Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Garden Bones

Oak-leaf hydrangea pic pinched from the NY City Parks & Recreation Dept.

I finally bought some of those trees I've been yammering about since November. We got a good-sized weeping yaupon from Matt's old nursery, a Cordia from Plant Escapes, and an oak-leaf hydrangea from The Great Outdoors. Also, tomorrow morning I plan to fulfill a decade-old ambition and finally order a farkleberry for my very own. Farkleberry, baby!

All three of our new purchases provide what I think of as essential bone structure in the garden. As you may know, there are landscape architects, on the one hand, and landscape designers/horticulturists on the other. The principle difference is that landscape architects view plants principally as three-dimensional shapes which can be arranged in various striking and artiful ways to create a powerful overall effect. Those with more training in plants and less training in architecture tend to be less alert to the structural possibilities of plants and more alert to their intrinsic interest as specimens. It's a continuum, of course. A place like Peckerwood, in Hempstead, excels at combining intrinsically fascinating plant materials in very artful, sculptural ways. And many very plant-oriented people are also capable of arranging those plants in an effective and beautiful way. But there is an underlying tension between the two tendencies, and I, as a horticulturist and not an architect at all, definitely lean toward the lumpish accumulation of beloved cultivars.

But even I can't help but notice that my rose garden is basically a row of bumps. It needs bones. It needs some strongly defined verticality to break up the monotony of similar shapes and sizes and also to provide boundaries.

Last year we took our first step to remedy the problem when we bought our 'Little Gem' magnolia for the corner of the house. It was just what I wanted--a tall, columnar, dark green exclamation mark. But then west of the magnolia the rose garden just sort of dribbled on. This summer we added our rather massive trellis--more to provide privacy than for aesthetic reasons, but it did vary the shapes and heights in the rose bed. Still, the western corner of the bed was dangling about unanchored, plus we still wanted more in terms of privacy. Thus the weeping yaupon. It's not terribly tall, but it's pleasingly dense. And we know it can handle drought, which is, sadly, a required feature.

The Cordia boissieri will also provide bones--in this case, it will replace the creaky old ligustrum on the corner of the study. The ligustrum, for all its many faults (ligustrums are deprecated for being invasive non-natives, and the trunk on this particular specimen is partly hollow) does provide a nice, heavy shade to the study, and it's everygreen. It puts the "shade" in our shade garden in the winter, when the cottonwood is leafless. The Cordia (sometimes called a Mexican olive) is nativish, evergreenish, will get to be about the same height, and has showy white trumpetty flowers. Once the Cordia gets big enough, we'll whack the ligustrum, and its replacement will anchor the corner of the shade garden.

The oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is the first installment in the enlarged shade garden that will encircle the shade patio. It will feature lots of lovely, cool, woodsy plants, with a heavy green-and-white theme. There'll be a couple more hydrangeas, some American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana), the farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), two white Crinum macowanii, and some white cemetery iris (Iris albicans). Some day, if I'm feeling very ballsy, I may attempt a little Japanese maple in there (!)

So we've made good progress on the bonesiness. We do still have an urgent need for a chitalpa on the southwest corner of the house to anch0r the impending blue-and-purple bed by the kitchen, and we need some tall, wide thing growing up the west-facing wall by the rose bed to break up the giant, blank emptiness. And maybe a Magnolia × soulangiana by the driveway. But then our garden will have pretty much all the bones it needs.

Happy meteorological news, by the way--we've been getting some light rain for the past week or so. Sad news: I need to uninstall and reinstall my rain gauge--it isn't reading the rain, probably because it's not level enough. Probably because I attached it to our drunken sailor of an old, warped wooden fence. Judging from surrounding areas, though, I'd guess we've got between 0.6" and 1" all told. The ground was soft when I planted my new trees/shrubs.

Farkleberry pic pinched from www.missouriplants.com

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