The Garden Life: Naming garden areas can bring focus to design




For me, part of the creative process of gardening is to give names to beds, borders and other areas of the garden. A name helps me to focus on an idea and to eventually create a small reality from an internal image. Years ago, I began to call my old garden “Scout’s Run” in honor of our noble collie dog, Scout. It has been many years now since Scout passed on and a couple more since he actually ran through the garden. Still, to the end of my residence there his spirit pervaded every morning garden walk.

With tongue-in-cheek, I named another area of the garden the “Red Maple Glen Dale Dell.” The name was my way of resolving a lifelong perplexity over the terms used to describe a small, usually wooded valley or hollow. My initial vision for this garden space was of a small, grass-floored room at the edge of the woods. What I really wanted to create was the feeling of a magical, childhood place, like a small glade in Narnia or a meadow in Oz.

A mysterious place such as this required a sense of privacy and enclosure. With that in mind, I added a low, surrounding berm of soil that fashioned a gentle, gradual slope. The grassy floor would eventually form a shallow bowl of green lawn. In summer, the four Japanese maples for which the area is also named further enhances the space with a delicate canopy of mahogany foliage. In the early evening light, the earth below is scattered with sunshine and shadows. The setting sun backlights the filigreed foliage in a bonfire of flaming orange and red.

I paid a visit to my old neighbors in Hockinson Heights last week. I had only been gone a week but I wanted to check in on them and also on their dog Roxie, who spent countless hours with me as a companion in my daily garden chores. Although I had been too busy with my move to pay a visit earlier, I felt a need to let her know that I was still a part of her pack. She had, after all, graciously treated me as a member of her family over the years.

The Burkhart blueberry patch is a model of healthy, bountiful fruit gardens. Within the enclosed planting area are apple trees, grape vines, bee hives and sundry berry bushes and vegetable beds dotted here and there with an assortment of annual and perennial flowering plants. It is a smorgasbord for the all the senses and within the first 20 minutes of my visit I was in the midst of it all picking blueberries with John.

Berry picking lessons

It’s always interesting to run across your own limitations, especially when you are considered by some to be knowledgeable in all aspects of your field of study. But the truth is that I have never harvested more than a handful of blueberries before. I have stood in the middle of their garden picking one blueberry after another as fast as I could eat them but this was the first time I had loaded more than one or two small baskets of fruit.

Does anyone have to tell us how to pick blueberries or apples or pineapples, for that matter? Left to our own devices we could all, no doubt, figure out how to pick any type of fruit or vegetable, especially if we were hungry. But in reality, there are a few things to consider when picking any fruit. For blueberries, my first suggestion is to take your time and pick carefully. One at a time is fine.

Look for good berries. What you don’t want to do is just reach in and grab a cluster by the handful because you can crush them, squeeze them or damage them. A good berry is round, blue and the skin should not be cracked. Some say “the bigger, the sweeter.” Pick them ripe because they won’t sweeten any further after picking.

To pick a blueberry, think of rolling it off the stem. Cup your hand under a plump, ripe cluster and then gently wiggle your fingers to loosen those that are ready to fall. The ripe berries will drop off into your hand or bucket. If you have to pull them off the stem they are not ripe. Tasting every once in a while keeps me on track and reminds me what a ripe, ready to eat berry feels like before you pick it. If you are tempted to eat more than you put in the basket think “one for me, two for the community.”