In many ways, the garden is our voice, as well as the face we present to the world. It’s what our friends, family and visitors see first when they are invited to our homes and into our lives. Visitors to my garden would be surprised to pull into the driveway and arrive at a formal, Italianate garden or a suburban yard. That picture would not fit their perception of a country garden, or of me. I prefer a more casual approach to gardening, with a mix of newly introduced and native trees, shrubs and perennial borders surrounding wooden decks.
Throughout my garden, gravel walkways and fir needle paths lead the visitor through different areas and changing moods. The entry courtyard is an informal introduction to the house even though it is completely surrounded by a trimmed, variegated boxwood hedge. The rose beds also benefit from a surround of structural boxwood hedging in winter. Woodland paths are loose and informal; a fitting passageway through high-limbed vine maple, fountains of native sword fern and rambling clusters of Oregon grape. Native Douglas firs surround the entire property.
Our gardens speak volumes about our style, from the color combinations we choose in flower borders to the nuance of decorative structure and ornament. Now that gardening is America’s No. 1 hobby and garden retailers have begun
to cater to our common, yet diverse interests, the possibilities are endless. We can find what we need to put a personal stamp on our individual gardens.
One key to becoming a successful gardener, which is to say, someone pleasantly satisfied with their own garden, is a sense that your gardening style hints at your own personality. Your garden is your creative palette; it is the gardener’s chance to put his or her best face forward. Let the fading days of autumn put you in the mood to envision plans for the coming year. When the fall season ends and winter begins, many gardeners think about changing their garden’s image. Next year they want the perfect garden. And so, as happens over and over in gardening, we set the stakes high from the beginning.
Before the anxiety of starting over from scratch sets in, take the time to consider all of your garden’s strengths. Late autumn gives us the perfect season to take an inventory of our best ideas. If you have kept track of the thrilling garden moments when you were pleased with a combination of plants or the feeling of a garden setting, you will find it easier to repeat that picture in other areas of the garden. Take what works and work it into the garden in new ways. Now is the time to build on your past success by deciding what you need to enhance rather than replace.
Instead of tearing out that overgrown rhododendron, this may be the year to prune it well, exposing the framework of muscular limbs and branches. Beneath its branches plant a carpet of simple, trustworthy ground cover like the variegated pachysandra and arrange a grouping of architectural stones at the rhododendron’s feet. People pay every day to have an established scene like this in their gardens. In the midst of winter, when all the perennial prima donnas have disappeared beneath the earth’s surface, you will be thankful for the time you spent planning a season ahead.
In my garden, several easy-to-grow plants have carried me through past winter seasons. With these stalwart plants, my garden emerges each spring with a semblance of design that is already flourishing. Among the most valuable winter plants, the frosty white and pale lavender-pink blooms of the Mediterranean heathers grace the garden with color through the coldest months of the year. Highlighting the large space to the side of my entry courtyard are the bright red berries of the weed-smothering, evergreen ground cover Cotoneaster horizontalis.
When we tell someone about our gardens we paint a visual image. We talk about the work we have done and the joy we have found in gardening. We can feel the energy in the voice of the gardener who is thrilled with the garden they have created. The magic of gardening is that because of our efforts, and sometimes despite them, we can make mistakes and still present a lovely picture to the world. To err is human. It’s the love and effort that shine brightest in our gardens and in our lives.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him via email.