Planning the Serenity Garden
Shortly after I began designing, digging, and planting the back garden, I found myself dreaming about putting a flower bed at the back of a clearing behind my house. This clearing has always had the sense of being separate and secluded from the rest of the back yard, a garden room of its own. At the edge of the woods, presided over by two mature white pine trees, this area seemed like the perfect place for a quiet retreat, and I have come to think of it as “the serenity garden.”
Last year, as I finished the planting for the new fence border, I knew that it was time to get to work on this project. In May, I measured the site (an ellipse roughly 8’ deep at its deepest point and about 18’ wide) and put in some stakes to mark its outer boundaries. I also cut down some tree saplings that were within those boundaries. And once the deciduous trees had leafed out, I did a sun study by photographing the site once an hour from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
When I had a sense of the patterns of light and shade, I began making lists of plants that I might include in this new garden area, gathering ideas from visits to gardens and nurseries and by scouring my plant reference books. I created a separate page in my garden spreadsheet for these ideas, noting height and width of plants, foliage characteristics, flower colors and bloom times, and light and soil needs. Because this garden at the edge of the woods will be an attraction for the neighborhood deer, I also noted plants that are deer “resistant” or even deer “repellant.”
Now it is time to put all these pieces together and actually develop a planting plan for this new garden. In order to create a sense of serenity in this shady woodland retreat, I want to put the focus on foliage, combining plants into pleasing combinations of foliage types and colors. I intend to include some hosta, despite the fact that they are a favorite deer food; and I’m hoping that surrounding them with deer-resistant plants and including a kinetic wrought iron and stone sculpture will help to keep the deer at bay. I also want to enliven this garden area by using flowers to provide intense shots of color at different points in the garden season. In addition, I need to get each plant in a location within the flower bed that will best match its light requirements.
This part of the design process always makes me a bit anxious; it’s like doing a very complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. But I have poor spatial reasoning skills, and I’m not very good at visualizing how a garden area will look when it’s done. When I sit down to plot it all out on graph paper, I’m always surprised to find that I can’t fit as many plants into a given area as I had imagined. I also know from experience that some plants that seemed like good bets when I read about them will turn out not to be very happy after they are planted. And some plant combinations will not look as good in reality as they did in my mind’s eye.
Fortunately, just as I’m starting to feel intimidated into paralysis by all these complexities, I remember that gardening is a process. Any plan will be subject to lots of revision. When I actually get the plants out there and start spotting them around in their pots, I will make some adjustments to my plan. And in the years that follow, I will move plants around, removing some that aren’t working out and adding some newly discovered plant loves.
Neither my garden plan nor my garden will be perfect – and that’s all right. I just need to get out my graph paper and pencil and start drawing. It’s time!