Updated: Dec 31, 2019
There is a certain satisfaction in making your own garden. You have done it yourself. There is none like yours. It took us over two years to find our house and garden. The disruption of moving three times during this wanderlust period with tiny children, the sheer desperation of the whole situation, made us especially prone to signing the contract for our house on our realtor’s car. We had nearly given up, for us the house and garden had to have the potential to speak to one another, there needed to be a certain magic which we could expand upon. Our wonderful realtor did not give up on us and she found our dream house and garden, a place so unlivable that you had to cover your face with a heavy scarf to avoid asphyxiation from the fumes of cat feces and cat urine. We happily saw through all that and upon entering the foyer knew that the house had good bones, we did not need to go further into the house. We were ready to sign on the hood of the car. Later when spring awakened our garden, we were elated to see that we had a massive grouping of a very old fashioned and unusual deep rose pink hydrangea. We had made a smart purchase!
With our garden, we had certain guidelines to follow--the garden should be relatively easy to maintain (once a week mowing, big seasonal cleanups, seasonal pruning), it should work in harmony with the house, and it should be presentable year round. Scott is a stickler when it comes to creating the structure of the garden. Without structure, the winter garden will flop and the summer garden will lose its spine. A good framework creates valleys and hills, masses and lines, volumes, shapes and voids. The hard work comes in achieving this.
If the garden were a canvas, the perennials and roses form the painting. Perennials unlike annuals or biennials which are seasonal or last for just 2 years, come back with proper care year after year. But without a good framework, they would be lost in the garden and the painting would lose its hold on you. A garden that is simple and peaceful is a garden with structure. The flowers and perennials are organized by color, in long, narrow ‘drifts’ that run into other masses of drifts. It seems so effortless, so simple. We create an intent within the subtle framework and organization of spaces with perennials and roses providing the rapturous folly of spring, summer and fall interest. Structure or framework is provided by evergreens, hedges, paths, views, water, architectural elements, the very masses and volumes that work for architecture are employed in the garden as you relate elements of the garden in a fine balancing act. Like a house with good bones, a garden without structure will not entice you to sign the contract on the hood of the car.
We have our tried and true favorites. We call them the old reliables and the list is long by most people’s standards. They will flower all summer, they prefer the heat and drought, they have the sought after gray foliage or the spikey leaves, or the lavender flower or pale pink bloom that we swoon over and the miracle is that they work, unlike our beloved Lavender which is fickle here in Washington with our high summer humidity and heavy clay soil (which we must amend with loads of compost). The delightful spreading perennial Nepeta, common name Catmint, gives a soft edge to the stone path or the top of a stone wall and over the years has been like a great hairdresser, reliable and always fresh. There are several cultivars within the species which we tailor to fit the site, for example ‘Walker’s Low’ is perfect along the front of the border, and ‘Six Hills Giant’ can sit comfortably in the middle of the border.
We often blend in Oenethera, or the Evening Primrose with Nepeta for the dreamy quality that the pale pink Oenethera gives to the purple Nepeta. To see the two together is a luscious experience. Then, we will intersperse these low perennials with another low perennial, Alchemilla mollis or Lady’s Mantle for a drift of soft yellow along the border. Our favorites list has remained fairly constant changing a bit here and there as new cultivars are introduced or as we are introduced to new cultivars. We are not afraid to try new species. Part of the joy of perennials is the color, texture and value that can be achieved, and the amazing range of color that can be as subtle and quiet or as playful and boisterous as you wish.