Sometimes the beauty in our gardens is not really about the design, but the glorious ways that nature grows all on its own to form a partnership. When I first began to garden, it was all about the flowers. In fact, for the next twenty years it continued to be all about the flowers. I designed all of my gardens to bloom with color from April through October and planted the cutting garden for endless bouquets.
I’ve gained a new perspective on designing the perennial garden, choosing plants with interesting foliage and just a hint of white, a smudge of blue, blended with a little silver or gray. It’s a subtle palate, yet this new penchant for foliage was confirmed when I visited I North Hill Gardens in Readsboro, Vermont on a Garden Conservancy Tour this past summer. A light rainfall the night before left water droplets on the surface of the leaves. The dapple sunlight coming down through the trees and the layers of green, combined with textures and heights created a tropical forest effect.
Stepping stones covered with moss, shiny wild ginger and feathery ferns, small rivulets of water all created a sense of wonder and amazement, a place to easily get lost in the natural world. It’s the type of garden that you could take your kids to visit, and they would instantly feel like exploring the network of hidden paths. Even though this was a cultivated garden, the plants had grown to adore on another. The old vines twined on the black locust arbor lacked both foliage and flowers, yet conveyed character and contained the story of their former lives. I took more pictures looking up at this wonderful cross hatching of knotty wood than I did of any flowers.
As responsible gardeners, we are stewards of the landscape. It is not about control, yet about coming up with a master plan and then stepping back. The same afternoon, I traveled to Gordon and Mary Hayward’s garden, my favorite summer destination on the Garden Conservancy open days tour. Again I observed the power of woody vines from ancient wisteria and honeysuckle that add an element of mystery to this garden. I was instantly curious to know what made these vines grow, and what they did to create this lovely natural dance? Nothing. They simply grew on their own. Blending the old with the new is a wonderful reminder that even when plants are no longer thriving with either foliage or flowers, the natural beauty of old wood will enhance the garden in unpredictable ways. Old trees may not be in their glory, yet are often worth keeping in place to extract their full beauty and maintain a sense of history.
Old stone, old wood, green foliage are my idea of perfect pairings in a garden. My old apple tree just lost a limb, but before I drag it to the side for firewood, I am considering ways I can use it in my landscape. How can you bring some of these natural elements into your own landscape? Are you ready to give up flowers for foliage?