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My Not-So-Secret Garden

October 23, 2010

At this time of year, when winter is approaching and the garden is going dormant, my thoughts turn to next year’s garden projects. Chief among these is a new flower bed for my Maine garden.

View from the back garden into the secluded clearing (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)One of my favorite parts of my property in Maine has long been a mossy clearing behind the house, surrounded by woods on three sides and presided over by two tall white pine trees. Although this clearing is visible from the house, it had a quiet, secluded feel to it.

As I developed the back garden, I began to imagine planting a flower bed at the back of this area, under the pine trees at the edge of the woods. This garden area would be clearly separated from the rest of the back garden. Access to it would be through the narrow neck between the front of the fence border and the east end of the blue and yellow border, with some stepping stones set in the moss to entice the garden visitor onward through the clearing. I thought of this imagined garden area as “the secret garden” or sometimes as “the serenity garden.” To make it work, though, I needed to close off the fourth side of the clearing, which was open to the clothesline area and, beyond that, to the driveway. A wild blueberry patch adjacent to the woods on the driveway side of the clothesline helped to create a visual barrier; and, over time, I planted two shrubs (a division of the rhododendron on the back slope and a Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’) to separate the clothesline from the clearing.

Looking into clearing from driveway (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) But in fall 2009, when my septic system failed (see It’s Always Something and Garden Logic), my secluded clearing and the clothesline area were dug up for the installation of a new leaching field.  When the job was done, the shrubs had been removed, the blueberry patch had disappeared, and I was left with a grassy area open to the driveway and no longer feeling secluded.

My goal now is to once again close off the area between the clearing and the clothesline. The new leaching field fills most of the area under the clearing, beginning near the edge of the planned flower bed and extending to  the end of the fence, just beyond the clothesline.  I cannot plant anything in this area that  sends roots down deeper than 4”, which means that I can’t put the rhododendron and spirea back in their former locations. I’ve figured out that I can create a partial visual separation from the driveway by replanting the shrubs beyond the boundaries of the leaching field, as indicated below. But I still need to find some way to screen off the clearing from the clothesline, and I’m hoping that my creative and clever garden blogging community can help me with a good solution.

View into clearing from driveway, with diagrams indicating location of shrubs

One possibility might be a custom-made metal trellis set at a 90 degree angle to the end of the fence. A local company, Yard Garb, makes such structures from recycled materials. They are lovely, affordable, and have a whimsical feel that would be appropriate for the clothesline area. Another possibility might be  to use a row of fairly large potted plants to separate these two areas. One advantage of pots is that they don’t put down roots and could go on top of the leaching field; a disadvantage is that I’d have to find a place to store them during the winter. What do you think of these ideas? What else can you suggest? I’m counting on all of you to help me figure this out!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2010 3:45 pm

    I vote with the whimsical and recycled trellis. Maybe combined with a few special pots to soften it? Pots that sing in their own right. Planted with a fresh combination each year?

    BTW I have discovered a new site Women on Writing. For October they have a blog hop promoting Diana Raab’s book, Healing with words. I wonder if you know the book, the author? Would love some honest feedback which isn’t just commercial marketing. Coming from Blotanical where we comment on each other’s posts, I am utterly disconcerted that Women who Write barely manage one or two comments on those posts?!

    Oh and your Blotanical research side might enjoy this thread of posts

  2. October 23, 2010 4:59 pm

    Jean, septic fields are a pain aren’t they? Never able to put them where you’d like to see them, they always seem to want to be front and centre. Thoughts that came to mind when you described your situation was a high trellis or fence of some type. I’ve seen ones that incorporate things like old window frames (providing a view to the secret garden on the other side maybe?). To make it more appealing you could hang half moon (wall) baskets, or wreaths on it. Container plants could spruce it up and perhaps a raised bed running along the base sporting some annuals (annuals would have less chance of the roots going too far). By the way, I love the view looking into your ‘secret’ spot, it looks lovely.

  3. gardeningasylum permalink
    October 23, 2010 9:31 pm

    Oh Jean, why not trellis and containers too? Then you would have the all important bones as well as the ability to change out your plantings easily. The first thing I had to do when I moved to my current place was remove a gigantic maple planted on top of the septic tank – I now grow perennials there and a kousa dogwood not too far away…

  4. October 24, 2010 1:10 am

    Go for trellis, but something unuual in the trellis line. Maybe some intersting metal, with oxidation. I know some people just think “rust”, but with the right plants it could look great!

    Good luck with the final outcome!

  5. October 24, 2010 12:18 pm

    Ditto to the other comments Jean. I would have suggested a hedgerow of shrubs for the birds but not possible with your leech field. Have fun with it! ;>)

  6. patientgardener permalink
    October 24, 2010 3:14 pm

    I would say the trellis as the line of pots will look disjointed and unintended whereas the trellis will look more purposeful. You could tuck a pot in the corner to grow a climber in up the trellis

  7. October 24, 2010 3:38 pm

    aloha jean,

    how exciting you have an new area and project to work on…that should be a fun challenge…recyled sounds great especially from a local artist…i say go for it 🙂

  8. October 24, 2010 4:32 pm

    I also like the trellis idea. It would provide year round interest and seperation. 🙂

  9. Sylvia (England) permalink
    October 26, 2010 5:25 am

    Jean, I noted that you said the fence would look “appropriate for the clothesline area”, does this mean that you are concerned it will not work as well from the clearing side? It is surprising what plants will grow in 4 inches of soil, think of roof gardens or “the High Line”, could this be increased with a raised bed? You may need to lay a membrane so roots cannot go down. I am thinking of your whimsical trellis and on the clearing side, plants. Some grasses have shallow roots and would give height, you are looking up at a bank from this side so plants would seem taller than they are. Some ferns seem to grow in very little soil. Pots are great but need lots of water and I don’t think they would match the woodland clearing.

    I am sure you will find a great solution, I look forward to reading about it. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  10. October 26, 2010 8:06 am

    Containers need not be of the type you would need to store over winter. Half barrels are large enough you could plant dwarf trees, evergreens, etc and leave them all year for screening. Dwarf blue spruce, hollies, etc. will overwinter fine if given some water and/or sprayed with an anti-dessicant like WiltPruf. You could also include deciduous blooming shrubs or butterfly bushes for color. I’ve got wigelia, spirea, potentilla – all in pots (some as small as 3 gals) for 8 years and more. They do fine, bloom wonderfully and fill gaps where I can’t plant. A container bed might be your answer.

  11. October 26, 2010 9:06 am

    What great suggestions you’ve gotten. I have an area of the garden we cannot plant on because it has to remain free for possible repairs to a power line, so we’ve put up a fence with willow screening, which I really like the look of. It’s not completely compact, but still hides what’s behind it. We have pots of oleander in front of it, but they have to be stored for the winter. Other things wouldn’t, as other commenters have suggested. Good luck – and it’s always fun to have a new project!

  12. Amanda permalink
    October 28, 2010 10:44 am

    Can you build a hill or raised bed there? If it’s wood themed you could have railroad ties around the border and three of them vertical for vines to climb.

  13. Barbara H. permalink
    October 28, 2010 12:59 pm

    Hi there, Jean. I just came over from Green Theatre (boo hoo sob) to see what gardening in two gardens looks like – probably a lot of work! Everyone seems to be making good suggestions so I’m going to pass on that for now. Just wanted to say Hi before I subscribed to your blog.

  14. October 28, 2010 10:37 pm

    I am having difficulty imagining how to decorate a free standing trellis while respecting the overall “theme’ of your garden.

    I like the idea of pots that need no winter protection yet are sturdy enough not to be blown over by strong winter winds. Perhaps a composition of pots of varying heights clustered together in a composition, or a few, at least three, very large same size pots randomly scattered over the leaching field. I would be wary of pedestal pots because uneven ground may cause them to tip over.

    I feel so bad that the leaching field has interfered with your garden plans. Perhaps there is space at the perimeter of the field , beyond the no plant zone, where you might be able to plant flowering shrubs that will take the eyes’ focus away from the field to a place beyond.

  15. October 31, 2010 9:45 am

    Yay for you that you have a clothesline! Well used, I hope.

    Separation? I like the idea of a trellis. What about a fence-like structure and some vines growing from a raised bed with root barrier cloth at the bottom?

    Also, thanks very much for your response to my last post. I’d email you a longer reply, but haven’t got your address.

  16. November 3, 2010 11:09 pm

    Thank you all so much for the great suggestions. At this point, I’m planning to begin by ordering a trellis from Yard Garb. Since these metal trellises are works of art in their own right, I don’t really want to grow plants on it; it will be more like a freestanding piece of garden sculpture. Once the trellis is in place and I see how it looks, I can think about how I want to supplement it. Right now, I’m really liking the idea of a raised bed with barrier cloth at the bottom. The trellises are only 3′-4′ wide, so I could imagine putting in a raised bed to run from the end of the trellis to the edge of the woods. I’m intrigued by the idea of pots, too, though, and I’m thinking of another local artisan who makes some very nice outdoor planter pots. (One of the nice things about living/gardening in Maine is lots of local craftspeople making interesting and beautiful things.)

    Marguerite and Allan, I’m really not too bummed out by the leaching field. I like the way that my wastewater gets recycled back into the ground through the leaching field; and because my soil is so sandy, my leaching field has a relatively small footprint. Actually the new leaching field overlaps a lot with the old one that it replaced (and which was the reason that the lovely clearing in the woods existed in the first place).

    Barbara H., Welcome! Thank you so much for visiting (and subscribing). Have you seen Deborah’s responses at Green Theatre; it sounds as though she fully intends to continue blogging (thank goodness!).

    Adrian, Of course you would be the one focused on the clothesline. LOL. Yes, it gets lots of use, since I don’t own a clothes dryer. In the winter, when using the outdoor clothesline isn’t practical, I dry my laundry on a line strung in the basement.

    Diana, I don’t know Diana Raab’s book at all. Thanks for the link to Gina’s post and discussion; I had missed it — and you’re right, it’s grist for the research mill.


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