A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
I just finished a new garden bed that is a nostalgic nod to my part-time home in northern England and the countless cottage gardens nearby which, because of the ’rona pandemic, are far, far away right now.
Let me set this up. While an overall working landscape is a practical combination of function and aesthetics, smaller areas within should, like good stew, be jambalaya of ingredients from soil to flowers, artful accessories, and yes, even the moods they evoke.
No matter what style garden you prefer — suburban, formal, cottage, naturalistic, Japanese, xeriscape — or whether your personality is controlled or relaxed, shy or bold, public or private, general but fairly universal elements of garden design can work together for better gardens and satisfied gardeners.
Most of us start with the neat foundation approach promoted initially by garden clubs and now mandated by contractors to visually “tie down” new houses. To me they’re more or less bumpy green worms hugging houses, reminding me uncharitably of parsley around roasted pigs.
Visually, most foundation plantings disappear into the lines of the house; no matter our effort, very few passersby actually notice anything other than maybe the door color or a flapping flag. Brutal, I know, but true.
So, aside from their practical uses like framing buildings, accenting entrances, providing shade and windbreaks, and ensuring safe egress, our starter trees, shrubs, lawns and walks are mostly requisite yawners for real gardeners.
But this is the stepping off point for more earnest folks who love playing in their yards, where their creative garden pleasures kick in. We start choosing plants for interesting shapes, seasonal flowers, foliage and berries; changing the shape of the lawn with beds and groundcovers; planting along the property line and partway across the front by the street like a big arm hugging the property; filling pots with flowers; and adding artsy whimsies.
Other words, personalizing it. Most of us hide this in the backyard, leaving the public face to better fit in with neighbors.
There are exceptions to all this, of course. The uber-formals with their matching balanced and tightly pruned shrubs, the woodsy/wildflowery naturalistics, those mixed planters who shove a lot of varied shrubs into flowing beds around everything, front yard veggie folk, overdone yard-show mavericks I call determined independent gardeners (DIGrs), and more.
My tiny lot is a combination of ’em all. I love my unruly wildflowers, but tone them down a bit with accents and a couple of shrubs pruned fastidiously into tight meatballs. Culinary herbs and veg dot flower beds and overflow big containers. Water gardens, fire places, round decks serving as ersatz lawn substitutes in my little garden, and arbors, all connected by meandering flagstone paths. Party lights, bottle trees, odd yard art, bird houses, possums and lizards.
Other words, it’s a gallimaufry, a hodgepodge of plants, materials and spaces. A messy mélange of smaller garden rooms fenced from the road and hidden from neighbors.
My newest stone-lined bed, right outside my big window, though only about 15 square feet, is an English-style cottage bed, a mishmash medley of carefully pruned shrubs of strongly contrasting shapes, studded with two antique chimney pots, a small section of wattle fence woven with pruned crape myrtle shoots, a silvery gazing ball, and an overstuffing of mixed winter flowers including snapdragons, pansies, violas, dianthus, dusty miller, and iris foliage. And a hand-painted gnome rescued from a Lancashire recycling center.
Makes me smile, conjuring sweet biscuits, a brewed cuppa and a sit in my swing. Does your garden do this?
• Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to email@example.com.