I keep forgetting that. I keep thinking that you plant a garden and it's done, the way one might compose a painting. But gardens are living--and, sometimes, dying--things. And so, if you are a careful gardener, you are constantly making adjustments for whatever temperament your garden might have. If, however, you are a neglectful gardener, like me, then one day you look up and say, "What the hell happened here?"
And thus it was in my back garden this year. I suddenly noticed that what was once a lush oasis had turned into a patchy landscape of dirt. Between drought, the extreme cold of winter and the extreme heat of summer (and a pair of plumbers wielding shovels rather indiscriminately), things had gotten so bad back there that it really was like having a blank canvas again. A really disjointed, ugly, chaotic, and sorry canvas that, aesthetically, was making less and less sense with each passing season.
Fortunately, one night garden designer Susan Cohen, of Miss Rumphius' Rules, was hosting Garden Chat on Twitter, and I had the bright idea to ask this question: What pulls a garden together?
Her answer? Start with the foundation.
Well, duh! Of course! Brilliant! In my enthusiastic youth as a gardener, I had shunned so-called "foundation plantings" as boring, choosing to populate my garden with "stuff that everyone else doesn't have." And it did look good for a time, but, as I've noted above, those plants are now long gone.
I don't think Susan meant, in her plea for a foundation, traditional foundation shrubs, per se. But her comment made me realize that that, in fact, was something that could help me give my garden some pattern and order--something that could make it look designed.
It was nothing short of an epiphany. Once all those "stuff that everyone else doesn't have"* plants were gone, I was able to see that my garden had no foundation.
The other epiphany came while I was out riding my bike through some older neighborhoods in town. What I noticed were the plants that didn't seem to be suffering in all the heat and drought. In fact, they were doing just fine, even with what appeared to be a robust benign neglect in some instances. And what were they? That's right. Traditional foundation plants.
Photinia, nandina, holly, boxwood, etc. etc. Even some old roses look rather fabulous, while all about, everything else was languishing.
And so I got busy. It was a major overhaul, and it involved the whole garden. Because of this, there are simply too many "before and after" shots to put in one post, so I'm going to do two or three over the next week or so. Please bear in mind that it still looks fairly skimpy, but these should fill in pretty nicely in a year or two. It was a major chore getting it all in; plus, I added a drip irrigation line to each and every plant, both for the purpose of saving water and to make it easier for garden caretakers to look after things while I'm traveling this summer. Next year, I'll add the "specials."
Here was the worst area:
The fence needs hiding. There used to be a pyracantha back there, but it mysteriously bit the dust three years ago and I never got around to replacing it.
Though you can't see them well in the photo above, I also added two cranberry cotoneasters, which show up a little better here (near the top of the photo, behind the bird bath and salvia):
To create a repeating pattern, I also planted a Silver King euonymous in this spot on the opposite side of the garden:
This mahonia is old, and has been showing signs of giving up the ghost. So I'd been thinking of taking it out and replacing it.
The euonymous should fill this in completely, and screen off the work area as a living fence. The color will provide a nice contrast with the trumpet vine and Virginia creeper.
Finally, also in the interest of pattern, I added some Silver Princess euonymous as a hedge along the picket fence that separates the vegetable garden from the rest of the yard. These should grow to be about three feet high and wide, and again, I am looking forward to pruning them into a soft hedge shape.** I planted them in a slight curve to mimic the flow of the gravel path. They are a bit diminutive at the moment, but if you look closely, you can see them nestled in the mulch on the right of the photo. The variegation and color should tie into the larger hedges of the Silver King plantings.
**I actually enjoying pruning hedges. I took out all the foundation hedges in my front yard when I converted it to a prairie landscape, and miss the monthly haircutting I used to give them.