Creating a Garden
Gardens are for living.
What is a garden?
The idea of a beautiful garden evokes countless thoughts and feelings that touch us all individually. Lovely gardens can truly become part of our homes and our lives in so many ways, for instance:
Imagine a house with mounds of colorful flowers edging the front path and beckoning you to the doorway. Small trees under-planted with spring bulbs echo the shape of the house. A low fence decorated with roses separates a colorful flowerbed from the busy sidewalk. This is a picture of a house that says welcome to its owners and its guests alike. It is also a beacon in the neighborhood and a gift to all who pass by.
A lovely garden, hidden from public view, is the peaceful backdrop for a pleasantly shaded deck. This becomes a perfect summer outdoor room, a place to spend precious time with family and friends.
A quiet and tranquil garden grows into a private sanctuary, a space to reconnect with one’s emotional and spiritual self.
A garden is a place to experience the natural world and nurture delightful plants. And the harvest of the garden oftentimes finds its way indoors too, both flowers for the table and edibles for the kitchen.
When seen from a favorite room indoors, a beautiful garden is like a picture and the window is the picture frame. In this way it also becomes a part of the home,
While the word ‘garden’ has many meanings, for me it embraces the entire space around my home that I use, tend and cultivate, with an eye to creating a beautiful setting that will enrich my life, and the lives of all who come here.
Large or small?
A garden need not be large for it to be totally satisfying and lovely. The old saying ’small is beautiful’ is particularly apt when applied to the gardens of busy people and people of limited mobility. For many of us a well-designed but diminutive garden, which is not burdensome to maintain, will be far more satisfying than a large space in danger of being over-run with weeds.
On the other hand there are some people, perhaps those with an expansive piece of land and time to commit to creating a large garden, who delight in having an extensive flowing design involving multiple garden spaces populated by plants of all types.
What is most important is that the size of your garden is a reflection of your lifestyle and your land.
Beauty and function--a balance
While it is always pleasing to conjure up images of beautiful gardens, our outdoor spaces also need to be designed with function in mind. For instance:
A good spatial design, or floor plan, will ensure that the paths are wide enough for easy walking, and decks and patios properly sized for relaxed living.
A complete spatial design ensures that all necessary spaces, like the woodshed and compost bin, are easily accessible without an intervening obstacle course of pots and plants. At the same time it will also integrate the individual components of a landscape, such as paths, patios, planted areas and lawns, into a smooth and graceful whole.
A careful vertical design takes into consideration how the span of the shade cast by trees and buildings alters, both from season to season as the sun’s arc rises and falls in the sky, and, from year to year as the trees mature and expand.
Good design balances the aesthetic with the practical, without compromising either.
A garden for all seasons
In the North Country our garden encounters mirror the magic of our ever-changing seasons. Step outdoors and greet the first daffodils of spring. Relax in the gazebo over a leisurely al fresco dinner at the high point of summer. Savor the beauty of autumn, from grand red and yellow maples to lovely orange Monarch butterflies amidst purple New England asters. As the snow gently falls, watch chickadees visit a feeder outside your kitchen window.
Winter has a simple beauty all its own, with stark shapes, shadows and silhouettes, set off against a fresh fall of snow. It offers space to enjoy things we may overlook during summer's visual overload, like the compelling presence of arbors, walls and garden steps set off against the subtle undulations in the land. The right choice of plants – trees, shrubs and even perennials—add visual charm of the hibernating garden.
With our long New England winters it is nice to know that, even though the plants are sleeping, a well-designed garden can still be lovely.
The sustainable garden
In creating a sustainable garden we embrace a longer and a wider point of view than just the immediate present. What will the garden be like in ten or even twenty years time? How does the garden impact the larger environment and perhaps, even, how can it contribute to my community?
The sustainable garden is a place of beauty and tranquility where we can enjoy the natural world. In creating sustainable gardens we emphasize stewardship of the land and welcoming wildlife, while we strive to minimize our use of non-renewable resources. A sustainable garden will also contribute to the neighborhood and community, and make a positive impact on the wider environment.
Many practical design considerations contribute to the creation of a sustainable garden, including:
- Develop a master plan that includes the outline of projects that you may not want to undertake for several years. This helps guard against nasty surprises in the future. Imagine the effort involved to move a planting bed, or worse a stone path, over by ten feet to accommodate a new patio. A master plan shows how the main garden elements relate to one another and avoid this type of problem.
- Pick and position varieties of trees and shrubs with an eye to how they will look in the landscape, both early on and after ten or twenty years. At the outset, the young shrubs and trees define the framework of the garden, and we can use colorful flowers to fill the intervening spaces. As the woody plants grow and thrive, they cast ever-widening circles of shade to reach out to touch one another. But at maturity they should not be so close that they crowd together, nor need an obligatory annual pruning to keep them from devouring their neighbors.
- Select varieties of plants that will thrive in the particular conditions at hand, whether sunny or shady, dry or wet. Choose plants that will attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife, while at the same time avoiding invasive plants that can pollute the wider environment.
- Strive to create the optimal growing environment for the plants. This may include up-front work such as the proper handling of slopes or correcting poor drainage. Most of all, however, it involves incorporating plenty of organic matter, both at the outset and as part of one’s ongoing gardening practices, to nurture and improve the soil, Good soil results in plants that grow better and stronger, with fewer diseases and other problems, which in turn means inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are not needed. And large healthy plants also shade the soil, which will go a long way towards discouraging weeds, also a most desirable situation!
- Use design choices and gardening practices that eliminate or minimize the need for watering. These include: selecting plants that thrive in drier environments (such as perennials and grasses that came from the prairies or Mediterranean area); limiting the overall amount of lawn by creating naturalized meadow or woodland spaces; using a mulching mower set for a high cut to cut the grass; mulching all exposed soil with a natural material (such as bark mulch or composted leaves) that will maintain soil moisture this year, while decomposing gradually to enrich the soil for the years to come.
From dreams to reality
Every garden is a unique reflection its owner's desires and the special features of the site. A well-designed garden is a harmonious whole created through careful planning and hard work. Its beauty pleases our senses, but its design must also meet our functional needs. Fine gardens are a subtle blend of what satisfies and what works.
Click here to see more photographs of Judith's Garden.