the yard to the hosts at pool-viewing height. Hmmmm.

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