Thursday, August 18, 2011

How This Garden Evolves

I knew it would happen eventually.  I have finally been framed.  Well, not exactly...
Every once in awhile you do something in the garden that leaves your gardening friends scratching their heads.  Such has been the case with what's come to be known as my "great wall."  It's a wooden structure that's eight-feet tall and about sixteen-feet long and resembles a huge mullioned window that you can walk through.  I am using it as a "room divider," that sets the boundary at one end of a small rectangular garden but it also serves as something like a stage backdrop through which you can view a nice little garden vignette.

The idea is not original, but borrowed as so many gardening ideas are (see my prior post on borrowed ideas).  I first saw it at Sakonnet, the wonderful garden of John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli, in Little Compton, Rhode Island (more to come on this garden in a future post).  As I have done, John and Mikel use it as a boundary to separate a rectangular space from the rest of the garden.

John and Mikel's wall at Sakonnet where you walk through and enter another gardening space.
Another view showing the rectangular lawn that the wall (on the right) defines.

Construction of the great wall began last fall and it's one of those garden projects that will take some time before it looks good.  All that new wood has to weather and gain a nice grey patina and the whole thing needs to settle into the landscape and cozy up to some plant material.  That's why I have asked all my gardening buddies to stick with me on this one.  And, who knows, I might wake up one day and decide it will never live up to its expectations and down it will come.  Or, some brutally honest gardening friend (they are the best kind) may finally insist..."Mr. Valentine, tear down that wall!"

But I have to admit that my confidence in this project gained a boost this week when the great wall was finally framed.  For so long, that 8x16 foot structure hung out there in mid-air looking like an aborted Amish barn raising, where after one wall was put in place the workers either ran out of energy or Shoo Fly pie, or both. However, I am pleased to report that the whole thing has now been anchored on either end by 8-foot tall Emerald Green Arborvitaes that tie it to the earth which, for me, seems to make all the difference.  I also added a 10-foot tall Thuja DeGroots Spire at one entrance to the little rectangular garden to balance the verticality of the two Arborvitaes that frame the panel, which I also like.

The wall at Juniper Hill where you walk through to a bench that rests in a shady spot.
The view from the path side.

It's always interesting to me how gardens evolve.  In our own garden, the entire thing has developed because changes I have made in one part of the garden have suggested further changes in other parts of the garden.  This little rectangular garden is a perfect example.  Once the "great wall" went up, initially as nothing more than a room divider or vertical boundary, it somehow gave the one end of that little garden more of an Eastern feel.  Maybe the view through the large wooden grid reminded me of a panel that looked out onto a Japanese courtyard garden.  I'm not sure.  But that initial vision led to other changes, like the bluestone coping around the rectangular lawn panel and then the placement of the three rocks (a traditional arrangement called sanzon in Japanese gardens) that are set in sand within the panel of lawn, a not-so-subtle nod to Japanese gardens. And now, I will continue exploring that "Eastern feel" by adding a rustic stone bench at the end of the rectangle opposite the great wall, as a place to sit and contemplate, even though not much sitting gets done around here.  And then finally, I plan to change the planting scheme in the two borders that make up the two sides of the rectangle so that there is a quieter feel to the garden. 

Design changes in the garden are always great fun and can be immediately rewarding but they almost always represent a little back-breaking work.  As Paula and I were grunting and groaning trying to unload the three large trees used in this project--trees that had heavy burlaped root balls bigger than Donald Trump's ego--we couldn't help but laugh.  It's our little inside joke when we're doing gut busting garden projects like this to just look at each other, shake our heads,  and simply say.."gardening!"  Because, when we try to explain to friends of ours who don't garden what our hobby is all about, I'm almost sure that they think gardening is something like this...

Lady in a Garden by E.B. Leighton (1853-1922)
When, in reality, so much of gardening often feels a lot more like it's about this...


  1. I really like the wooden wall structure and what you're doing around it. Congratulations for being bold and going for it. I also love the Lady in a Garden painting juxtaposed with the backhoe! So funny and true.

  2. I'm loving this new space! A place of calm and quiet to retreat from the chaos of our world!

  3. Thanks to both of you for that vote of confidence!


  4. Joe, I love how the Arborvitaes frame the wall and ground it. It seems to make the views into the smaller frames more powerful. Love the green next to the wood. It feels much more like a separate and quiet space now. Open but intimate.Views on each side are eye-catching and lovely.The DeGroots spire is certainly the cherry on the top. Congratulations! As for the "Lady in a Garden," I'm guessing Paula is saying, "I wish!"

  5. Hi Maude and Michael! The wall will be there for awhile. And, I agree, it does feel more grounded now. Stop in to see the latest iteration and perhaps Paula will put on her gardening bonnet, I'll put on my gardener's waistcoat, we will break out the teacups and, now that the gut busting part is over, we will all celebrate the civilized side of gardening!


  6. Your photos are really wonderful, they just show your garden off so well!


Thank you for your comments!

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