Nov 13, 2009

Where Gardeners Fear To Tread

Pathways, both metaphorically and literally, have been on my mind this year. Economic conditions have forced many friends to begin to new journeys. Finding an entry point for a new career, lead me to think about the ways we enter a garden.

One of the best entryways, I know of, is at a friend’s house in southern Vermont. Ron and Jaci live in an 18th century farmhouse close to a busy road in Windham County, Vermont. A few years ago, Jaci decided to remake the entry to their house.

Jaci is the kind of gardener I want to be. She is fearless. Most gardeners are so invested in what they create; it’s hard to make changes. Jaci planted a long English–style perennial border and years later moved every single plant in the border. I asked her why? She replied

“I just wanted to know I could do it and then I wanted to move on!”

I am timid by nature, but Jaci is a risk taker. The new entryway to her house is a mixture of conifers, heathers

and accent plants. This is a small garden with a big WOW factor. It looks good in all four seasons. The garden relies on texture and foliage and changes in size, but its very subtle. On first glance, you think, “It’s so simple. There isn’t much going on.” You need to take another look and another and another, to get it. It’s far from simple. Dwarf conifers, heathers and grasses together are something we have seen before. The complexity is in the thought process. The garden is a study in how the skilled gardener/artist can put together a powerful combination of plants with a limited palette.

The garden’s centerpiece is one of the most magnificent Fagus sylvatica 'Purple Fountain' you will ever see. I’ve often thought that this beech acts as its own traffic light for the road. It’s a showstopper and you can’t help but slow down as you pass it. It’s a ballet dancer in the landscape. It flutters in the slightest breeze, whereas the wrought iron tree near the door is as still as concrete. This "other" tree stands like a sentry in the entryway, guiding you to the door. (see photo at top of page). This contrast is repeated in the choice of plants (see plant list below)...not only do you have a variety of conifers, but the use of calluna vulgaris is especially interesting. Jaci just wrote to me "Fall heather and russian cypress colors are starting to show. I love the heathers that turn bright red and yellow in winter!"

Jacis garden is a pathway into interesting gardening.

Fagus sylvatica "Purple Fountain"
Tsuga canadenses Sargentii (across path from beech)
Thuga occidentalis "Degroot Spire" (in front of blue heron sculpture)
Juniperus communis Gold Cone
Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'
Cotinus coggygria var. purpurea
Hydrangea paniculata 'PeeWee'
Juniperus scopulorum Witchita Blue
Juniperus squamata "Blue Star"
Microbiota decussate
Thuga occidentalis Woodwardii
Juniperus chinensis Robusta Green
Chamaecyparis obtusa "Crippsii"
Berberis "Helmond Pillar"
Picea glauca "Rainbows End"
Physocarpus opulifolius "Dart's Gold"
Miscanthus sinensis "Morning Light"
Panicum Red Switch Grass
Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame'
Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'
Calluna vulgaris ' Pats Gold'
Calluna vulgaris ' Firefly'
Calluna vulgaris 'Sister Anne'
Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination'


“Other people talk about risk taking. I mean, I don’t see it as much of an issue, honestly, because this is what I want to do. In order to see something that you haven’t seen, which probably will never happen, but you’re looking all the time, and you are looking for things – in order to find something that holds your attention and you can work with and everything – what can the risk be? That it fails? And, I mean, failure is relative. And I don’t worry about taking risk. If something is not beautiful, then I’m unhappy with it, and there are some things that are certainly not so beautiful, but they get by. But you’re still striving for the ones that really feel beautiful in the end. And so that’s what’s it’s about.
Frank Stella

“She was not afraid of mice-
She loved winter, snow and ice.
To the tiger in the zoo,
Madeline just said Pooh-pooh,”
by Ludwig Bemelmans


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