If you are anything like me, you design your garden beds entirely backwards- plants first, design later. Although I am not doctrinaire about it, planning ahead does has its advantages, as you can see from the lovely formal parterre at Janesville’s Rotary Gardens pictured above. Although only four types of plants, the effect here was stunning (As I vaguely recall, the hedges were golden privet, although they look like boxwood here, but I’m not sure there is such a thing as golden boxwood. Verbena Bonariensis, Veronica and that darn burgundy colored spiky grass that I can never remember the name of, rounded out the picture. ) Although I think that the statute in the center is a bit too small-scale for the parterre onsite, it was something simple and lovely and took up very little space- the ideal treatment for a boring suburban front lawn that faces south and gets plenty of summer sun.
With a little advance planning, this kind of effect is not as difficult as you think. Although I am generally inclined toward the dig a large bed and hope- for- the- best- on- placement approach, mapping out something simple leads to spectacular results.
To that end, this year I plan to line the front walk with golden privet or boxwood: depending on cost (they are about the same price, depending on where you get them) and my willingess to actually take the time and order them– and brave the cold and get out there and measure how many I’ll need.
The shrubs and hardscaping are the first elements of designing a bed. I look at sun/shade ratios, how much water that particular area gets, typical traffic patterns and the size I want a new bed to be.
The site for my hedge has variable water runoff- one side is quite wet, the other quite dry, but the entire hedge is in full sun in the summer. Going into planting the hedge I know that I will need to add a faucet to the other side of the house or I won’t be able to reach the dry side of the hedge with a hose. This will obviously increase the cost of the hedge.
Next, choose your plants– ideally in the winter so you have time to change your mind before you go out and buy them all. Boxwoods like a bit more shade than I have available in that location, but have the huge advantage of being slow growers, unlike the privet, which would need a lot more pruning. After figuring out how many plants you need (siting them a bit closer together than the recommended spacing if you are trying to grow a hedge) and ordering them, I’ll have the backdrop of the new front beds set up.
As I only have limited funds and an otherwise indulgent husband who is quite attached to the grass lawns of suburbia, I subscribe to the “creeping” theory of gardens– add a little here and there every year and you will have a manageable garden that doesn’t irritate the other side of the grass-garden war.
Ultimately, next year or the year after, I will begin to add herbaceous plants behind my hedges, pulling out the edges of the beds, checking drainage, adding soil amendments and checking the water/sun conditions- because these are definitely not a constant. A fledgling silver maple will, in a few years, be substantial enough to provide some shade for Hostas and Huecheras in the front on one side. Also in a few years, the young “Elizabeth” Magnolia will grow tall enough that we will be able to see her from the windows- and we might get a pale yellow flower or two. On her side, I may plant daffodils and lemon yellow daylilies and keep the lemon yellow theme going past this year. Or I may do it all white. (Are you reading this Kate?)
These are the best parts of gardening and once the permanent stuff is in and growing, we can wait another year or two and think about how to paint our backdrop.