My garden


I often admire gardens displayed in magazines and books, and wonder, what can I do to make my garden look like that? I must be wired in another direction, and probably lack the skill to duplicate these lovely gardens. Masses of perennials, each more lush than the next, spill from beds with color and textural contrasts that I am incapable of. I marvel at the artistry required to create and maintain such a masterpiece. I suspect, as seems reasonable, that photos are taken at the garden’s peak season, but on its best day mine falls a bit short (below), I think.Japanese forest grass along a stream

The problem is not budgetary. My wife complains (though she understands this is futile) that too much is spent on the garden, and that more attention is needed to prevent the house from falling apart (which was too true until she emptied the household bank account last summer repairing every problem, minor or major, that she could imagine. Our fix-it guy will retire a wealthy man).Japanese maples and dogwood in the front garden

Despite these perceived shortcomings, there are days when I stroll through the garden and wonder, how could it possibly be any better? Leaves of Japanese maples are fresh and vibrant, dogwoods and redbuds are bursting with blooms, and hostas and lush foliage lap over the stone paths. And then, I consider one marvelous magazine garden or another, and realize, I am not failing, those gardens are ill suited to me.Fernleaf Japanese maple in late April

I am contentedly simple minded, and intent on gardening with as little effort as is possible. I am satisfied with small pleasures, entertained for months with subtle changes of the fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, above and below), from unfurling leaves, to dangling seeds, and finally to colorfully mottled autumn foliage. With twenty-some cultivars of Japanese maple in the garden, this is enough to keep me happy through the year if there was not another tree or flower.Fern leaf Japanese maple autumn foliage

Instead of masses of perennials, this garden features paperbushes (Edgeworthia) and nandinas, hydrangeas, daphnes, hollies, azaleas, and so on. There are more trees than only Japanese maples. Tall (and dwarf) cryptomerias and cypresses are dotted through the garden, as well as silverbell (Halesia, below), stewartia, and a dozen other wonderful flowering trees. Two beeches (Fagus) dominate, a purple leafed monster in the front, and a splendid green leafed beech with pendulous branches graces the northern property line in the rear.Carolina silverbell

On a winter afternoon, for a moment I can imagine this garden with flowing drifts of anemones and irises, but this magazine garden could not be satisfactory. I want to plant and forget, to watch over decades as the red horse chestnut (Aesculus × carnea) spills over its intended boundaries. The ground beneath the tree will become more shaded in time, and declining roses will eventually be changed to hostas, or Forest grass. My gardening style requires woody plants to minimize labor, and my eye is pleased more by the finely divided leaf of the Linearilobum maple (Acer palmatum ‘Linearilobum’, below) than the undeniable beauty of the bearded iris.Japanese maple

Yes, there are irises and toad lilies, hellebores, and many more perennials scattered in spaces between trees and shrubs, but this is a different garden than those in the glossy magazines. This garden is uniquely mine, one that is three decades in the working, well suited to my eye and to my maintenance ethic. I could not, and should not wish for anything more.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jennifer Story says:

    I think your garden is beautiful. To me, it’s better than a garden in a magazine because it’s more real. I have used your column for inspiration many times over the years. Jenny StoryBerwyn Heights, MD and Rehoboth Beach, DE

    From: Ramblin through Daves Garden To: [email protected] Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 10:54 AM Subject: [New post] My garden #yiv4030182630 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv4030182630 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv4030182630 a.yiv4030182630primaryactionlink:link, #yiv4030182630 a.yiv4030182630primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv4030182630 a.yiv4030182630primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv4030182630 a.yiv4030182630primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv4030182630 | Dave posted: “I often admire gardens displayed in magazines and books, and wonder, what can I do to make my garden look like that? I must be wired in another direction, and probably lack the skill to duplicate these lovely gardens. Masses of perennials, each more lush ” | |

  2. Anne says:

    Excellent! Yes!

  3. Karen Arsenault says:

    Your garden is absolutely beautiful and you have been a wonderful inspiration for me over the years. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Dave says:

      Though a chilly breeze keeps me indoors this afternoon, a few mild days have improved my disposition so that I am preparing for the few weekends that will be necessary to get this messy garden back in order. Today, it is difficult to imagine that in only a few weeks there will be flowers in every direction.

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