Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
October, 2008
Regional Report

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A garden destination should be inviting and not too hard to reach.

Garden Destinations

I like chairs in the garden. Others prefer to turn a corner and discover a colorful canna. Some plant a flag or build an arbor to draw the visitor to a particular space. All those are nice places to land, but my favorite garden destination remains a place to sit, to reflect, and smile at the bee fest on the chaste tree. How you arrange the spaces in your garden reflects personal style, and can direct traffic, too.

Focal Points
A brick path headed straight out the back door to a birdbath or feeding station is a destination, but also the dominant view from a main entrance. That makes it a focal point. Another popular focal point, though, is a huge live oak in the backyard. Let the path meander instead, leading you to a bench or spectacular show of daffodils behind the tree, and that becomes a separate design element -- a destination.

Even if you can see the destination, or part of it, from across the garden, access does not have to be direct and may be more interesting if it is not. The corner of a huge seated pergola may be visible right away, but the way to it meanders through camellias that help to mask it. Once you make your way there, the "reveal" is worth the trip.

Design Destiny
A garden destination is only as good as the use it gets. Its concept can be as diverse as a long bed of reblooming daylilies or a kitchen that encompasses the barbecue, a sink, and a seating area. But it must be used or remain simply a decorated vignette. Get personal! If your idea of a good day begins with tea in the garden, locate a destination that will be bathed in sun on a winter morning.

Likewise, if you plan a series of trellises to block the afternoon sun, let their height and structure frame more than just their vines and roses. Locate a simple bench at the far end, and blanket the approach with ground covers. Face the seating towards the sunset, or away from it with a view of the garden. Avoid locating an outdoor kitchen on the west or south side. Instead, pick a spot where both breeze and shade can shelter the chef and welcome guests to gather.

Backyard Ideas
In my video travels to fine English gardens, it seems the most intriguing are laid out as a series of destinations. A kitchen garden here, roses inside a hedgerow there, and always a scene revealed by the journey through the rest. Particularly when there's a lake involved, the destination is invariably grand. Translating that notion of a garden where interest builds through its parts can be challenging, but here are two ways to look at it:

1. Find the necessary areas -- utilities, path to garage, barbeque, play area, water feature -- and if they are already in place, walk around to each. The practical features may require a direct route, but you can line it with matching or contrasting pots. A collection at the intersection of the kitchen and the barbecue softens the hard surfaces and adds a destination to the scene.

2. Let a rambling path join the features that are not so well traveled to increase their interest and allow the garden to unfold in surprise beds or art collections. The common element along one path I built is wind chimes and bells, spaced so each introduces the next, and the big shrubs that hold them conceal the next view and muffle the sound a bit until you're upon it.

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