Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Planning your garden, Part 4

Before I end my discussion about garden planning, I want to add a few words about the view from the house, or more specifically, the view from a window.

We spend time in the garden working and time socializing in the garden, but we can also enjoy the garden when we are inside the house. Do you have a kitchen or dining table by a window that looks into the garden? When you look up from your newspaper or book, do you look across the room from your reading chair and out a window?

Our dining table is right by a large window looking out at the Lawn Beds and across the lawn to an ancient apple tree. The field beyond that is bordered by trees with hills in the far distance. This is an expansive view of the garden and the landscape beyond. A more intimate view is from my reading chair back toward the tractor shed, which is hung with the lovely white, green and pink foliage of a hardy kiwi vine, fronted with several pink rose bushes and with an edging of annual blue salvia. It is such a pleasure to look at this Shed Bed garden that, as disorderly as I often am, I try to keep this area neat.

What would you like to look at from your reading chair, or from your table? Flowers? Birds flitting and settling on a feeder? A burbling fountain set beneath a flowering tree? I have been told that the sound of water will attract birds to the garden even more surely than a well-stocked feeder.

What kind of garden tableau would please you? It only takes a little planning to create a view that will give you immense pleasure.

I hope I have not led anyone to believe that garden planning is ever done. When a garden plan is implemented, unforeseen obstacles may arise, as may unforeseen opportunities. We must never let a beautiful plan get in the way of a beautiful result. A plan must always be flexible.

Even after a garden plan is beautifully in place, enjoyed by the gardener and admired by visitors, time will bring change and alterations will be required. We all know this, or come to know it after only two or three years of a gardening career. I remember a time after I planted my first perennials under the late Elsa Bakalar’s tutelage, when she came to visit and looked at the garden. She suggested, gently, that it was time to divide the yarrow and bee balm.

“What?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought the whole point of perennials was you put them in place, cared for them and they were perennially there, no more thought or work required. It was a simple lesson and is relearned when plants need to be divided because the clump gets too big, or when a plant grows taller, wider or more vigorously than expected or planned, or when you realize that a particular plant like plume poppy has spread itself all through the garden.

Plume poppies, Macleaya cordata, which is not really a poppy at all, looked beautiful in my garden. Plume poppies are tall, up to 8 feet, with large silvery blue scalloped leaves and plumey blossoms. They increase by sending out new rhizomes. They are stunning, but to say they grow vigorously is an understatement. That kind of growth was not part of my plan and I ripped them out.

This past fall, I cut a redvein Enkianthus shrub down to little nubbins. Years ago, I planted this shrub in the middle of the North Lawn Bed because it was described as growing gracefully tall, producing little bell-like flowers in June, and good fall color. It is disease and pest resistant, not fussy about soil or dry weather. It sounds like a wonderful plant and in many ways it is.

When I chose Enkianthus, I somehow did not take in the fact that it was a very slow grower. That was my mistake. And I found the little bell-like flowers very small indeed. Both of those disappointments would not have mattered if it took the graceful form promised — layered branches spreading out 3 or 4 feet from the center of the plant. Mine grew into a widening dense column, with no grace at all.

I made another mistake. I did not take into consideration the slow growth of the other plants around it — the ginkgo trees, the weeping hemlock — and the fast growing low junipers. The whole area was too crowded, something had to go; I chose the Enkianthus. Now there is breathing room.

Calculating how big and how fast plants will grow is not always easy. We can research a plant, read the nursery label and make our best judgment, but we will not always be right. Then something has to go. Sometimes we will simply not like a plant after we have seen it in our garden and sometimes a plant will not like our garden, dying a miserable death. Either way, the plant leaves the garden and we have to come up with a new choice, if not a new plan.

Garden planning is never done. How can it be? Time brings change to our garden. Time changes us. We are always learning about new plants and visiting inspiring gardens. So keep planning and keep gardening.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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