Sunday, January 30, 2011

Screening unwanted views - and neighbors

A custom corner arbor with decorative trellis and overhead pergola provided
a charming focal point as well as a sense of seclusion.

You know what’s its like; you sit down to a nice lunch in the garden only to find your neighbors enquiring as to whether you’re drinking a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc with your salad. Or you peel off to a skimpy T-shirt to make the most of the sunshine and the next thing you know the teenagers next door are whispering disparaging comments about your less than sylph-like body. Solving these dilemmas can be especially difficult where in-ground planting is not an option, as much as you would love a solid 10’ hedge.

A common problem in new developments
Everything is on view
Raised decks and balconies pose a common problem where adjacent houses are built into a slope in such a way that each ‘uphill’ neighbor has a perfect view into the ‘downhill’ neighbors’ lot. Or second storey windows give a bird’s eye view of what was supposed to be your private oasis. Yet there are solutions using structures, plants and a little creativity.

The first question is to ask whether the lack of privacy is a seasonal problem. Do you only really feel exposed in the spring and summer when you are outside more often? Or do you find yourself eyeball to eyeball every time you wash the dishes? That will help to determine whether the need is for something more solid or evergreen, or if either a more open trellis work  or deciduous plant material would be sufficient.

This contemporary design would work equally
well as a gate, fence or freestanding panel.

One of the eyesores we had to screen in our last garden was a full blown batting cage, erected for the benefit of the sports-mad family next door. The solution in this instance came from building a custom pergola along the perimeter fence which then supported a vigorous rambling rose; Darlow’s Enigma. This rose added over 3’ to the height of the pergola itself and even proved to be virtually evergreen. Evergreen clematis such as C. armandii or C. x cartmanii ‘Avalanche’ could also work in this way.

When the only outside space is a balcony, invasion of that privacy is especially frustrating. Hanging large baskets or moss lined troughs works beautifully both by providing a colorful focal point but literally blocking the view. Baskets can be hung on brackets mounted to a deck railing or suspended from an overhead support structure, depending upon the construction. Stained glass panels could be a fun and colorful option.

Suspended screens with votives distract the eye.
Stained glass panels would offer more privacy.
Decorative screens can be a quick and inexpensive way to filter views both in and out of your garden. Consider those which hold votive candles such as the one shown here which provides the additional benefit of romantic evening ambiance. 

A climbing hydrangea and
custom trellis provides an
attractive barrier between
two homes.

Screens made from wood can be built with varying degrees of privacy depending upon the style of trellis used, and can be designed in such a way as to be freestanding or anchored securely into the ground. Adding a pergola type crossbar will increase the overall height without making the structure feel overbearing. Planters at the base of such a structure can support vines, be used to espalier shrubs such as camellia or simply be left bare.


The mural may be a little piece of Seattle
history but the ugly apartment buildings
 spoil it and the solid (dead) conifer does
 little to conceal the problem.

This colorful group of containers distracts
 the eye while the bamboo filters the view
 as it sways in the breeze.

Containers are invaluable for adding plants where no in-ground planting is possible. A row of containers planted with bamboo filters a view rather than blocking it completely, providing privacy without being un-neighborly. Larger pots could hold arborvitae, yew or other columnar evergreens. Simply placing containers in such a way breaks up your line of vision, giving your eye somewhere to stop thereby reducing the impact of your neighbors garage wall for example.

Placing a seating area in such a way as to have your back to the offending view also helps, particularly if you frame the nook with an arbor. This directs your eye to another part of the garden while leaving your neighbors trying to guess your lunch menu by smell alone!

So think beyond solid fences and hedges to create something both functional and beautiful – a solution which will enhance your garden while offering you a greater sense of seclusion. We all need our own private oasis.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Heirloom Veggies - what's all the fuss about?

Heritage Farm, home of Seed Savers Exchange, Iowa

OK so call me an old fuddy-duddy but the buzz about heirloom tomatoes was wearing a bit thin for me by the end of last year. Truth be told I’m not even that fond of tomatoes. I did make an exception for the wonderfully sweet Sungold cherry variety that I grew last summer though. I could eat them straight from the vine - in small quantities. I just got really tired of the endless articles in blogs and magazines about the many wonderful heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables now available thanks to the valiant efforts of various seed companies who have saved and propagated Uncle Fred’s beans and Grandma Betty’s beetroot. “Who cares” I asked myself? “How many varieties of a tomato do we need anyway?” Hmmm, maybe the same populace that needs two entire aisles of a supermarket for breakfast cereals?

Psychedelic beetroot! (Chioggia variety from Italy)
I finally decided to investigate. I do have to admit that I almost yawn when I visit the typical produce displays in supermarkets. Talk about predictable; red tomatoes on-the-vine or red tomatoes off-the-vine; the excitement rises as you spy a wildly over-packaged box of tiny cherry tomatoes only to discover that they are wrinkled and suffering from claustrophobia in their little plastic coffin. It was a visit to a local farmers market that finally opened my eyes last summer as I bought purple ‘green’ beans (if you see what I mean) and glanced nervously at the stripy beetroot and yellow carrots. Definitely intriguing if a little funky.

What exactly does the term heirloom mean anyway? Basically that they are old strains that used to be available but are no longer mass produced. So why aren’t they? Well the large agricultural enterprises can only grow a finite quantity so understandably focus on varieties which give the highest yield per acre, fetch a good price, are easy to sell and will grow without too much fuss and bother. Grandma Betty’s beetroot probably just didn’t make the cut; but that doesn't mean they aren't worth growing, or that their flavor is inferior to the 'usual' variety. Of course it isn’t a simple as that. With new technology, genetically altered seeds are now more profitable as they have been selected for uniform size and shape and the growing conditions can be more easily regulated. So what if the slightly shape-challenged variety has more flavor? Large scale growers can’t afford the luxury of hoping you and I will pay a premium for them. I can see their point but I end up buying less anyway because I find so little of what is on offer to be appetizing.

 The 'Champion of England' pea has a wonderful story to tell
Now don’t misunderstand me. Some old varieties are better left to the compost pile since they didn’t taste that great to begin with, were hopelessly disease prone and had a germination rate of 5% on good day. The value comes from those seeds which have been carefully saved, propagated and tested (i.e. eaten) by growers who actually care about the quality of our food and about offering us a greater selection without resorting to genetic manipulation.

As new seed catalogs seem to appear in my mailbox every day I have found myself strangely drawn to the ‘Champion of England’ pea, offered by Seed Savers Exchange. The seed was sent from a small farm in Wales with an accompanying letter which read “…my grandmother grew this seed in her very large garden in the village of Pickworth, Lincs….She got the seed from the head gardener at a big country house during the war where my grandfather worked as a carpenter repairing wooden greenhouses and cold frames”.  I know it sounds terribly sentimental but I’m a sucker for a good story. Plus I remember shelling peas on our back door step, harvested just minutes earlier from my granddads garden next door.

Weird or wonderful? You must try these 'Dragon' carrots
Maybe ‘Dragon’ carrots are more your thing with their rich red color. Slice through these to discover a bright orange-yellow interior. Imagine these in a salad; a veritable carrot fiesta! Or the Italian heirloom beetroot ‘Chioggia’ introduced to the USA pre-1865. Slice these to reveal red and white concentric circles like a bulls eye. Love tomatoes? Try ‘German pink’ one of the original Bavarian heirloom varieties from the family which started the Seed Savers Exchange program. These 1-2lb beefsteak giants are a meal all on their own.

Below I have listed some of the best seed companies for heirloom seeds in the USA. I’d love someone to tell me the equivalent in the UK as I know there are many readers on that side of the pond who are as weary of Safeway's as I am.

If you’re still on the fence about heirloom varieties or don’t want to grow your own at least plan to visit a farmers market this spring and try something different. You don't need to be a tree-hugging, granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing groupie to enjoy good food. 

Watch for future articles on edible landscaping with heirlooms and ideas for incorporating munchable plants into your container gardens.

Photos courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The ramblings of a romantic gardener

I’m not sure if I’m a romantic at heart, feeling nostalgic or just getting old, but I have found myself thinking back to my childhood a lot recently (which would suggest age is a major factor………). Specifically I realized that so many of my childhood memories are associated with plants and gardens and that those memories still have an influence on my life today.

Join me on a stroll through the Bluebell Woods of England
Photo credit; Jill Elliott (childhood friend and fellow bluebell lover!)

I guess gardening has always been a part of my life even on a subconscious level. My granddad lived next door and had a good sized piece of land which was almost entirely dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables for the family. Berries, orchard fruit, potatoes and beetroot were minutes from harvest to table and I must admit were taken for granted. Hopping over the garden fence to pick Bramley apples for a pie seemed far more natural to me than going to a store. Now with my own organic vegetable garden I find myself reminiscing about the days when I followed granddad around and gorged on warm, juicy raspberries (and also appreciating how much work vegetable gardening was)!

English primroses naturalize in semi-shady locations
There are certain flowers which I simply cannot imagine not including in my garden and upon reflection it is because they remind me of special places or people. The wild primrose (Primula vulgaris) grows in great abundance in the deciduous woodlands of England and its soft buttery yellow flowers are far more beautiful to me than the more brazen colors typically available. They are easy to grow from seed and look perfect in a shady spot where their foliage forms such large clumps that they are easily mistaken for Hostas.

Hosta 'Sagae" was a gift from a wonderful friend and is the
perfect companion for my English bluebells.
Another woodland favorite is the English bluebell (Scilla non-scripta syn. Hyacinthoides non-scripta). As a child I had the freedom to explore Leasowe Castle, a  local historical landmark dating back to the 1500s. Today it has been re-modeled as a hotel but in the 1970's was a retirement home for railwaymen. With a bookcase which revolved to reveal a mysterious hiding place and turrets from which to survey the coastline it’s strange that my favorite part of the castle was actually outside; the Bluebell Woods. That fragrant blue carpet seemed to go on forever and is a memory that I still hold dear to the point where I had some of these bulbs mailed to me from England 15 years ago! (This species was hard to find in the USA at the time). Clumps have moved with me from house to house ever since.

Who doesn’t love sweet peas? I’m not sure anymore at what age I first became intoxicated with their heady perfume but in every garden that I have had as an adult I have grown sweet peas, often the variety ‘Galaxy’ which seems to do especially well in the Pacific Northwest as they bloom earlier and for longer than the Spencer varieties. Burpee sells the seed in the USA but 'Galaxy' is more widely available in the UK.

One small vase of sweet peas will perfume an entire room
Then my memories turn to those which I have passed on to my children. (Well if I’m honest I would have to limit that to my daughter Katie, now 22. My son (18) can identify pansies and snapdragons but he would be the first to admit that beyond that he hasn’t a clue…). Katie fondly remembers picking posies of primroses and forget-me-nots from the garden for the breakfast table.
You're never too young; Katie was just 7 months when she
discovered English primroses.
Sorry about photo quality - a scanned image from
pre-digital days!

When Katie was just three an elderly neighbor divided a clump of her spring blooming bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) and shared them with us after seeing how fascinated Katie was with the tiny teardrop ready to  fall from the delicate pink heart. We moved to the USA five years later and as soon as Katie saw that plant at a nursery she insisted we bought one for our new home. Most children would ask for candy!

The wonderfully old fashioned bleeding heart
(Dicentra spectabilis)
I know there are more treasures in my garden but I won’t subject you to any more of my ramblings down memory lane. It does make me realize however that something as simple as a wildflower can hold a place in our heart and mind far longer than its fleeting bloom. Who would have known that gardening would become such a passion of mine and that I would own a garden design business later in life? Or that my daughter, recently qualified with her Masters degree in Architecture, is keen to expand her career beyond the realm of typical building practices where the design of structure and landscape are considered in isolation, to a more holistic, integrated and sustainable approach. 

What legacy of garden memories have you been given; and what will you give to others?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Outdoor Living Extravaganza

National plant growers Proven Winners® will kick-off the 2011 gardening season by hosting informative and entertaining gardening events throughout the United States and Canada again this spring. These all-day, retreat-styled seminars have been incredibly popular over the past two years, with many selling out weeks, and sometimes months, prior to the event.

Here’s where gardening enthusiasts can enjoy a day filled with ideas and inspiration this year:
  • Atlanta, Georgia--March 4th
  • Seattle, Washington--March 18th
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin--April 8th
  • Toronto, Ontario--April 15th
Each of these Friday spring sessions will begin with registration at 8:30 a.m., followed by nationally recognized speakers that will inform and entertain those in attendance. Participants will enjoy a catered sit down 3 course lunch (I’ve had a sneak peek at the menu and it is seriously yummy), snacks throughout the day, raffle prizes galore—and everyone attending should plan to take home a gift bag filled with fun and useful gardening items. The event ends as we all stagger out loaded up with goodies and food at 4pm. All included in the $80 ticket price.

To read more about all the venues click here.

New for 2011;
Million bells 'Blackberry punch'
In Seattle the event will be held at the Newcastle Golf Club and our featured speakers include my good friend, author, horticultural whizz and highly entertaining speaker Marianne Binetti; Knock Out Gardens That Pack a Punch and Wallop the Weeds; Learn how to knock the socks off boring landscapes by adding more punch to your garden using Knock Out plants and focal points. You'll also learn how to layer plant material for 4 seasons of color in this fun and informative PowerPoint presentation. Plenty of take home ideas, practical growing tips and inspiration from some of the best gardens in the world.

New for 2011
Coleus 'Alligator Tears'
Willi Galloway is an award winning author, speaker, radio show commentator and edible gardening whizz; Mix It Up: Strategies for Adding Edibles into your Ornamental Garden. Why would you grow rows of basil in your backyard when you could plant a swath of this lush herb alongside cannas, hardy bananas and fuchsias to create a tropical-looking border by the front door? Adding edible plants into ornamental borders and mixed containers dramatically expands your plant palette and increases the productivity of your garden. Willi will give her recommendations for the best ornamental edible plants and varieties for the Pacific Northwest.

New for 2011
Agave 'Little Shark'
Christina Salwitz shares her artistic skill as a designer on her popular blog the Personal Garden Coach. I’m really looking forward to her talk; Foliage; Confessions of a Leafaholic. "You can have an affair with the flower. But, you're married to the foliage." Flowers can be the divas and the ephemera that draw us in for a closer look and rapturous fragrance. However, foliage is there as the ever strong support structure and often demanding leading role in your garden. Learn how a designer uses leaves and texture to produce the dramatic interplay that creates a striking landscape. This lively and energetic presentation will show you loads of pictures of foliage of all types from tropical to native that you can use this summer to make your garden or containers sparkle.  

Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky'
And last but not least the Director for new plants at Proven Winners Rick Schoellhorn will give us a presentation; Only the Best for Your Garden. Proven Winners is dedicated to bringing only the best plants to the gardens of North America. Working closely with plantsmen and breeders from around the world, new and innovative potential Proven Winners' plants are vigorously trialed for years before introduction. The process of product development will be discussed in depth as well as unveiling the new introductions for your 2011 garden.

Register here or call the main office at 1-877-865-5818. Tickets sell out fast.

See you there!

(Remember you can forward this email, share it on Facebook or Tweet to your hearts content!). Also if you would like to know about other upcoming events, check out 'Karen's Events' on the blog website
Photos courtesy of Proven Winners®

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Garden Design - destinations

Our garden journey together has looked at entrances, pathways and special garden ‘moments’ to enjoy along the way. Now let’s look at the final part of the journey; the destination.

Whether toasting marshmallows over the fire or dipping into the water at the
end of the meadow trail, these two destinations are designed to capture your attention.

Your path may be a circular trail with a series of features along the way, one or more of which becomes a mini destination without the need for a grand finale. Or it may be a one-way path which leads to a studio for example, returning by the reverse route in which case the path will have a defined endpoint.

This entry courtyard has it all; luxuriant plantings, an elegant water feature
 and eye-catching stone details.
Wolford garden, Dallas TX
When the journey has a specific arrival point there needs to be a sense of fanfare. Make it clear that this is what you have been aiming for and that it was worth the walk!

In some instances destinations may be an expansion of those little surprises discovered along the way such as a water feature, a piece of sculpture or a simple bench upon which to sit and appreciate a special view.

At the edge of our property is a meadow backed by forest through which leads a partially obscured trail. (Read my post ‘When is a meadow not a meadow’ to see that this is not nearly as romantic as it sounds!). A little way in, the path divides into two; one trail leads through the woods and past spring blooming wild trilliums and native bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa) while the other leads to a clearing amidst a thicket of alder, willows, salmonberry and conifers. I love to stand at the edge of that clearing and look beyond into the untouched forest, rich with moss and ferns which thrive in the dappled light. Many of these have grown from ancient nurse logs which litter the forest floor. It’s a very special place, the design of which I can take no credit for. 

Here are a few other ideas for destinations to get your creative juices flowing.

Fire-pits have become popular and range from portable copper bowls to stone circles built into a patio. They become a gathering point for friends and family.
A place to listen to the stream far below
Patterson garden, Dallas, TX

Raised look outs provide an opportunity  to survey the landscape below or if you are fortunate enough to have waterfront property a dock becomes a promontory on which to pull up a chair and pour a glass of wine to watch the sunset.
A simple rustic rocking chair and table suit this birch grove
Design by Paul Repetowski, WA

Quiet sitting areas in unexpected places allow us to savor the tranquility.

Entry courtyards may include fountains, grottos or seating areas

There is no doubt that this tropical looking paradise is your
much anticipated destination.
Wolford garden, Dallas, TX

Swimming pools and cabanas surely offer the ultimate in destination WOW factor.

Gazebos and summer houses provide
shelter away from the home.
A whimsical structure beckons.
Bellamy garden, Dallas, TX

Being spat on by a giant frog was one way for friends to cool off at the
Dallas Arboretum this summer!
Fountains are available to suit all size gardens and budgets. They can form tranquil focal points or an interactive fun spot for kids of all ages.

So where will you lead your friends? What do you want to show them? What will they remember from their visit? Design a special journey through your garden and share the experience and a little piece of yourself with others.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Garden Design - planning special 'moments'.

What do you remember most about a garden you visited recently? Perhaps a sculptural container tucked amidst lush plantings? A secluded seating nook? A stunning combination of plants which together created a vignette so striking that you just had to stop and take a photograph?
A carefully thought out combination of plants using color repetition
My design

When hiking in the mountains we rarely walk to our final destination without pausing to admire native wildflowers, taste a wild berry or appreciate a vista which appears unexpectedly. Likewise a walk though your garden needs to include special treasures to be discovered, appreciated and enjoyed. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

A blue pillar in the style of artists Lewis & Little adds
a  focal point amidst all the plants, yet repeats
the blue of the geraniums in the foreground.
Design by Suzanne Kalish
Striking plant combinations; a splash of unexpected color always catches the eye. Imagine a group of bright orange lilies exploding from a carpet of chartreuse Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) for example. Or an artistic vignette where the colors of one plant are echoed in its partners in such a way that each component is more beautiful for the association than it would have been on its own.

A perfect spot to enjoy the pond and waterfall
My design
Sculpture and art work; from larger-than-life bronze sculptures to a child’s hand made art project, these pieces grab our attention. Their shape stands out from the surrounding foliage and the surface qualities play with light. Shiny, reflective pieces contrast well with matt leaves for example. A simple birdbath peeking from ferns along a woodland path seems perfectly at home and can draw our attention to an attractive group of shade loving plants which might otherwise go unnoticed.

Seating nooks; these provide us with an excuse to sit and savor the surroundings. When we are still we have the opportunity to hear bird song or listen to the wind as it rustles through the leaves of nearby trees. Seating areas can also allow us to view the garden from a new perspective, perhaps looking down the path along which we have just travelled. Such settings can be in open clearings or partially hidden as though in a secret garden.

This small fountain fits easily into the corner of a deck.
My design
Water features; from gurgling pondless fountains to massive installations resembling Niagara Falls, we find ourselves naturally drawn to the sound of water. An additional reward is the birdlife which it attracts. I looked forward to the brightly colored western tanagers arriving every spring to dip and dive into our modest waterfall and smaller birds always stopped to take a quick bath, splashing wildly like a toddler in a paddling pool. Water brings movement and life into a garden.

This small container repeats the purple
and orange colors of the surrounding plants
My design
Containers; can be planted or left empty. A small colorful container tucked into a border can add a new dimension to the space, reinforcing the theme or adding contrast. Larger pieces with an architectural quality can be used like sculpture to provide a focal point or a welcome visual resting place amidst an overstuffed border.

An elegant fountain and container gardens
contribute to the ambience of this serene
Design by Alyson Ross-Markley

So invite a friend to take a stroll down your garden path and see how often they pause. If they don’t seem to linger at all you may need to add a few of these elements to make your garden more memorable. Too many features will be visually exhausting, but one or two waiting to be discovered will make the journey seem longer (a good ploy for small gardens), more intimate and memorable. You will have created an experience, not simply a garden.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Garden Design - down the garden path

The transition between a rustic wooden bridge and hazelnut shells
 adds interest to the journey
My design, Kirkland, WA

Paths are irresistible as they lure us along the trail to a destination, often partially obscured. Consider Dorothy on her yellow brick road or Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole! Pathways offer us an opportunity to influence the experience of the journey by the choice of materials and the manner in which they lead you from point A to point B. Straight paths suggest a sense of urgency whereas a meandering route is more leisurely and encourages exploration of little garden ‘moments’ along the way. (We’ll take a look at ideas for such features in another article).

All the elements for designing paths are too extensive to cover in detail here, so I am going to focus on a few of the styles and materials which I have either used or have caught my eye.
Hazelnut shells lead the way
into a woodland garden
My design. Kirkland, WA

Hazelnut shells are perfect for a woodland trail and make a satisfying crunch underfoot. You can’t rush over them so they allow you time to savor special shade loving plants along the way and linger in the dappled shade.

Mulch or bark is not my favorite, giving me splinters in flip-flops and kicking up dust in dry weather. However where budget is an issue this can at least be a temporary option and lends a rustic air to informal trails through large borders or forests.

This well designed stepping stone path leads past
a water feature to a small seating area beyond.
Woodinville, WA

Stepping stones are easy to install and can be lifted to provide access to underground utilities if necessary. The spacing of these is important – after all you aren’t suggesting a game of Hopscotch! Using one oversize stone or two medium ones side by side at the start of such a path gives a sense of importance.

Who can resist stopping to read these bricks?
Rister-Armstrong garden, Dallas, TX

Bricks have been used for pathways for decades and can be laid in a variety of designs including herringbone and basket weave. I love the way the homeowners have made the most of the etched writing on these bricks. I spent ages reading them!

Gravel is quick and inexpensive to install. I usually recommend a size which compacts down well such as rocksand or 3/8 minus. Pea gravel looks great and has a crunchy sound but it wobbles underfoot and can feel rather unstable when several inches thick. (It also wrecks stilettos!)

Stone comes in an array of colors, shapes, sizes and thicknesses but one thing they all have in common is their higher cost. Having said that an elegant home deserves an elegant path to the front door so that may be the place to splurge on a Pennsylvania bluestone for example, compromising with gravel in a less important area.
Diamond sheet panels
continue the theme

Concrete slabs suit the
contemporary architecture
Concrete tends to be the builders material of choice. It can be given a brush finish, have aggregates added, be stamped, colored, etched or cut into pavers and cobblestones. I recently saw a fascinating path outside a contemporary home, where rectangular slabs of concrete had been set into the ground at 45' angles  It felt a little like walking along the bar in gym class! The theme was continued with panels of stainless steel diamond plate, a material usually found in workshops and tool boxes. This sculptural treatment set the scene for a fascinating architectural journey through a wild landscape.

If you would like more ideas on how to design gardens including pathways to suit various functions I highly recommend  Home Outside by Julie Moir Messervy (author of The Not So Big House). Invaluable to designers and keen homeowners alike, this book takes the mystery out of landscape design principles with great illustrations, photographs and an easy to read text. I have re-read it many times and always learn something new. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Garden Design - making an entrance

A vegetable garden as beautiful as this deserves an entrance that makes a statement
Neff garden, Kitsap peninsula, WA

A mysterious break in a hedge
entices you to explore what's beyond.
Design by Paul Repetowski, WA
Entering your garden should be like the start of a journey, filled with excitement and anticipation. Trailheads typically mark the way with a sign directing you to a path which disappears tantalizingly from view, enticing you further and further along the trail to discover what might be revealed around the next corner.

Too often when designing our gardens we jump straight into buying armloads of our favorite plants, then plugging them in wherever we find a patch of bare earth. We may be so accustomed to being in our garden that we forget to consider how visitors will approach the space. What will they see as they drive up? Is there a clear path to your door or might they end up visiting the garbage cans instead? Will they have that ‘Ta Da!’ moment as they enter your wonderland or will they walk through it and not realize that the journey has already ended?

Porcelain vine smothers this
romantic arbor.
Shelley garden, Woodinville, WA
Vine clad archways and arbors are the quintessential garden entrance, with or without a gate. Who can resist walking underneath knowing you are entering another world, a special place into which you have been invited? Whether festooned with fragrant roses, jasmine or honeysuckle or left bare to show off the structure, these features make a clear statement. Framing a distant focal point within the arch serves to draw both the eyes and feet further into the space, encouraging exploration with the promise of an interesting journey.

This entrance is marked by two posts. The absence of a gate
suggests that visitors are always welcome.
Ross Chapin design Kirkland, WA
Gates provide a clear sense of entry even without an overhead structure. They can be a way to keep out unwanted visitors – “this far and no further”, or they can be an invitation into a very personal space. I often design ornamental gates which are simply staked into the ground with rebar. They don’t physically open and close, but rather stay partially ajar as though to say “come on in”. This is particularly effective for a side garden or an entry into a secret grotto hidden amongst the trees.

Add some personality to your gate
with old garden tools
'Hobbit garden' Dallas, TX

Where neither gates nor arbors are appropriate, pathways need to be clearly visible and defined. Flanking an entrance with a pair of matching shrubs, grasses or container gardens can be a useful ploy or even just a single specimen tree whose height and form draws your attention.

So welcome friends and enjoy the sense of anticipation on their faces as they begin the journey into your unique garden. In my next post I’ll look at options for designing paths which move beyond the utilitarian, from rustic and informal to contemporary, horizontal sculpture. Join me!

Photo credit for Shelley garden One Thousand Words Photography