(Updated March 2016)
As you can see in the aerial view (from Google Maps), my house (circled in red on the upper right) is one of a cluster of houses on a dirt road in a rural neighborhood that, like most of the state of Maine, is heavily wooded. Except for the cleared area immediately around the house, most of my 1.5 acres of property is covered with trees.
The diagram below shows the cleared area around the house, with the various garden areas labeled. (Areas marked with dotted lines are planned elements of the front garden that do not yet exist.)
A Virtual Tour: The Garden of the Present
The first part of the garden you see as you approach my house is the circular bed that marks the turn from the dirt road into my driveway. More than any other part of the garden, this flower bed changes moods as the season progresses,
|… from soft pastels in June,|
|to strong contrasts in July,|
|to a predominance of yellow and white in August.|
As you proceed up the driveway, there are old-fashioned orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) and Coreopsis verticillata (tickseed) naturalized at the edge of the woods to your right.
When you reach the top of the driveway, you have two choices. You can climb a flight of stairs to your left up a fairly steep slope to the main entrance to the house, or you can proceed up a shorter set of stairs straight ahead that lead into the back garden.
The Back Garden
Without doubt, the best part of my garden at present is the back garden, which you enter by taking the short flight of stairs at the end of the driveway and following the paver and gravel walkway. The back garden is primarily composed of three flower beds: the deck border, which runs along the full length of the walkway between it and the house, the blue and yellow border, which sits opposite the deck border along most of the walkway, and the fence border, which runs perpendicular to the walkway.
The blue and yellow border, across the walkway from the deck border, gets more sun and has more emphasis on flowers. Here, the blues of Iris sibirica, Tradescantia virginiana, hardy geranium, perennial flax (Linum perenne), Delphinium, and Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower) combine with several large groupings of yellow daylilies, with the yellows of Coreopsis verticillata, Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower), Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ and native goldenrod (Solidago), and with the chartreuse blooms of Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle).
The fence border, is a smaller flower bed than the others, but serves a number of important functions, including screening the clothesline from the deck, creating a sense of enclosure in this part of the garden, and tying together the deck border and the blue and yellow border by repeating colors and plants from both. The fence also provides a place to grow climbing plants, including clematis and morning glories.
If you turn off the walkway that runs through the back garden and follow the stepping stones through the narrow neck between the blue and yellow border and the fence border, you will enter a quiet clearing that is surrounded by woods on three sides. At the back of that clearing, presided over by a pair of stately white pine trees (Pinus strobus) is the serenity garden.
This is intended to be a quiet oasis, closed off from the rest of the property and with more emphasis on foliage than on flowers. Compared to the other parts of the back garden, the serenity garden is relatively new and still in the process of becoming.
When the leaching field for my septic system failed in 2009 and had to be replaced, the excavation left the formerly secluded site of the serenity garden open to the driveway. To restore the sense of enclosure and close off the serenity garden from the clothesline area and the driveway, I created a 4’ by 12’ raised bed, planted with Amsonia (A. hubrichtii and A. tarbenaemontana ‘Blue Ice’) and hardy Geraniums (G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ and G. x oxonianum).
The Front Garden
If you go up the longer flight of stairs from the driveway, the main garden interest is the back slope to your right. This is the oldest part of the garden and is dominated by a large rhododendron at the top that spills pink blossoms down the slope in late spring and by wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) that have been encouraged to naturalize on the bottom half of the slope. Surrounding and interplanted with the rhododendron and strawberries are a pleasing jumble of hosta, Tradescantia virgininana, siberian irises (Iris sibirica), Coreopsis verticillata, daylilies (Hemerocallis), balloon flower (Platycodon), oregano, and chives.
In the past, the back slope stood alone, unconnected to the rest of the garden; but it is now being made part of my new front garden. When I had an addition built onto my house in 2014-2015, the construction required the removal of most of the plantings at the front of the house and provided an opportunity for completely rethinking the front landscape.
Where the ground used to slope down from the front of the house to the road, a new L-shaped retaining wall now creates two levels, a relatively flat upper area around the entrance to the house and a lower area that slopes down from the wall before flattening out at the bottom.
|Creating a new front garden for this space is a five-year project. In 2015, I laid concrete pavers to create a small patio and a series of connecting walkways at the upper level. I then created and planted four flower beds around these walkways:|
|The tiny blues border (planted in a variety of blue and blue-violet flowers), tucked in between the front door entry and the house|
|… the porch border|
|… the patio border|
|… and the lavender walk.|
In 2016, I will create two larger plantings. First will be the side slope, which borders the long flight of wooden stairs up from the driveway to the entrance level of the house. This planting will repeat many of the plants from the back slope on the other side of the stairway. The creation of the side slope will complete the “entry garden,” a series of plantings (the back slope, the side slope, the blues border, the porch border and the patio border) that welcome visitors as they approach the entrance to the house. Once the side slope is done, I will move on to the last planting on the upper level, the fragrant garden, which will fill the space under the large bedroom window at the front of the house.
In 2017, I will begin work on the lower garden, probably by creating and planting the grassy path and the front slope.
In 2018 and 2019, I will complete the lower garden, including the creation of a fairly large planting of shrubs at the front corner of my property and perennial borders along the front of the property and along the side bordering the woods. The existing circular bed at the turn from the dirt road into my driveway will be incorporated into the new perennial border.
Future Projects: The Garden of the Imagination
Like all gardens, mine is always growing and changing, and I always have more garden project ideas than I can possibly carry out in the foreseeable future. Creating the new front garden will take much of my time for the next four years, but I am also imagining several other projects.
Now that my house has been reconfigured by the new addition, my study looks out to the woods on the long side of the house. Currently, this is the site of a temporary holding area where I moved plants from the front out of harm’s way before construction began.
These plants are being transplanted to the new front garden as it develops. Once that happens, I’d like to expand the size of this planting area to create another space for shrubs. I’m imagining a mix of native shrubs and some plants with early spring blooms that I will be able to see from my desk when Maine’s long winter has overstayed its welcome. I have two shoots of forsythia that I will include in this area, and I would love to try an even earlier-blooming Hamamelis vernalis or Hamamelis x intermedia. I’m also imagining a mixture of spring bulbs at the front of the planting. And I’m planning a narrow footpath between the planting and the house that will link the front garden to the back.
After that, I also dream about creating a woodland planting at the edge of the woods on the far side of the driveway. I have enough projects in the garden of the imagination to keep me going for at least another decade.