Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden

Muscari bulbs awaiting transplant

Blog entries will likely be sporadic over the easy outdoor months when it’s so much more gratifying to walk out the door and visit my garden than type on this machine.

But May marks an anniversary I can’t leave unrecorded. We are celebrating the first year of our tiny formal gardens flanking our front brick walkway. Last year over a couple of weeks in May, N and I planted what we aggrandisingly refer to as our mini-Versailles (it was actually André Le Nôtre’s Vaux le Vicomte, not Versailles, where we took our inspiration, but since no one seems to know of Vaux le Vicomte, the reference doesn’t obtain). The gardens consist of two tiny boxwood-hedged beds along our brick front walkway, and another along the driveway, one with three stately fastigate European hornbeams--Carpinus betula ‘Frans Fontaine’, and all filled with narcissi and tulips in the spring. Our love of formal gardens has been creeping up on us since our first visits to France over a decade ago, but last year was our first real attempt to introduce some formality to our previously free-form gardens. Our house is no castle; it’s a modest Victorian, but we’re having fun echoing on a miniature, modest scale some of what Le Nôtre did on a vast one.

A true 'before' shot from April 2006

The formal front garden nearing its first birthday this May

Excerpts from last year’s wiki entries documenting the formal bed planting efforts (in our pre-blog days):

May 15, 2007

The weather was sunny and almost hot, then dramatically cloudy with theatrical thunder, lightning, and rain--light, then heavy and straight, then gusting--followed by the most dramatic winds we have ever witnessed from our front porch. Branches fell to the road. Leaves were blown off trees.

The storm would've made for good drama if it hadn't done such damage to our newly planted trees. All day we worked to plant our three lovely fastigate hornbeams in our narrow planting strip by the driveway. We laboured to make sure they were perfectly straight and evenly positioned. When the rain seemed immanent around 5:00 we enjoyed a beer at our back table on our new bench under our umbrella and surveyed our backyard from our new lower vantage point (without the deck) against the dark backdrop of storm clouds. The neighbour’s huge apple tree is covered in white blossoms which were very dramatic against the dark grey sky. Finally the rain came and we were forced to go inside where we looked at radar and realized more bad weather was still to come.

Aftermath: the once straight trees have a definite lean

Moments before the big winds hit we had been standing on our porch complementing ourselves on the straightness of our trees. Then, the wind struck and when the storm was over, our trees had shifted dramatically. We'll try to straighten them, but our hard work of today was definitely compromised.

May 26, 2007

(truck) bed of buxus

The hornbeams have been straightened and staked. Our truck is completely full of boxwoods: 126 one-gallon pots for our hedge. N is out looking for the right fitting to solve our irrigation system draining problem.

Underground drama--irrigation lines and drains

later the same day...

Planting in progress (and, how NOT to leave a rake)

Today we planted half of our hedge and we think it is beautiful. We enclosed the rectangular area next to the driveway. It doesn't look like an afterthought anymore, but like a purposeful garden. Tomorrow we'll plant the other side of the path. Unlike today's hedge which had hard surface guides all around, this one will require a bit of grading to keep the soil level even, and more accurate measuring. We seem to have bought more boxwoods than we actually need, so our hedge may go farther than we thought and enclose the bed between the driveway and the porch.
One side done

Back to the present

When we first began gardening about a decade ago, we loved natural curving lines. On our visits to botanical gardens, the underlying structure of gardens escaped our notice as we were captivated by the profusion of unruly blooms. Only gradually as we realized that flowers alone didn’t produce the gorgeous gardens we loved, did we begin to see past the blooms to the supporting forms of trees and shrubs, the edges on the beds and the definition of hardscaping elements like paths, fences, and rocks. Somehow, it took subsequent visits to grand Chateaux in France where the gardens are overtly formal, for the true possibilities of imposed structure in the garden to really occur to us. Gradually, in our own urban lot, we’ve been containing our garden areas—shaping them with boulders and paths and defined edges, but only recently have we been imposing a more calculated geometry. We are emboldened by early results. The definite architecture of clipped hedges and brick walkways make the gardens they contain look even more natural by comparison—like the perfect frame. Our garden will never be entirely formal. We have a native woodland garden on the west side of our house under the shade of tall sugar maples and a curving front bed anchored by a glorious red Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Bloodgood”). The garden has more formal elements close to the house and becomes more informal as it moves away.

In our small city lot, it seems ludicrous to try to match the natural style of a managed woodlot like this one in Waterloo Region, where I hiked earlier this week

I will leave true nature to the gorgeous natural woodlots and protected tracts of land where I love to hike. In my own little plot I am bound and determined to employ all the art and artifice I can muster.

The fledgling formal garden (May 2007)


Wanderluster said...

Beautiful! I don't think I've seen many formal front gardens. Yours looks great. I love the walkway as well.

S & N said...

The walkway, new front porch steps, and a fence and gate to enclose a narrow side garden were our big splurge of a couple of years ago. We had a hard time finding a company willing to put down clay brick rather than a molded concrete product, but we finally did: Environmental Design is the name of the company. We drew it; they built it. They did excellent work. We're still really pleased two years later.

IzzyLu said...

I love your front yard. I like the mixture from the walkway to the landing. I love the mini boxwoods.

S & N said...

Thank you Izzylu,
The little boxwoods are looking a bit shaggy with all of their bright green new growth. I'll be attempting to master the art of pruning them in the next week or so.

Helen said...

Great project. Watch out for boxwood psyllids -- a growing pest with the increasing use of box. Look for cupping in the leaves at the growth tips. Don't know if this comment will accept a link, but: