Skip to content

The Plan

February 21, 2011

After years of dreaming, months of preliminary planning, and weeks of obsessing (see Planning the Serenity Garden), I have finally completed a planting plan for the new serenity garden project  in my Maine garden (click to enlarge).

Serenity garden plan (copyright Jean Potuchek)The plan is for a mixed border that combines shrubs, herbaceous perennials and bulbs. Mass is provided at the back and sides by a combination of shrubs (Viburnum, Pieris, box) and large shrub-like perennials (Aruncus, Amsonia, Poteranthus), as well as by the stately presence of Hosta nigrescens. The planting plan  includes a strong base of native plants – Actaea simplex (formerly Cimicifuga), Amsonia, Aruncus dioicus, Athyrium felix-femina (lady fern), Podephylum pellatum (Mayapple), Poteranthus trifoliata (Bowman’s root), and Viburnum cassanoides – complemented by a variety of exotic plants.

Because I’m trying to create a feeling of serenity in this garden area, the focus is on foliage, and plants have been chosen to vary foliage sizes, shapes  and colors. Repetition and rhythm are created primarily through the use of foliage. For example, the ferny foliage of Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamonea), in the right rear of the flower bed, is repeated in the lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina) in the center of the bed, and again in the feathery foliage of Amsonia hubrechtii (blue-star flower) on the left. The bold, dramatic foliage of two large hostas will provide a focal point and also introduce variegation. Foliage in shades of deep red and purple will be repeated in Actaea simplex, Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso,’ and in varieties of Heuchera at the front of the bed. The repetition of rounded foliage in a mixed planting of heuchera and Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ will provide a unified feel at the front edge of the planting. The trick here is to create the right balance of movement, interest, coherence and calm in the placement of foliage plants.

Although the focus in this planting is on foliage, there will also be flowers in bloom from early spring until fall. The blooms will begin with Pieris, hellebores, crocus and Iris reticulata in early spring, move to bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) and mayapple (Podephylum pellatum) in later spring, and then show a rush of blooms in early summer as goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), Amsonia, several varieties of hardy geranium, heuchera, astrantia, and bowman’s root (Poteranthus trifoliata) all flower. In high summer, when the rest of the garden is a riot of color, the serenity garden will be a quiet oasis, with only Viburnum and Geranium ‘Patricia’ in bloom. Late summer and fall will bring more flowers,as Actaea, Lycoris, and fall crocus and colchicums begin to bloom.

Because flowers are supporting players in this planting, they have been chosen primarily in quiet shades of white, pink, and mauve. There are exceptions, however. My hope is to provide a shot of intense color at each point in the garden season. Intense color will be particularly pronounced in early spring when the crocus and iris reticulata plants at the front of the bed bloom. Their intense blues and purples will provide both relief from the color starvation of winter and a focal point while the foliage of many of the herbaceous perennials emerges and grows. Amid all the flowers and foliage of early summer, a single shot of intense color will be provided by the vivid magenta flowers of Geranium ‘Patricia,’ and in late summer by the deep pink flowers of  the fall anemone ‘Prinz Heinrich.’ In fall, just before the focus shifts to the display of fall foliage in the surrounding woods, the flower display will wind down with fall-blooming bulbs of Colchicum and Crocus speciosus.

With a plan completed, I have a new sense of eager anticipation about this garden project. I’d like to head out to the nursery now and start buying plants! But, alas, it is winter; I will have to wait (not so) patiently for spring before work can begin. In April, after the snow has melted and the ground has thawed, I’ll send a soil sample off to the County Extension for analysis. In May, I can use that information to begin digging the bed and preparing the soil. By the end of summer, my long-planned serenity garden should be a reality.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 9:02 pm

    you are an inspiration to me…I need to plan better my own beds and hope to continue to do so…I tend to be too spontaneous and not always hitting the mark…your plan has given me hope that I can learn some valuable lessons…

  2. February 21, 2011 9:30 pm

    I bow before you. I wish I was that organized. jim

  3. February 21, 2011 10:12 pm

    Dear Jean, I love your plan! Can I borrow some ideas?
    All the best to you!

  4. February 21, 2011 11:35 pm

    Fantastic plan!!! Black Beauty is on my list of ‘maybes’, I can never quite find a spot for it. I am very much looking forward to this plan coming to life. So well thought out. I’m sure it will be gorgeous. 🙂

  5. February 21, 2011 11:39 pm

    I don’t think I could make it til May! I am looking forward to seeing this once its in. My circle to 3d visualization skills are pretty lacking.

  6. February 22, 2011 5:40 am

    Looks like a great plan Jean!


  7. February 22, 2011 5:56 am

    Jean that sounds beautiful, and such an informative post, explaining how you approached the planting. Can’t wait to see it being to be realised, hope you get an early thaw…

  8. gardeningasylum permalink
    February 22, 2011 6:00 am

    Thanks for sharing your well thought out plan – I think you’re wise to think of the foliage primarily, especially since you’re going for serenity. I look forward to planting time!

  9. February 22, 2011 7:59 am

    Reaching the final plan always brings a sense of accomplishment and anticipation. I look forward to reading about your progress as the planting season commences.

  10. February 22, 2011 12:00 pm

    Jean that is one amazing and detailed plan. I’m impressed at the time and effort you’ve put into this and your serenity garden is sure to show off the thought you’ve put into it.

  11. February 22, 2011 12:48 pm

    Beautiful plan – can’t wait to see it in real life! And now that you have the plan completed, you can start revising/tweaking/polishing . . . all those things that seem to happen with even the best garden plans.

  12. February 22, 2011 2:44 pm

    The serenity garden composition is a great accomplishment. Best of luck seeing it through to realization. Can hardly wait to see its progress in pictures.

  13. February 22, 2011 3:08 pm

    Waiting to see that magic moment, when the new plants are placed, and planted. What Carrie in Ireland calls our Hedglings ;~)

  14. February 22, 2011 8:11 pm

    Jean, I really admire how you are going about this. So many of the plants you have chosen are my favorites. The fertile fronds of cinnamon fern have to be one of the most beautiful sights in my woodland garden. Hosta nigrescens might be my favorite hosta (today anyway). The only place I have ever found it for sale is at Plain View Farms, and all the plants I sell at my nursery come from the original plant I got from there over 15 years ago. I have mayapple planted in a similar location, and I wouldn’t do that again because it spreads so aggressively and goes dormant. The only way I keep it under control is by digging it up and selling it to my customers. Carolyn

  15. February 23, 2011 8:34 pm

    I really admire people like you who’s very diligent in planning, i can’t imagine the so many plants to be put there, needing visualization and familiarity with their characteristics. I am sorry i am not like that, and maybe i cannot be like that, even if i try. Patience is not one of my most favored virtue, haha! I am excited to see the outcome of this project, i am sure lots of us will be. And somehow i have the feeling of sadness when in the future those plants so painstakingly chosen and planted, will just succumb to the changing of the seasons. That diligence will be put to more use here, because your plants will be able to grow continuously till the end of their lives. That’s because we dont have winter!

  16. February 24, 2011 5:34 am

    I finally got the time to read your plan, it looks fabulous. Funnily enough, I have also started a heuchera, Biokova border in my Flora Glade. Saw it at a garden I visited last year and it looked wonderful. We will have to compare notes, (although I probably will not get to see it flowering this year, boo hoo).

  17. February 24, 2011 7:27 am

    Congratulations on your completed plan. I can imagine that that alone is very satisfying. We’ll all be looking forward to seeing the tangible results. And I may also end up plagiarizing some of it for my own garden if you don’t mind.

  18. February 24, 2011 5:09 pm

    It’s lovely to see your planning coming to fruition. I will be following your purchasing and planting in late Spring with much interest – and a little envy! Jill

  19. February 24, 2011 9:06 pm

    What a great plan. I too do plans but when it gets to the planting stage I fail to implement them! Good luck with all your planting. It looks wonderful already….

  20. February 24, 2011 10:58 pm

    I think the planning and dreaming is the best part. ESPECIALLY when you’re in the throes of winter.

    The combination of foliage and muted colors with the added spice of some bright ones during each season will be great.

    Loved this Jean.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  21. February 25, 2011 3:16 pm

    Hi Jean,

    A lovely plan and many of my favorite natives.

    I must echo Carolyn about mayapple: its preference is to form really large colonies which go dormant early. For that reason, I very reluctantly omitted it from my own shady area, though I love it. Of course my space is extremely limited.

  22. February 25, 2011 10:53 pm

    Thanks for visiting everyone, and for all your encouragement.

    Donna, Jim and Marguerite, Being organized and planning things seems to be at the core of my personality. LOL, if I were ever in a situation where I had to take action without any planning whatsoever, I would probably just freeze or have a nervous breakdown! Seriously, when I first took on administrative responsibilities at work, one of the things that drove me crazy was all those little crises that popped up every day that you could never see coming but that had to be dealt with immediately. I finally learned to plan open time in my day for the unforeseen emergencies.

    Joene, It is great to finally have a plan for this area — even if I know it isn’t final.

    VW and Byddi, You are right about the planting never being the same as the plan. I am already rethinking parts of this (see my response to Carolyn and Adrian below), and I know it will be subject to more revision when I actually get the plants out there and spot them around, and again as plants start to come to maturity and I see what works and what doesn’t (and what is happy in my growing conditions, and what isn’t).

    Rebecca, There are many plants in this design that I haven’t grown before — and Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is one of them, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this gorgeous plant will be happy to make itself at home in my garden.

    Eileen, Allan and Sharon, It’s reassuring to me that you think this looks like a good plan. Thanks for the enthusiastic encouragement.

    Jess, Janet, Cyndy, Diana and Jill, I too am looking forward to actually getting the plants in the ground and seeing this take shape — but I know there’s a lot of hard work between now and then. Because this woodland area has had decades for pine needles and leaf litter to collect, I’m hoping that the soil will have more organic matter in it than my usual glacial sand and that I won’t have to dig in as much manure and compost as I usually do. On the other hand, there’s a good possibility that I’m going to run into tree roots in this area, which will definitely make the preparation more difficult. I’m not expecting to get plants in the ground until late summer or early fall — and even then it may only be a portion of the planting.

    Tatyana and Barbara, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! I think we all borrow ideas all the time from other gardens. How could we not? Since gardens are for sharing, garden design ideas are also for sharing.

    Deborah, You blogged about the Biokovo-Heuchera combination, didn’t you? I had forgotten, but I clearly tucked this idea away in the back of my brain and then borrowed it without even realizing I had done so. We will have to compare notes!

    Andrea, Probably because I have spent most of my life in this climate, I actually love the circle of life and growth that is represented by the seasons. The plants don’t succumb to winter; they just take a well-deserved rest!

    Carolyn and Adrian, Thanks for the warning about the mayapple. This garden is going to include quite a few plants that I haven’t grown before, so it’s definitely a learning experience. I was smitten by mayapple when I encountered it for the first time at the McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine last spring. I do want to have it on my property, but you’ve convinced me that this isn’t the right place. Instead, I’ll plant mayapple at the edge of the woods by the side of the driveway, where it can expand to its heart’s content — and maybe out-compete some of the exotic wildflowers that have been showing up there.

    Carolyn, Hosta nigrescens is my favorite hosta most days. I’m partial to the vase-shaped hostas, and this one has so much presence. I think it’s under-appreciated because it doesn’t have fancy variegated foliage. Plainview Farm is my favorite general nursery; it’s only about 20 miles from my house, and I think I’ve worn a groove in the road between East Poland and West Yarmouth! I don’t remember seeing nigrescens there, so they may not carry it any more. I got mine from Fernwood, a shade nursery that used to be in Swanville, north of Belfast, but recently moved about 20 miles west to Montville, near the intersection of routes 3 and 220. You might enjoy visiting Fernwood when you’re in Maine. Let me know if you do; I’m always looking for excuses to go out there.

  23. February 26, 2011 2:10 am

    I like your focus on foliage, and especially the ferns and plants with delicate foliage. Few things say “calm” to me better than ferns. Although we have ferns even in our desert landscapes, my usual association with them is of cool, sheltered forests, usually with a calming stream running nearby. That association is interesting to me in that ferns often have some of the most amazing fronds–often some of the most complex structures you’ll find anywhere. But that calming greeness almost always wins out over any foliar fireworks. I hope things warm up before too long so that you can begin planting. It’s going to be beautiful.

  24. February 26, 2011 7:57 pm

    Hi Jean,

    Thanks for all the helpful tips you left on my blog about growing Cyclamen. So kind of you!
    I think your garden will be so calming with those colors you chose. I bet it will look so good when it is blooming and flourishing. Hang in there, Spring is almost here!

  25. February 27, 2011 11:25 am

    Hello Jean, I am going to bookmark your site for future reference. I love your border plan. Most if not all of these plants are familiar to us and grow well in Scotland. I am cutting back on annuals and I will refer to your plan in future. I still want a bit of intense colour at the front of the border and will plant the short growing Summer flowering Alstroemerias, worth taking a look at.

  26. Lula ( permalink
    February 28, 2011 1:21 pm

    Jean, a little later (catching up after a very busy week) I see you have done all your homework. Your plan anticipates a beautiful garden. I was planning to print it and put images in the bubbles and have a pre-vision of how it would look, of course never replacing real one, yours!

  27. March 5, 2011 4:02 pm

    Looks great on paper Jean ~ look forward to reading more about it in the future 🙂


  1. Toward a More Earth-Friendly Garden « Jean's Garden
  2. Soil Test « Jean's Garden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: