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Fence Border, Second Draft

July 11, 2011

Fence border in July (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I have found, somewhat surprisingly, that the way I garden has a lot in common with the way I write. When I write, I begin with a topic or assignment. Then I gather information and start to make lists of ideas to include. I’m a writer who can’t write until I have a pretty good sense of where I’m going; so my lists of information and ideas eventually get turned into an outline, and the outline gets fleshed out in a first draft. After I write the first draft, I read through it once or twice, correcting glaring problems. Then I let it sit for a while (hours or days depending on the type of writing) and come back to it later with a fresh eye to create a more substantively revised second draft. In my blog writing, it is this second draft that usually appears, after some additional polishing, as a published post.

In gardening, I move in a similar way from an  initial concept or location for a garden area, to research on plant possibilities and ideas about how to combine them, to a planting plan, and then to preparing the soil and planting. But in the garden as in my writing, I seldom get it right the first time. The first attempt is just a draft, and I know it will need revision.

I am now in that process of revision with the fence border. I developed this flower bed over a period of several years, beginning with a location and some general goals (creating a sense of enclosure for the back garden, screening the clothesline from the deck, and providing a sunny place to grow peonies) and proceeding through research and plant lists to a specific plan. I began preparing the soil and planting in 2008 and completed the planting in 2010. The planting plan linked this flower bed to the two other areas of the back garden, the blue and yellow border and the deck border, by repeating plants and combining the color palettes from both.  Last year, the first year in which this part of the garden was completed, I noticed and corrected a couple of glaring problems. The diagram below is the tweaked first draft of the design for the fence border.

First fence border planting planThis year I found myself looking at the fence border with a fresh eye, and it became clear to me that I hadn’t given enough thought to color combinations and juxtapositions. When I imagined this flower bed, it was always with ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor) covering the right side of the fence. But even in a good year, these flowers don’t begin blooming on the fence until late August. The only other blue flowers in the border are two varieties of Tradescantia, one of which is blue-violet and the other of which is the white-brushed-with-blue cultivar ‘Osprey’. But in July, flowers on both these plants close up at mid-day, leaving no blue presence at all. The result is a flower bed that is predominantly pink.

These tradescantia provide blue tones in the fence border in summer -- but close up at mid-day (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)In June, all the shades of pink in this flower bed worked well together and with the blue flowers of the blue and yellow border in early summer. As the blue and yellow border shifts to a strong yellow emphasis in July, however, and as the first yellow flowers open in the fence border itself, I’m not sure how well the yellow-pink juxtapositions are going to work. This flower bed needs a stronger presence of blue to mediate between the yellows and the pinks. I can also see problems with the two pink Geranium endressii varieties near the center of the fence border. G. endressii cultivars and their hybrid relatives tend to sprawl, and they work best when they have tall plants nearby that they can drape themselves over. Unfortunately, these are mostly sprawling on the ground or smothering the daylilies growing behind them.

I have now created a second draft of the planting plan, with substantive changes designed to address these problems:

Revised Fence Border PlanThe first change has already happened. This weekend, I took out the Allium ‘Gladiator’ growing just left of center at the back of the border. This flower turned out to be such a silvery lavender color when it bloomed last year that it practically disappeared against the weathered wood of the fence – and this year it didn’t bloom at all. It has now been replaced with the blue-violet flowers of Clematis viticella ‘Arabella,’ This plant will spread out from its spot near the center of the fence to intertwine with the pink flowers of Clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ on the left side of the fence and to provide a blue-flowered presence on the right side of the fence well before the morning glories bloom.

Clematis Arabella and Geranium Brookside will provide a blue presence throughout the summer (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)In addition, I plan to replace one of the pink Geraniums with the blue cultivar ‘Brookside’ and to rearrange these plants. The tradescantia will be moved back to the locations currently occupied by the two G. endressii varieties, and the geraniums will move forward. The salmon pink cultivar ‘Wargrave Pink’ will move to the circular bed, the deeper pink geranium will move to the right side of the fence border, and ‘Brookside’ will go in on the left side. Geranium ‘Brookside’ and Clematis ‘Arabella’ will provide a substantial blue presence in this flower bed throughout the summer. Moving the geraniums forward will allow them to drape their long flowered arms over the tradescantia plants behind them and the peonies at their sides, producing some very pleasing color combinations.

Although this flower bed will surely be subject to more tweaking and polishing in the future, I expect to look out at the improved second draft next year and feel a sense of satisfaction.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 11:11 pm

    I have just finished revising an enormous rose garden that i planted last year for an important client because I didn’t get it right on the first try. It happens very often to many of us. From one lover of blue flowers to another, may I say that your second draft is so impressive that I am already excited to see photos of the real thing next season. Also, I like the placement of Sedum Matrona next to the Peony, well inside the flower bed. I am imagining a very rich textural composition.

    • July 14, 2011 9:16 pm

      Allan, Thanks for the reassurance that even experienced professionals sometimes need to do a second draft. I’m trying to make this a part of the garden with lots of fall bloom — the morning glories on the fence and rudbeckia Herbstsonne and the reblooming daylily final touch on the right, and the sedum and two very late blooming daylilies (Autumn Minaret and Sandra Elizabeth) on the right. The planting was too new to see how it really worked out last fall, so this year will be the real test.

  2. July 12, 2011 8:08 am

    Jean, the revision of your fence border should be lovely when in full bloom. You have more discipline in both your garden and your writing than I do.

    • July 14, 2011 9:18 pm

      Karen, LOL, Discipline is my middle name! The truth is that I’m not very good at the intuitive approach that I envy in others, so all that disciplined research and planning is my way of compensating.

  3. July 12, 2011 11:19 am

    I like how the colours of your circles in the drawings match the flower colour. Great idea to give you more of a visual of how it will eventually look.

    • July 14, 2011 9:20 pm

      Marguerite, I don’t seem to have ever outgrown playing with crayons; I can never resist all those colors available in computer graphics. I thought about coloring all the circles in, but it gave a confusing impression, because all those different plants aren’t actually in bloom at the same time. So the colored outlines seemed a better way of indicating the colors of the blooms.

  4. July 12, 2011 12:02 pm

    Jean I love the changes you are proposing…I also love how you combine similar colors of the same type of plant…I am fascinated by your similarities with writing and gardening…I too have a similar style…it is more of a general idea that presents itself with some of the words or picture of the garden in my head…as I sit down to write it the words flow from within and the details fill in in a matter of hours…while it works with my writing, I need to be a bit more polished in my thoughts and details for the design of the garden..that is coming as I deadhead, weed and mulch beds…seeing the need for changes and making detailed notes for the fall…your thoughtful designs have been a wonderful example for me..thx so much!!

    • July 14, 2011 9:26 pm

      Donna, I was fascinated by the similarities, too, when they occurred to me. A friend of mine who directed a college writing center for many years told me that about 60% of writers have to write to figure out what they want to say, and the other 40% can’t write until they know what they want to say. I am definitely in that smaller latter group. I wonder if there’s a similar breakdown for gardening styles, with most working in a more intuitive style and figuring out the design by doing it and then revising and smaller numbers of us needing to plan before we can plant. I imagine that most successful writers and successful gardeners really combine elements of both styles. I, too, sometimes find myself with whole sentences forming themselves in my head when I’m in the idea-gathering stage of a piece of writing — but I need to fit those phrases into an outline before I can actually write with them.

  5. July 12, 2011 1:52 pm

    Love your analogy to writing drafts. If I’ve ever had a garden turn out “right” on the first pass, it was pure luck. All of my best looking ones take multiple revisions.

    • July 14, 2011 9:32 pm

      Thomas, I guess the difference for me is that I some point I consider a piece of writing DONE. That’s never true in gardening, which seems to be an endless process of revision. Unlike words, plants are living, changing, reproducing beings. They change size, move themselves around within a flower bed, self-seed from one flower bed to another, and constantly force us to re-think our designs. (Imagine if we put a draft of writing aside in the evening and came back the next day to find that words, phrases and sentences had moved themselves around in our absence!)

  6. July 12, 2011 3:41 pm

    My blog posts simmer, until the words pour out, like a skein of wool as the end works free. I like to look at it again tomorrow, as you say, with fresh eyes. The words I’ll revise and edit. But the garden is more – what I have written I have written. Less intellectual, more serendipity. Unless a plant dies, and then it’s back to the drawing board.

    I rather like the way your garden looks, but am curious to see the version that pleases you more.

    • July 14, 2011 9:37 pm

      Diana, I have some posts, too, that simmer for a long time, sometimes years. Ideas, words and phrases keep piling up (often in a file in LiveWriter). These are often the most difficult posts to write because I have a lot I want to say and have to work hard to make all the ideas a coherent whole — but they are also often the posts I’m most satisfied with as pieces of writing.

      I like the way most of my garden looks, but this flower bed is looking very unkempt right now. I like an informal look, but this just seems to lack any coherence at this point in the season. I like the way this border looks in June, but it needs revision to keep it looking fresh in July. (I have yet to see how it will look in August and September; that may require still more revision.)

  7. July 12, 2011 9:29 pm

    I am sure your new garden area will be fabulous. It is amazing what experience, art and order can produce.

  8. July 12, 2011 9:44 pm

    I am so impressed with your planning…very well done. I, too, spend a lot of time planning my garden and my writing. I look forward to seeing the final product of your new bed in photos. Your plan seems as if you will have blooms for many seasons…beautiful!

    • July 14, 2011 9:47 pm

      Gloria, It would be wonderful if it were fabulous, but I’ll settle for more coherent and pleasing than it is right now. You’re right about the importance of experience in this process. In my early years, I planted things willy-nilly, and sometimes the results were great and sometimes they were awful, but I had no ability to analyze why some things worked and others didn’t. Now I can look at something that I’m not satisfied with, figure out what is bothering me about it, and make appropriate changes. How nice.

      Michelle, I often envy the more intuitive gardeners, but since I’m never going to be one, I’ve decided to go with my strength, which is analysis and planning! The two things I didn’t pay enough attention to in my original design of this flower bed were the way it would relate to other nearby flower beds (especially the blue and yellow border) and the progression through the seasons. I’m hoping to improve both with these changes. If all works out well, this flower bed will not only look lovely from June through September; it will also provide a pleasing accompaniment to other nearby parts of the garden.

  9. July 12, 2011 11:15 pm

    I’m looking forward to seeing the changes. There should be some very nice subtle effects as the plants go through their bloom cycles. I’m not sure if the fence serves a function as a fence, but it sure serves nicely as a casual focal point and background.

    • July 14, 2011 9:50 pm

      James, the fence doesn’t serve traditional fence functions like enclosing a space or keeping people or animals in or out. It does serve an important visual/symbolic function, however, of dividing the garden from the more mundane clothesline area, and it serves two practical functions as a screen and as a climbing structure for vines (like Clematis and Ipomoea).

  10. July 12, 2011 11:25 pm

    My garden beds are a combo of what is already there and my new acquisitions. I have never taken a blank bed and designed it from soil up, arranging things as you did, not once, but twice. Very admirable.

    • July 14, 2011 9:55 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Sara. When I bought this property, it was a blank slate in the sense that the previous owner had focused all her attention on the inside of the house and hadn’t spent much time outside, which consisted of woods, weedy “lawns” front and back, and a couple of shrubs. Except for the fact that I’ve worked within the parameters of the existing clearing in the woods, all the gardens here have been created from scratch. I wonder how my process would have unfolded differently if I had bought property with existing gardens.

  11. July 13, 2011 8:51 am

    I find it so interesting to see the changes that people make to their gardens. They really are an ever-changing, ongoing project, aren’t they? That’s one of the things that makes gardening so interesting.

    Everything is looking beautiful, Jean.

  12. July 13, 2011 1:55 pm

    To garden is a journey through a meandering pathway.

    • July 14, 2011 9:59 pm

      Diane, I agree that this is part of what makes gardening so interesting. As a gardener, you put a process in motion, but you don’t have control over how that process plays out — although you can intervene in it while its happening. Part of the excitement is wondering what’s going to happen this year, and I love those experiences of surprise when something lovely happens that you didn’t plan or anticipate.

      Greggo, Well said!

  13. July 13, 2011 9:50 pm

    My writing habits are similar to yours, although my gardening habits are much closer to my public speaking methodology, than my writing. I have an idea where I’m going, and research as much as I can…then I mostly wing it and ad lib 😉 The consequence of that is sometimes I find my self moving or removing plants more often than I should, but I also end up with occasional accidents that just seem to turn out. I do wish I wish I was more disciplined like you though. I just found that when I planned my garden beds like that, I had trouble sticking to the plan! Looking forward to seeing the new blues in your border!

    • July 14, 2011 10:06 pm

      Clare, I must admit that, even with all my planning and diagrams (and I take a copy of the diagram outside with me when I plant), I never end up sticking with the diagram exactly. Things always look different on the ground than they did on paper. Sometimes plants just don’t fit the same way that they did on the plan. Sometimes, when I spot plants around in pots, I find that I don’t like some juxtaposition that I thought would be great (e.g., those two types of foliage don’t mix well).

      My public speaking — which is mostly in the classroom — has a lot of preparation and outlining, but very little chance for revision. I mean, once you’ve said it, it’s said, and it gets pretty confusing if you keep saying “No, scratch that; let me try it again.” 🙂

  14. July 14, 2011 2:54 pm

    Hi Jean. Your writing and gardening are beautiful. No matter your method, you have certainly expressed yourself. Nice work!

  15. July 14, 2011 3:19 pm

    Great post, Jean. I enjoy reading about your garden design methods and I’m sure your tweaking will be the improvement you’re looking for.

    • July 14, 2011 10:10 pm

      Kevin, Thanks for visiting and for the kind words.

      Grace, Writing about garden design is a good way for me to process things and try to figure out what I’m doing. I’ve already done more revision to this revision since I published this post; I decided that I could slide those tradescantia plants sideways and forward toward the geraniums a bit and make room for another July-blooming plant between the peony (which blooms in June) and the phlox.(which blooms in August). Still tweaking!

  16. July 14, 2011 4:54 pm

    Jean, it’s so wonderful to follow your creative process from one stage to another–useful, interesting and inspiring altogether. I don’t know that I stop to think what I’m trying to accomplish with a particular bed–overall, yes, but not in the sectional way you do here. That’s food for thought–thanks!

    Out here you often see unadulterated pinks and yellows together–maybe it’s all the terra-cotta or earth-toned walls that provide backdrops, or the more sage-green leaves, but there’s less sense of blue as a necessary go-between. (Just as a random cultural note.)

    • July 14, 2011 10:18 pm

      Stacy, Thanks for the note about pinks and yellows. I often like pink and yellow together, but it depends on the pinks and the yellows. Today, I looked out at two pink/yellow vignettes. The first was the view through some very hot pink pelargoniums growing in a container on the deck to the strong yellow gold of the daylily Boothbay Harbor Gold in the border below, and the combination was breath-taking. Later, I looked out my kitchen window at the combination of the soft mauve of Clematis Comtesse de Bouchaud growing on the fence and the very brash gold of Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) in the blue and yellow border, and it was jarringly discordant. It’s the latter problems that I think will be helped by a little more blue.


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