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The Fence Border Grows Up

June 26, 2014

One morning recently, as I was sitting out on the deck eating breakfast and enjoying the garden, I realized that my eyes were looking past the glories of the deck border and the blue and yellow border to rest on the fence border beyond. And I was not looking at it in consternation, as I have often done, but in satisfaction. In that moment, I realized that, after several years of gawky adolescence, the fence border has grown up to be a beauty. fence border wide

The fence border is the smallest and youngest of the three flower beds that make up my back garden. It is a semi-circle, 16’ long and 8’ deep at the center, and backed by a 12’ length of cedar fence. While the two larger flower beds, the deck border and the blue and yellow border, are parallel, running along either side of the long curved walkway that creates a central axis in the back garden, the fence border lies perpendicular to the other flower beds. It was designed to create a sense of enclosure in the back garden and to screen the view of the clothesline from the deck. I began imagining the fence border in 2004 or 2005, it became a reality when I installed the fence and began digging the soil in 2008, and I finished planting this flower bed in fall 2009.

fence border close

The fence border’s floral display begins in late May or early June when two different varieties of Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle)bloom along its front edge. At this point, the rest of the plants provide a backdrop of foliage in various heights, textures, and shades of green. By mid-June, however, flowers also appear in the center of the border as varieties of Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort), Geranium x oxonianum and peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) bloom.

fence border inner blooms fence border peonies

By early July, when the flowers at the front of the border are fading, the first blooms of two different clematis varieties appear on the fence at the back of the border. Most of the action in July is in the middle of the flower bed as the flowers of tradescantia and geranium are joined by Veronica longifolia ‘Blue Giant’ and six different varieties of daylily (Hemerocallis). In August, the main action moves to the back of the border. By that time, the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ will be blooming at one end of the fence and the tall daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ will be blooming at the other end. In between late summer flowers of Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ will bloom just in front of the fence. Also by August, the morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) vines that are just now getting their first true leaves will have grown up the twine on the fence. But they won’t have flowers yet; those won’t come until September – and only if we don’t have an early frost and the nights are not too cold for the buds to open. More reliable blooms in September are Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, which will bloom until frost, Sedum ‘Matrona,’ and the very late daylilies ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ and ‘Final Touch.’

It’s tempting to pretend that I carefully designed the fence border to transition from flowers at the front against a backdrop of foliage in the early summer to the floral display at the back framed by the foliage of geranium and Lady’s mantle in the late summer and fall – but that would be a lie. Like so much of the best design in my garden, this is the result of serendipity. I wasn’t thinking about this transition at all as I designed the initial planting and then added some new plants and moved others around in the first years. And I only recently recognized the way the floral display moves through the border as the season progresses. I consider serendipity one of my best teachers, however, and I am happy to add this to the repertoire of design tools that I can use more intentionally in future projects.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2014 8:56 pm

    Whether the result of serendipity or instinct, I’m heartily impressed by your ability to achieve a succession of bloom like that, Jean. I’m also looking forward toward the day when I look at certain of my borders and feel satisfaction – I’m still in the consternation phase in many instances (the downside of which is the itch to tweak – or completely tear the area apart and begin again). Gardens certainly counsel patience, whether that’s a lesson we want to learn or not.

    • July 2, 2014 12:59 pm

      Kris, This border got several tweaks in the first few years of its existence. I always find myself tweaking both as I plant and after the plants come up, when I see how the reality differs from what I was imagining when I planned it on paper. I’ve had a couple of flower beds that I completely tore out and started over on. In one case (the circular bed), the redo was successful. On the other hand, I think I tore out and completely redid my bedroom border twice, and I never did achieve a satisfying result. It’s a relief that my new addition has finally obliterated that particular failure once and for all!

  2. June 27, 2014 12:54 am

    What a great tutorial on how you planted your garden, and why you did what you did. Great information for those of us who are novices.

    • July 2, 2014 1:01 pm

      Well, Charlie, I think the lesson of this post is really that I didn’t plan this — but that I can enhance it and take credit for it now that I recognize it 🙂 .

  3. June 27, 2014 4:03 am

    Hi Jean, I remember reading your earlier posts that detailed to you creating this border. It’s always a wonderful feeling when something comes together like this. The fence border stops the eye from running down the garden path and out into the distance, like a visual brake, it keeps the eye and interest within the garden, I think it looks superb.

    • July 2, 2014 1:04 pm

      Sunil, Thanks. That visual brake is exactly the effect I was trying to achieve — especially since, before this border, when the eye ran down the garden path, it ran into the not-very-scenic clothesline 😉 .

  4. June 27, 2014 8:10 am

    Planning and foresight work for some people but there’s much to be said for serendipity (and in my case trial and error!). I like how the fence has weathered too. In an age of no-maintenance vinyl the patina of the wood makes it fit in nicely with the plantings.

    • July 2, 2014 8:28 pm

      Bittster, I need the combination of planning and serendipity. Planning helps me to avoid my old mistakes; serendipity helps me to learn new design strategies.

  5. June 27, 2014 8:55 am

    Beautiful Jean. That looks like a ‘Bowl of Beauty’ peony. It’s my favourite. Is that what it is?

    • July 2, 2014 8:31 pm

      Diane, It looks very similar to ‘Bowl of Beauty,’ but this peony is actually ‘Monsieur Jules Elie.’ (If you hold your cursor over an image in my blog, a caption will appear, and that caption often includes the name of the plant.) When friend offered me a division of any peony from her garden, I chose this one because of its wonderful fragrance. I’m looking forward to having more space for peonies in my new front garden.

  6. June 27, 2014 12:54 pm

    I’m glad to hear you say your Morning Glory are just now getting their true leaves. I have been VERY frustrated with their slowness this year. I don’t think they like the cool weather we are getting.

    • July 2, 2014 8:32 pm

      Jason, Morning glories definitely don’t like either cold weather or cool soil. I didn’t even plant seeds until June 1 because our spring was so late. In the past few days, though, we’ve had some hot, humid weather, which should help them get moving.

  7. June 28, 2014 8:53 pm

    Jean I am loving the gorgeous lush garden leading to the fence. I do love its peacefull feel.

    • July 2, 2014 8:34 pm

      Donna, That peaceful feel is especially important to me this summer. I’m thinking of the construction site at the front of the house as the “zone of noise and chaos” and the back garden as the “zone of (relative) quiet and calm.” 😉

  8. June 29, 2014 5:00 pm

    that magic moment when what you actually see, is what you had planned – and now it has happened. Success!

    • July 2, 2014 8:35 pm

      Diana, Even better, some wonderful things that I didn’t plan have happened!

  9. July 1, 2014 12:28 pm

    Serendipity is, indeed, the mark of genius… Ask me, I know 🙂

  10. July 7, 2014 5:36 pm

    Jean all your borders are looking full and so very beautiful as the summer progresses. The fence border is quite lovely! Gardens do take time to mature, and it is so satisfying to see them fulfill our dreams after years of tweaking and trial and error, with the gardens’ own serendipitous help along the way. You have well earned time to sit back and enjoy your garden.

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