Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Even strong lines like steel beams gain grace through repetition.

See What's NOT There

Sometimes the beauty you see in a garden isn't the plants. It's the setting itself, the architecture of the garden. When the "bones" of a garden stick out like sore thumbs, the design is not soothing to the eye and the plants get lost. When the structures, paths, and main lines work together, their repetition of line and harmony of materials create a feeling of ease and set the stage for the plants.

Permanent and present all year, hardscape reflects your style and deserves your attention. I have always been devoted to recycling just about any building material into garden settings, and try to avoid chaos by following good examples. I recently saw a delightful collection of houses built almost entirely from recycled materials. Artful and delightfully odd, the designs follow the lines of the materials themselves. A curvy set of shingles covering a wall or a roof made of license plates could be a chaotic sight, but the repetition of the lines brings it all together. The same principles apply in the garden.

Paths to Inspiration
Large and small spaces can use paths and fences to define and divide, highlight or obscure views. Because they are permanent installations, the materials used in such walkways and baffles also lend to the garden's style. The timeless appeal of picket fencing takes on a more modern effect when rendered in split bamboo or metal pipe. Yet their role, to define or divide a garden space, remains the same. Solid materials, taller baffles work well in wood to screen the view of a neighbor's garage. A small garden's path can be pea gravel, snaking its way around beds, leading you on a walk to reveal a hidden focal point. But larger spaces benefit from coarser materials or boardwalks to simplify maintenance, and need longer curves to balance their size.

The second essential ingredient in practical garden design is adding upright features to lead the eye upward. Whether you choose statuary, trellises, or evergreen shrubs and trees to raise the view, their placement is important. Since they will attract attention on their own, locate the upright hardscape where you want people to look: at the curve in a bed, marking the front walkway, or at the rear of the garden to offer perspective to that view. Here, we'll use the chain link fence (once it's repaired a bit) and make the broken marble into the backsplash of an upright fountain.

Feet Up, Please
When considering the hardscape in your garden, don't stop before you select something to sit on. Benches and tables are for enjoying, entertaining, and stabilizing the design with their substance and permanence. Let their materials repeat or accent others in the garden, but keep an eye on the lines you are adding and the view. Seating along a path is nice, and so is a bench facing from the path into the garden. If your landscape is new, a blank slate, walk to the rear and put a chair there. Rest awhile and consider what you'd like to see from that vantage point. Make it a quiet meditation spot or the best view of the entire landscape, but be sure to include a seat.

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