The Deck Border Takes Center Stage
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.
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.
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.
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.