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The Deck Border Takes Center Stage

July 1, 2012

Deck Border as seen entering the garden from the driveway (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)The Deck Border is one of the largest flower beds in my garden. Extending along the end of the deck, the back of the house, and a retaining wall, it is more than 40’ long. It fills the area between these features and a curving walkway that runs from the driveway to the deck, and it is 11’ deep at its deepest point.

When I moved here in spring of 1990, I was struck by the fact that the most beautiful part of the property was at the back of the house – but that there was no easy way to get there, since both the “front door” and the “back door” faced the front of the house. I could look out my kitchen windows at the serene wooded area at the back of the house, but I couldn’t easily be out in that part of the property. For ten years, as I improved the front by building stairs and adding walkways to the existing front and back doors and by planting some shrubs and small flower beds, I fantasized about replacing the window in the dining area with a sliding glass door that would exit onto a deck built onto the back of the house and creating a garden around that deck. But I didn’t actually do anything about it; it was a vague dream for some indefinite time in the future. And then I was diagnosed with cancer. My doctor told me that a cancer diagnosis would help me to figure out what was important in my life and to rethink my priorities, and he was right. It was time to stop imagining life in some vague future and time to start making it happen in the present. In the fall of 1999, while I was in Maine on a one-semester leave from teaching, recovering from chemotherapy and growing my hair back, I began designing and digging a flower bed to go with the deck that didn’t yet exist. I finished digging the first section in 2000, put in the first plants in 2001, and finally finished the border in summer of 2003, a few months after the dreamed-of deck became a reality.

I love the Deck Border; it was the first truly successful flower bed that I ever created, and it served as the cornerstone for the larger garden that now exists at the back of my house. Its large size made it possible for me to design this as a mixed border, with mass and structure created by shrubs that anchor the planting – Spirea japonica x ‘Magic Carpet’ at the sunny end by the retaining wall and Rhododendron catawbiense Album in the shady corner where the end of the deck meets the house – and by a large shrub-like clump of Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard) about halfway between. The Deck Border is beautiful in a quiet, demure way; it was designed as a mostly-shade garden with an emphasis on foliage, and it has a  monochromatic color scheme with flowers in shades of pink, lavender, and white.  This is a flower bed that I often sit and gaze at from my perch on the deck; it slows my breathing and heart rate and encourages a state of “being” rather than “doing.” But the Deck Border is not the first thing visitors to my garden notice; it is usually upstaged by its more vivacious younger sister across the walkway, the Blue and Yellow Border, with its showy display of contrasting colors.

Display of Spirea blooms spilling over retaining wall (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

But at this time of year, when the Siberian irises are done and the daylilies have barely begun to bloom, the Deck Border takes center stage.  Visitors approaching from the driveway are greeted by a spectacular mass of pink Spirea flowers spilling over the top of the retaining wall and by the flowering plumes of goatsbeard and early astilbes.

View of  Deck Border from deck (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)And the view from the deck takes my breath away. As I look out, my eye is carried along by the repetition of pink flowers – from the clear pink of Geranium x oxonianum, to the tall lavender pink plumes of Astilbe ‘Cattleya’ to the more delicate pink spikes of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice,’ to the strong lavender pink markings on Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis,’ to the soft pink of Astrantia ‘Roma,’ and finally to the abundant pink blooms of Spirea ‘Magic Carpet.’ These pinks are linked by the sinuous line of  hostas that runs through the center of this flower bed and accented by white flowers on Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’ and the native North American Astilbe biternata and by the feathery plumes of goatsbeard that float on the breeze above it all.

Deck Border blooms with foliage at center -- clockwise from upper left: goatsbeard, astrantia Roma, Astilbe 'Bridal Veil,' Geranium x oxnianum, spirea blooms, Tradescantia 'Pink Chablis,' Astilbe 'Cattleya' (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)

The display in the Deck Border will continue throughout the summer, with later varieties of Astilbe, pink daylilies (Hemerocallis) that are just starting to show buds, and with the pink balloon flowers of Platycodon ‘Shell Pink’ and “Fuji Pink.’ Soon, though, the Blue and Yellow Border will reassert its priority on our attention. The Deck Border will graciously cede its place in the spotlight but remain ready to charm those who take the time to look.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2012 8:20 pm

    Sounds beautiful, as well as being an undertaking of heroic proportions. I also find that my backyard, which is dominated by shades of green and white, is a wonderful place to regain a sense of calm.

    • July 4, 2012 11:02 am

      Jason, This was my heroic decade :-); I was in my fifties and, I think, trying to convince myself that I was still young, strong, and healthy! The same summer that I finished the deck border, I got started on a second equally large flower bed, the Blue and Yellow Border, which I finished in a record 2 years. After that came the walkway between the two, then the fence border. In recent years, I’ve slowed my pace a bit (although I still have enough projects in the pipeline to take me well into my seventies).

      • July 4, 2012 11:10 am

        Well, I’m in my 53 now so I guess I better start thinking up some big projects or I’ll have peaked too early!

  2. July 1, 2012 11:56 pm

    Jean – your ‘Deck Border’ garden is so lush! The evolution of it’s growth and your personal journey is awe-inspiring. Thanks for sharing both!

  3. July 2, 2012 12:34 am

    Don’t you just love when a garden dream becomes a reality? You have such a pretty variety of flowers in your deck border. It’s nice to have a place to just “be”.

  4. July 2, 2012 6:10 am


    This is a feast for the eyes, just beautiful!


    • July 4, 2012 11:06 am

      Shyrlene, Catherine, and Eileen, Thank you all for your kind words.

      Shyrlene, I don’t know about you, but when I’m planting a new garden, the plants always look so puny and miles apart. It’s so nice to see a flower bed mature into the lush look you were imagining.

      Catherine, It is nice to have a place to just “be” — and I have to confess that I’m not one of those busy bee gardeners who always has to be doing something; I’m quite content to spend hours in the garden just being.

      Eileen, “Feast for the eyes” is such a great description of how I experience this part of the garden when I’m sitting out on the deck.

  5. July 2, 2012 10:11 am

    So beautiful! Thank you for all the names of plants as you led us through…that helped me to identify them in the photos and gave me a better sense of scale. Just lovely!

    • July 4, 2012 11:10 am

      Cindy, Have you discovered the captions on my photos that you can see if you hold the cursor over the image? The caption for the collage identifies all the flowers shown there. It is hard to get a sense of scale in garden photos; I think that’s why I wanted to include the dimensions of this flower bed in the post.

  6. July 2, 2012 10:50 am

    Beautiful Jean! I always leave here with another plant on my wish list. I sure hope you take the time to sit out there and enjoy the wonderful view you’ve created and made reality.

    • July 4, 2012 11:11 am

      Have no fear, Kathy, at this time of year, I spend most of my time sitting out there enjoying the view. 🙂 I eat my meals out on the deck, sit out there reading, and sometimes take my computer outside to work there.

  7. July 2, 2012 2:25 pm

    Gardening certainly is the best therapy out Jean. I’m sure your dream carried you through those difficult days of recovering and to see it, live it and enjoy it now most be such a wonderful feeling of satisfaction. It looks and sounds so inviting.

    • July 5, 2012 10:13 pm

      Rosie, I always find gardening and the garden to be about life and hope. I didn’t appreciate it at the time; but when I look back on it now, I can see that starting a new garden in the face of a not-great prognosis was very much a life-affirming act of hope.

  8. July 2, 2012 2:43 pm

    Another bond with you. January 2000 I was learning to get my left arm high enough to reach the washing line. Grateful that I didn’t have to deal with chemo. Your tapestry of pink flowers is luscious.

    • July 5, 2012 10:15 pm

      Ah, I had chemo but no radiation — but, yes, it sounds like we were healing from our various cancer treatments at about the same time. I went back to full-time teaching in January of 2000.

  9. July 2, 2012 8:48 pm

    Jean I can see why this is a favorite and how it can take your breath away and calm your breath all at the same time…the flowers are just so lovely and the colors blend together to create such calm….I have to say I just love it.

    • July 5, 2012 10:50 pm

      I used to think that not much was happening in the garden between the early summer iris season and the high summer daylily season, but I just needed to shift my focus to this flower bed that is at it’s best during this in-between time.

  10. July 3, 2012 7:03 am

    Jean, it is a beautiful garden, and must always remind you of that difficult period in your life, and how it changed you. I love that pale astrantia, one of my favourite flowers.

    • July 5, 2012 10:52 pm

      Jill, A serious life-threatening illness does change a person. I have always been a great long-term planner, but facing my own mortality taught me how to focus on all the daily pleasures of life. The garden is a physical manifestation of that important life lesson.

  11. July 3, 2012 9:10 am

    Jean, the way you describe this border reminds me of all the wonderful things that a shade garden represents to me. Calm, peaceful, cool and restful. I can see why this garden captures your attention over and over. Glad to see the blooms of astrantia in the mix. I adore this flower and finally just bought some plants for my own garden this year.

    • July 5, 2012 10:54 pm

      Marguerite, I fell in love with astrantia when I saw it at Sissinghurst in 2000, and I knew I had to include it in my garden. This one is a new addition; the whiter one that used to grow here got moved to the Serenity Garden last fall and replaced with this one that has more pink in it.

  12. July 3, 2012 9:19 am

    Seeing the fruits of your labor mature, and having it bring such pleasure, is truly a gardening pleasure. You’ve created a wonderful space, Jean. Enjoy.

    • July 5, 2012 10:56 pm

      Joene, I have to admit that, until I created this garden, I didn’t think of myself as a very creative person. Now, I look out at the whole back garden, all of which comes from my own inspiration and my own physical labor, and I am amazed. It makes my heart sing every day.

  13. July 5, 2012 5:05 pm

    Wow, it looks just stunning. My eye just flows along the verdant green and frothy mass of pink flowers. It’s a really lovely effect.

    • July 5, 2012 10:57 pm

      Sunil, Thank you. I was afraid I couldn’t do justice to this in the photographs; this bed always seems to be too much in the shadows or too much in strong sunlight for good images. So I’m glad you could see what I see when I look at this. I really do love it.

  14. July 5, 2012 9:46 pm

    It seems that particular garden has a special magic to it, a life-sustaining energy. And it shows with all of that beauty and lushness. I am so glad you were able to meet the challenge head on and with such grace and elegance.

    • July 5, 2012 11:03 pm

      Michelle, The garden is a place of life-affirming energy and healing for me. I’m not a conventionally religious person, but I have a spiritual sense that revolves around the circle of life. Whenever I’m confronted with human mortality, I turn to the garden for solace. This flower bed was begun in the face of my own iffy future and finished the week my father died. The Blue and Yellow border was begun in the weeks after my father’s death in 2003. The Fence Border was finished the year my mother died, and includes divisions of peonies from her garden.

  15. July 6, 2012 1:04 pm

    Jean, I can only imagine the challenges of creating a bed on this scale. What a beautiful creation! I like how the shrubs create scale and mass, as you say, but then those feathery blooms of aruncus give it air and light, too. Lovely, lovely, lovely. My sister-in-law has just finished a second round of chemo and radiation and is unstoppable (thank goodness). For decades she’s been terrified of flying and refused to take a plane, and now she and my brother have just returned from a long vacation to Europe. She just said that if she could survive chemo, she can survive anything and rolled her eyes at the thought of a plane trip being a problem. All to say — what a horrible thing to have to go through, but three cheers to those who embrace life to the full as a result.

  16. July 7, 2012 1:56 am

    It’s a terrific border, but also a lovely embodiment of a terrific philosophy of life. Gardens are so much about life and enjoying it in the present that I could think of no better way to celebrate all the days we have. But I know you know all that as you enjoy the little details of the life-giving border. You gave something beautiful life, and it continues to pay you back many times over.

  17. July 9, 2012 10:17 am

    Your deck border is wonderful, so lush and cool! I love all the beautiful pink bloomers. I am now in my 60s and driven by the thought that if I don’t get things accomplished now, then when? But I also realize that if some dreams are never realized, that is OK, too. I try to live each day unto itself.

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