by Charlene Burgi
Have you ever walked out to the garden and felt it wasn’t drawing you in? It’s like some little thing is missing but you can’t put your finger on it. Look around. What pleases your eye? What can you do to create more of “that look”? The idea is to find what will draw you into the garden and make you relish the experience.
First, look at the bones. The bones in a garden are the trees. Do you have trees to provide a frame or foundation for the garden, or are they the missing piece? Are you greeted by a shady place in the hot afternoon sun? Or are you met with a miniature version of the Sahara desert? Not that there is anything wrong with the desert look if that is your goal. Are the trees blocking an ugly site, framing a beautiful view or lifting up the concrete patio? Consider each tree or potential space for a tree before deciding what to do, if anything. You have a lot of years invested, or to invest, with these foundational features of the garden.
The walls of the garden are your shrubs and perennials. Are they providing spaces you would like to share? The walls can create interest by forming rooms within the garden. For example, your path can venture around a bank of salvia, drawing you along to see what’s around the bend. The walls can create a space for entertaining, play areas, or vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The walls can be whatever height you want them to be. A cluster of ninebark will grow about 48 inches high and can frame a small bird bath or bench tucked within the niche created by the plants.
And frames make me think of pictures on the wall . . . color, texture, shapes. Our plant palette is as broad as an artist’s palette. Do you want to stay with a monochromatic theme, like the White Gardens at the Gertrude Jekyll country home in England, or a cacophony of color as seen at the Butchart Gardens? Both gardens are beautiful. The question is which brings you the most peace.
Two important considerations when making changes to the garden are hydrozones and the irrigation system. A hydrozone is a grouping of plants that have the same or similar growing and water needs and are placed on the same irrigation valve. For example, you wouldn’t water your lawn—the thirstiest plant in your garden—with your cactus garden. One or the other is going to die. By the same token, you wouldn’t plant a delicate azalea in the sun with a hardy daylily. One requires shade to thrive, and the other needs sun to bloom. While these are extreme examples, we need to consider what the plant needs are before installing new plants in the garden. Some of the questions you might ask first:
- Are they sun- or shade-loving plants?
- At what time of day will the plants be exposed to the sun?
- What are the soil requirements?
- Will the plants use the same irrigation methods as their neighbors?
- Do all the plants on the same valve have like water needs?
Irrigation is more of a challenge for revamping an existing garden. If you are using pop-up sprays, existing spray patterns may be blocked by the addition of new plants. Can the spray system be converted to drip so you are not parching the plants located behind the obstacle? Again, are the plant water needs the same? If you are mixing a high-water plant with low-water plants, can you extend your drip tubing from a high-water area to pick up that one plant? Or will it wither away for a lack of water, or see the other plants drown? If you are forcing a plant to grow in unsuitable conditions, are you willing to spend the time to make it happy?
As you can see, there is a lot to think about before creating the garden that draws you in. The best approach is to take it one step at a time. Work a very small section before moving on. Take a look at the area and remember that plants grow. If it looks sparse now, it won’t be long until it fills in. Use annual color to fill the temporary voids. And don’t forget the hydrozones! They are the key to successful, happy gardening.