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Dreams of a New Front Garden

April 23, 2015

house with bare groundWhile I wait for the snow to finish melting, I have been enjoying the mild weather by beginning spring clean-up in flower beds that are already free of snow and by wandering around the front of my property dreaming about the new front garden I plan to create there. As you can see, almost all the plants were removed before construction started, so I am essentially beginning with a blank slate.

entry garden iris siteCreating a garden here will be a multi-year project, and right now I’m focusing my dreaming and planning on the area above the retaining walls. The new front entrance, on the side of the house facing the driveway, will be surrounded by an entry garden consisting of several flower beds. In the space between the front steps and the house, I plan to reinvent the planting of Siberian irises that grew under the old front window. Because the new space is somewhat larger than the old iris bed, I will be able to extend the bloom season by combining Siberian irises with tradescantia (in shades of blue and white) and with one variety of a later-blooming companion plant (still to be chosen).

entry garden border sitesOn the other side of the front steps, a narrow walkway (mostly hidden by the remaining snow pile) leads to a small patio (8’ x 8’) at the top of the retaining walls. This walkway will separate the remaining two flower beds of the entry garden, the porch border and the patio border. I haven’t yet decided on the plants for these flower beds, but the planting will be in shades of pink, white and lavender, and I want to include plants tall enough to provide a sense of enclosure in the garden as one approaches the front door.

fragrant garden siteAlong the front of the house, a large area under the bedroom window and bounded by the side of the front deck at one end and the corner of the house at the other will be the site for my new fragrant garden. My dream is to have wonderful fragrances wafting into the bedroom through open windows on summer nights. This garden will include both woody perennials (shrubs) and herbaceous perennials and needs to be very carefully designed. I will begin work on this design this year, but I don’t expect to actually get the ground prepared and plants in until next year.

lavender walk siteIn addition to the entry garden, I do hope to get one other garden area completed this year: the lavender walk. I have long wanted to grow lavender, and this dry, sunny area along the top of the retaining wall seems like a perfect place for it. The lavender will be planted along both sides of a second walkway leading to the patio. On the side in front of the deck, which is just around the corner from the porch border, I would like to interplant the lavender with some pink flowers, perhaps Echinacea purpurea. On the retaining wall side, I would also like to combine the lavender with one or two other plants, but I am not yet sure what those will be.

Before I can begin to dig and plant any of these garden areas, the hardscape will need to be completed. All the walkways and the patio, which were prepared by the excavators with compacted sand and gravel, will be finished with one-foot square concrete paving stones. I am hoping to find enough money in my budget to hire someone to do all or most of this work. (I can do it myself if I have to, but it takes me forever and is hard on my back.)

I have lots to think and dream about as I wait not very patiently for the snow to finish melting and the ground to dry out.  Having a new front garden to dream and plan is exciting!

A Welcome Bloom: GBBD, April 2015

April 16, 2015

house with bare groundI am a day late posting for bloom day because I just got home yesterday after a week and a half away. What a difference ten days can make at this time of year! When I left, the temperature was about 31F and snow was in the forecast. (I was more than happy to get out in time to miss winter’s last gasp in the form of the annual April snow storm.) When I returned, it was 65 (F) and sunny.

The garden I left was mostly snow-covered, albeit with quite a few areas of bare ground. Now the ground is mostly bare, although there are still some patches of snow in the woods and unmelted snow piles by the front porch, snowpile front
snowpile back … along the back of the house,
… and along the edges of the driveway. driveway snowbank


hyacinth in bud As soon as I had finished unpacking the car, I went out to see if there were any blooms to mark the arrival of spring. I found some hyacinth buds ready to open.


And then, in the serenity garden, my first bloom of the new garden season and a perfect welcome home gift – a single crocus flower.

crocus bloom

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see more blooms from those whose spring comes earlier than mine.

New Growth!

April 1, 2015

It’s no joke! I have new growth showing in my garden. Although there are still some large snow piles in parts of the garden, like the north-facing deck border. Other parts, like the south-facing blue and yellow border just across the walkway, have considerable bare ground showing.

big snow pile deck snow melting b&y

And where bare ground is showing, I am beginning to see signs of the new spring growth.

Most dramatic is this vigorous new growth on Linum perenne (flax). new growth linum
new growth daffodils But I’m particularly thrilled to see the nubs of daffodils beginning to break the soil.
Geranium x cantabrigiense is green and ready to grow as soon as the snow disappears. geranium green growth
hellebore leaves In the serenity garden, the leaves of hellebores have begun to appear.
Enough snow has melted away from the fence for me to get out and prune the clematis. snow melting fence

It’s no joke! I’m beginning to have confidence that spring really will get here this year.

Favorite Garden Books: The Inward Garden

March 29, 2015

The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and MeaningWhen I first began reviewing garden books on this blog, many readers left comments about their own favorites and one recommended the books of Julie Moir Messervy. I finally got a chance to follow up on that recommendation recently when I borrowed one of Messervy’s books, The Inward Garden: Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning (Little, Brown and Company, 1995) from the public library.

When I ordered the book (the library had to get it from another branch), I was expecting a garden memoir or book of garden essays; so I was surprised when I picked it up to find myself holding a big picture book full of gorgeous color plates. In the acknowledgements, Messervy describes the book as a hybrid: “part personal memoir, part design manual, part philosophy text.” (p. 7) For me, it has been the most useful garden design book I’ve ever read; by the time I was halfway through it, I had gone online to search for a copy I could buy.

Messervy, a professional garden designer, uses the metaphor of a journey to make principles of garden design accessible to the lay gardener. The book itself is presented as a journey where readers begin by remembering the loved landscapes of childhood, learn how to identify the types of landscapes that resonate for them, and then are guided through a process of applying these insights to their own garden designs. I was surprised to learn that I am strongly attracted to cave-like spaces with a sense of enclosure and to “harbors,” anchorages with a view out onto the world. Understanding this helps to make sense of why, when I was looking to buy a house, I fell in love with a heavily wooded property at the end of a dirt road with a strong sense of privacy and enclosure. It also helps to explain why my favorite place for looking at the garden is the “harbor” of the screenhouse on the back deck.

back garden entrance - JulyI have always designed my garden one small area at a time, without any clear overall plan; so Messervy’s approach was particularly helpful in getting me to think about the big picture. I especially liked her chapter on gardens as “stroll journeys” and “mind journeys.” Stroll journeys are the ways that we physically move through our gardens. A stroll journey consists of a departure point, a destination point, paths that connect the two, and events along those paths. My garden has two kinds of departure points: entrances into the garden for those arriving from the driveway (the stairs up the back slope and the stairs into the back garden) and entrances into the garden for those going out from the house. The deck and the front entrance to the house are destination points for those arriving from the driveway but departure points for those going out from the house. In the back garden, where a walkway connects the stairs up from the driveway with the deck, a side path leads to another destination point, the serenity garden with its garden bench. In the new front garden, the walkway from the top of the steps to the front entry will have a side path leading to a patio. Thinking about the garden this way made me realize that none of these paths will take a visitor into the lower part of the new front garden, confirming the vague sense I’ve had that this garden will need another departure point from the driveway, with a long curving path that leads through the lower garden and up the slope to the patio (the destination point for this stroll journey). It also helped me to realize that I want to have a path along the far side of the house (away from the driveway) that connects the front garden to the back garden.

serenity with benchMind journeys are the mental, aesthetic journeys we make through space from a stationary vantage point or viewing position. These viewing positions are often the destination points of stroll journeys (e.g., the garden bench in my serenity garden). In addition to the viewing position, which is the departure point for a mind journey, mind journeys also need frames for the pictures they make, and a focus (the mental destination point). Thinking about my garden this way helps me to think about the best arrangement for furniture on the new patio in the front garden. What will frame the view from this spot? What will the focus of that view be? Messervy points out that views from windows are also mind journeys, with the window providing the frame. I will need to think about how to design the new fragrant garden outside my large bedroom window so that it not only provides a pleasing event on the stroll journey through the front garden but a coherent mind journey for those looking out from within.

Because both stroll journeys and mind journeys are ways of moving through the garden, Messervy follows her presentation of these two types of journeys with a discussion of movement in the garden, and particularly the importance of balance and scale in creating movement. In the past, I have thought about balance and scale in specific flower beds, but not in relation to the garden as a whole. I found Messervy’s instructions for thinking about balance in terms of triangles a revelation. When I did so, I could see that my house and the new retaining walls for the patio are two points on a big triangle that anchors my new front garden. But what is the third point on that triangle? Without one, the whole composition “leans” heavily toward the driveway. Balance will require a fairly large planting area on the opposite side of the front yard near the road; I think a planting of shrubs on the west corner of my property may be just what this composition needs.

Reading The Inward Garden has been a powerful journey for me, one that has moved my understanding of garden design to a new level and also moved me forward in the process of designing my new front garden. This book is going to occupy an important place in my collection of garden books, and I think others may also find it a valuable resource.

Melting, Mud, and Other Hints of Spring

March 21, 2015

The vernal equinox may mark the official start of spring, but it will be a while yet before spring gets to Maine. As I write, I’m watching snow float down outside my study window, and there are still big piles of snow everywhere – some of which won’t finish melting until late April.

front pile of snow driveway snow banks

Nevertheless, there are subtle hints that spring is coming, if you know what to look for.

Unlike in February, when the snow just kept getting deeper and deeper, March’s longer days and strong sun have brought melting, even on days when the temperatures don’t get above freezing.

muddy ruts Muddy ruts have begun to appear in my dirt road, precursors of the dreaded ‘mud season,’ when the road may become impassable for as long as two weeks.
Previously buried garden features, like this tarp-covered bench and garden sculpture, have re-emerged. garden features emerging
snow melt foundation2 Snow has begun to melt away from the foundations of the house,
And here and there under the trees, patches of bare ground have appeared. bare ground patch

Along the roadsides, broken mailboxes and street signs, casualties of the winter’s plowing, are appearing from under the snow banks.

broken mailbox broken street sign
maple syrup cropped But there are sweeter signs of spring’s approach. Around my neighborhood, taps have appeared on sugar maple trees. This is Maine Maple Sunday, when farmers open their sugar houses to visitors and ply them with various maple sugar treats.

And a close look reveals new growth on deciduous trees.

tree branch budsAll of these buoy me up with hope that spring really is coming.

I am linking this post to Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View.

McLaughlin Garden Talk Follow-Up

March 19, 2015

Yesterday I gave a presentation on garden blogs at the McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine. Several people asked for a list of the blogs I referenced during that talk. If you click on the image below, you can download a pdf version of my PowerPoint presentation for the talk. You can then click on any slide in the presentation for a link to the corresponding blog.


Waiting for Spring: GBBD, March 2015

March 15, 2015

Charisma1It has been a snowy day in Maine – a warning that we should not be lulled by recent spring-like temperatures and melting into thinking that winter is over. More than a foot of snow still covers my garden, so I remain reliant on indoor plants for blooms.

My ever-reliable potted cyclamen (below) continue to flower, although they are beginning to slow down. Only the oldest of these plants is still producing new buds. As this plant has grown over the years, the number of corms in the pot have increased and they have gotten out of phase with one another. The result is that different parts of the plant go into dormancy at different times and it almost always has some flowers in bloom.

bedroom red cyclamen window cyclamen

For the past two weeks, blooms on one of my potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs, ‘Charisma,’ have been a joyful presence on my living room window ledge. I took these photos on a sunny day earlier in the week to capture the beautiful markings on its translucent petals when they are backlit by the sun.

Charisma2 Charisma3
Happily, as these flowers begin to fade, I have another potted amaryllis just starting to bloom. This is an unidentified plant that I inherited from a friend last summer. It’s about-to-open flowers look like ‘Apple Blossom,’ which is a perfect companion as winter turns into spring.

amaryllis bud

unknown amaryllis

One thing I am missing this year are the vases of cut Forsythia branches that I usually force into bloom. The new addition on my house now sits where the brassy gold forsythia used to grow. I did take  a small rooted piece of the softer yellow one that grew in my Gettysburg garden and planted it outside my study window, but it is too small to bloom yet. It is currently buried under snow, and it remains to be seen whether this variety will be cold-hardy in Maine.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is the lovely invention of Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Although it will be another month before I have spring flowers in my garden, you can visit her blog to see what is blooming this month in many places where spring has already arrived.


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