Thoughts From the Belly - December 2004
Thoughts From The Belly
By: Dan Mays Â Ironbelly1@aol.com
I am occasionally disappointed at some of the garden "wisdom" being repeated over and over by many of the magazines, newspapers and TV shows. I love reading, looking and listening to them all but sometimes, I have to wonder. Do any of these entities ever question the accuracy of what they are recommending? Have any of these writers actually done and/or witnessed the things they are writing about? Or, is it just another assignment? Much like urban legends, some of this "wisdom" gets repeated so many times that, whether there is an ounce of truth to it or not, it becomes ubiquitously accepted.
Now is the time of year when we are inundated with a barrage of articles and "experts" admonishing us to learn to appreciate winter gardens. Typically, an extensive list of specific plants is advised. Again and again, they regurgitate advice to plan for winter interest as if it were a detached entity from the rest of the garden. I am of the opinion that much of their "wisdom" is a root cause of why gardens look miserable during winter in the first place. Rather than thinking in terms of a certain time in the garden, we should instead be thinking of a timeless garden.
When it comes to landscaping, we should forget about winter interest. What we need to concentrate on is making our landscapes more interesting. Well-designed gardens look good whenever you view them; be it any of the four seasons. The appearance and featured plants will be in constant flux but a unifying master design will remain the timeless bulwark. Well-designed gardens have enough interest that they beckon you to sit, walk around or even putter, though it may be essentially dormant.
We need to abandon old notions about annual and perennial beds. Use those same plants but use them differently. Evergreen structure is perhaps, one of the most overlooked aspects in midwestern gardens. Plant several of them in every bed. For those of you striving for that low maintenance garden, conifer trees, especially the dwarf ones, are the ultimate no-brainer. The structure, form, texture and overall beauty add value 365 days out of the year. These slow-growing, dwarf conifers provide instant pizzazz and require virtually no labor once they are established. No pruning, no fall clean up, no deadheading, no fertilizer regiment and no requirements for digging and dividing sound pretty good to me. The dwarfs and their larger cone-bearing brothers look great in combinations whether it be with crocus and daffodils, roses, ornamental grasses, autumn leaves or snow.
Vertical interest is typically lacking throughout the year in most gardens. Larger shrubs, artwork, small deciduous flowering trees, structures and hedges supply a constantly evolving look as other plants come and go. Vine arbors add height, vertical interest and are just plain fun to walk under. They continue to be a delight whether used as a shady summer retreat or as an alluring snow tunnel if the dried vines are allowed to remain.
A timeless garden favorite of my loving wife, Cyndia and many of our guests is a statue by local artist, Patty Anderson. It is titled, "Consider the Lilies" and consists of a little girl seated on the ground with a bouquet of lilies lying in her splayed skirt. She contemplatively gazes downward. It is so easy to develop an ever-changing vignette as the maiden grass begins to create a tall background for our little maiden of the garden. The seasons progress with a succession of lilies beginning with trout lilies in early spring. Soon the Asiatic lilies begin strutting their stuff to be gently replaced by the heavenly scent of Oriental lilies. Blooming plantain lilies (an old name for Hostas) fill in a brief lapse until Japanese toad lilies put forth a delicate dazzle until freezing weather sets in. The maiden grass has now attained full height and full bloom, providing shelter for wildlife and our garden girl. Later, snowfall gracefully places a white bonnet upon her head. And, if the wind patterns are just right, a little snow muff is provided to warm her hands.
Throughout the year, a wide variety of plants, trees, artwork and structures provide an ever-changing, always interesting environment. Our little statue girl continues to consider her lilies. We should consider timeless additions to our landscape gardens. I say forget about winter interest and concentrate instead on making your landscape more interesting. Timeless gardens embrace all seasons.