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Garden Style

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 15 February 2002

Do you like those Japanese gardens of raked sand, with a few interesting rocks and one or two gnarly trees with lots of character? Or do you prefer rock gardens full of plants creeping and tumbling over the stones?

Formal European-style gardens, with their sleek, ordered shapes, that give a feeling of security and tradition? Fields of wildflowers (carefully tended but let grow where they will), providing butterfly habitat? There are as many styles in gardens as there are in architecture or in clothing. They all have their advantages.

Garden style, like other style, goes through fashions -- even fads. For example the tropical-style garden, creating the look of jungle. In our climate you would use bamboo and ornamental grasses that look like palms, giant-flowered Hibiscus (hardy here with winter protection), showy cannas and unusual lilies (dig the roots up and store indoors for winter), and assorted potted orchids, succulents and bromeliads.

If you're willing to move potted plants out for the summer and in for the winter you can even do bougainvilleas, pineapples, bananas.... Well, I can understand the fun in having a corner of your yard become so exotic. But most of that is just too much work for me.

Some fashions in garden style are promoted in a way that makes them seem obligatory. For example, everywhere now I read that you should grow tall-growing plants, shrubs and trees at the edge of your property, especially in the back yard, for privacy. When I cleaned out the tangle of weeds that used to be the border between our yard and Pearl Russell's, I thought about that a lot. There are a lot of good arguments for privacy.

But I like to see Pearl's vegetable garden on the other side of my Ballerina rose, and I like to see when she's out there, so I can visit with her and swap garden news. There are good arguments for gentler borders, too.

In the end I think you get the most satisfaction from developing your own style. When I converted a rectangular vegetable garden to flowers and herbs, I had one big path down the middle and rows perpendicular on both sides, with the usual little maintenance paths between them. But the rows made me crane my neck to see down them from the center. I reworked the design with beds in various shapes, and paths meandering around them. It made a hodgepodge, but I love it: I call it my Patchwork Garden.

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© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark