My husband Henry and I stood outside the back of our new Greenfield house. We each clutched a different custom garden design prepared for us by Home Outside Julie Moir Messervy’s newest service to help homeowners create the garden they had always dreamed of. We looked at each other, we looked at the designs, and we looked at the blank green space that was our back yard.
Both Home Outside plans used the information I had sent them. We answered questions, filling out a form with the attributes (driveway, sheds, wet spot in lawn, etc.) of the Greenfield lot, and all that we wanted to have. We also explained what projects we had already begun, the planting of the hellstrip and the south shrub and rose border. I mentioned wanting a very small vegetable garden, a blueberry patch, a raspberry patch and an umbrella clothesline that would be at the back of the lot near the current sheds. This may have been a mistake. I should have let the designers have free rein.
How were we going to translate the graphics on the page into plants in the ground? Where should we start? It seemed impossible. I started to get the giggles. Henry sighed and said we had to take some measurements. The idea of measurements always strikes terror in my heart, but we had had some trouble understanding the scale given on the designs so there was no help for it.
We had already planted a clump of river birch and a weeping cherry, so we used them as markers, measuring the space from the side boundries of the lot to each of them, the distance between them, and the distances to the back of the lot. That was information. Now what?
While we had waited for the custom design to arrive in my email, my husband revealed that in fact, he had an idea or two. This was a surprise to me. He usually is content to be the muscle. He thought the clotheseline should be closer to the house and that we shouldn’t build our plan around sheds that would ‘soon’ be replaced with a better shed.
When the first Home Outside plan arrived I just loved it, even though some of it would have to be changed because of our own new plan about the clothesline. Then the second plan arrived and I loved it even more because it had more curving paths than the first and I really wanted curving paths.
We pulled our socks up and decided to begin with the curving paths that were common to both plans. One would amble along the north side of the lot, and the another on the south side. Henry waved his hands to indicate where he saw the paths going. I asked for clarifications. He waved his hands some more. I said I needed concrete markers to understand what he had in mind.
We got out stakes and string and marked the north border path, but not before a discussion on how wide a path should be, three feet or four? I decreed four feet because a path is for wandering with a companion.
Then we marked the southern curving path using the river birch which would be at the path entry, and stakes, but I kept getting confused, partly because of the big pile of compost that was impinging on this space. “The new river birch will be on the left side, right?” I asked. “No, it will be on the right side,” Henry replied. I still didn’t understand and it took more stakes and string before I was clear.
I finally walked the marked path. “Are we both on the same page?” Henry asked. “Yes!”
“How did that happen?” Henry laughed. He is very patient with me and my difficulty dealing with spatial relationships.
With the outer paths generally established, we could think about other paths through the yard which would be filled with large native shrubs that loved water. We knew when we bought the house that the backyard was very wet, but felt this was no great impediment.
I had already bought a selection of water loving native plants. They had been patiently waiting for planting day. We planted a dappled willow on one side of the north path where it was especially wet. Fifteen feet further west we planted a button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) which is so wet tolerant it can be planted in swamps and river margins. Both grow tall and wide. As we were running out of time that day, we set other shrubs in possible places to give us an idea of space required for each. We set the two potted potted winterberries on the opposite side of the willow path., as well as an elderberry.
In the potential bed headed by the weeping cherry we placed the potted clethera (sweet pepperbush), Aronia (chokeberry), and a yellow twig dogwood. The final pottedplant, a fothergilla like the one on the Bridge of Flowers, was placed just beyond the river birch.
Then we ran upstairs to look out the back bedroom window to see how it looked. If we used our imaginations, we could almost see the beds forming, not exactly as pictured on the plan, but close enough for our satisfaction.
The next day we put all those shrubs in the ground, and heaved a sigh of happy achievement.
The next day came the torrential rains and we got a not very welcome surprise. Keep reading next week.
Between the Rows July 18, 2015
If you want to play around with garden design for your own garden on the free Home Outside Palette app click here.