How can I reconfigure this???

patreesh(5)July 6, 2011

Please give me ideas on how to redesign this garden. It is too deep, with too many layers. It's approximately 40' wide by 20' deep. There are two paths - one just to the left of the green birdbath and the other directly in line with stepping stones in center of picture. I've considered making the center of the garden into an oval shape (lengthwise) with a path around the oval but then can't figure out what to do with the left and right sides to make it more accessible. Have been staring at it for a year and keep coming up blank. Thanks for your thoughts!

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whitegarden(Z5 MA)

I would begin by asking, generally, what kind of design you tend to prefer: formal and gometric or organic and curvilinear. The design you have now shows aspects of both.

I envy your beautiful blooms. You certainly do not have an inability to nurture things. Where are you located?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 11:23AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Two suggestions: one, a path is most interesting when it has a destination. And two, your paths, wherever they might lead, need to be wider, at least double the current width.

I would argue your garden is not too deep with too many layers; it is refreshing to see a garden with some depth to it. Something as simple as adding a single plant with huge leaves could add some weight to the design, inject some contrast. All you need is a tweak or two, not a major redesign.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 12:39PM
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I agree with whitegarden, you certainly have a green thumb!

Have you considered grouping the different plants together into larger, more amorphous blobs of color? How about making the path an ellipse that arcs so the peak is aligned with the arbor? And as catkim suggests, making that path nice and wide.

I think I'd want to walk through that garden along it's longest dimension instead of having 2 short paths in the shortest direction. I've added a very poorly drawn picture of what I mean about the path. You'd probably still want some stepping stones to help you get into the back corners for maintenance, but a really wide path would encourage people to explore the garden. The little jogs in the lower right corner of my path are unintentional. Just bad mouse clicks.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 6:29PM
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There is everything in that garden, the kitchen sink is probably there somewhere. What you have is a hoarders garden that probably reflects your character accurately so in spite of your brave question there is no way anyone else is going to sort it out for you: just enjoy it as it is and stop worrying.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 7:38PM
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whitegarden(Z5 MA)

I like how pam is thinking. I would add a more defined shape incorporating the back arbor with that stunning clematis and where the two paths will meet. Since the trellis is arched, maybe an oval to harmonize with the wide arced paths.

I agree that thinning the herd a bit and creating larger clusters of individual plant materials would help improve definition as well.

Once you create the new hardscape structure, this will be easier to do.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 7:41PM
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whitegarden(Z5 MA)

I sort of agree with ink too, however I also know of gardens that start as a hoarder's paradise because the gardener is searching for the right plants for their needs and planting a little of everything is a way to start. Then they take stock, decide what they do or do not like and start composting or giving away from there. Maybe that is where patreesh is right now?

My garden is very selective, but I also have a "nursery" area that is my testing ground for new plants or orphans I bring home from plant swaps. Since I keep everything in the white family it is not so chaotic but it has a dissheveled charm.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 8:57AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

My first impression was that it looks 'spotty'. It's as if you're looking at the individual flowers instead of the garden. It lacks structure. The paths don't meet up with each other, and as catkim says, they need to be wider and go someplace. I'd take out the path in the lawn. It doesn't contribute anything.

Yes Ink, it can be a hoarder's garden, or it can be a collector's garden. I think it's a plant lover's garden. Patressh, you've done a wonderful job on growing flowers. That really shows. You have jumped that hurdle. Many can't or haven't. You just need to look at design a little more. Structure, or 'bones' is the missing element. Very common with cottage gardens.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 10:12AM
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I get the 'plant lover' Mike but the garden is being smothered by it. I didn't initially want to offer an opinion on how to make it better according to my taste but a severe editing would improve it no end. The phrase "can't see the forest for trees" comes to mind although this is more like 'can't see the trees for forest'.Does the garden need more plants in plastic pots of various colours, for instance.?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 3:24PM
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Excuse for going a little astray, but your garden looks exactly like mine did several years ago. Mine is very deep. I was very dissatisfied. It felt chaotic.

Here's what I did:
1. I finally understood the eyes needed places to rest: I removed some little groupings of various unrelated plants and put in three Guacalmole hostas which have grown 4 feet across fast. They are planted strategically,so there are glimplses of them at different points: no soldiers or even rigid triagles.
2.I planted larger shrubs and trees for focal points and anchors. A beautiful chamycypress obtusa; three smaarg (or emeral green) arborvitae at three of the corners; large fragrant azaelias.

3. How can you make that beautiful arch and clem into a stronger focal point? It is already, but there's so much plant competition. Simplify the plantings around it?

4. Group plants. For instance, Instead of one big patch of "Becky" I put three groups staggered that carry the eye from left to right. The white is also picked up at a lower level by feverfew and some early phlox. There are gold grasses repeated throughout the bed, and gold foliage at different levels.

5. An access path. 3/4 of the way back, I cleared a narrow winding path just so I can get to every side of the garden without stepping on plants and doing damage. You can't tell from the front there's even a path, but that horizontal empty space resulted in a feeling of depth with some variablity. It allows for a glimpse of lower and mid-height plants along the path's edge but it doesn't interrupt either the horizontal or vertical flow in a bad way.

6. Please do take out all the smaller pots. Just that step will simplify things.

These ideas just reflect my experience with turning chaos into a more restful and pleasing perspective.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 11:11PM
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Editing and extraneous pot and bowl removal already being mentioned...

I got into your photobucket album and picture #7 of the garden in June 2010 clearly shows mirror image plantings from the center path; and before the separate trees/shrubs on the left and additional garden space to the right were incorporated - the stepping stone path replacing a strip of grass.

The plants in that photo hadn't hit their stride yet, but it shows me that some thoughtful removing would make installing more formal paths unnesessary to gain access. I'm a pathless gardener so I keep some unplanted ground between things - with RA I'm not so surefooted anymore. As long as I can get in with either a shovel, scuffle hoe or clippers, I'm a happy camper.

You really do have a way with plants.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 2:56PM
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Until last year I'd never had an access path in the back of the garden. But I do so much moving, pruning and editing that I might be able to get to a plant but I didn't have a place to lay down my shovel or a potted plant, I was stepping on and breaking stems and was a greater risk to myself trying to balance positions and hop over things.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 9:36PM
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Pam, I liked your idea of an arc. I added a curved path (not as wide as suggested but it did make an immense improvement) on the left side yesterday and will get to the right side today.

Whitegarden, Duluth and Mike - I live in a suburb of Syracuse, New York - no special secret to the blooms, I've just been adding Nutribrew/Gardenbrew every year.

Ida and Cat- I should've given a bit more information. There is already a horizontal path running along the back of the garden, in front of the arbor, where the other three paths merge with it. There are also two short paths that lead to the trellises.

Ink: Sheeesh, I got your initial point ("brave question") that the garden is beyond hope. You are adept at not mincing words and being a tough critic but when Mike said "plant lover" as opposed to "hoarder" you seemed a bit sensitive. You quickly went from "enjoy it" to "needs severe editing, smothered and can't see the trees". I asked a direct question regarding how it should be, not if it should be, reconfigured. If you weren't going to initially answer by giving advice regarding making changes then why bother replying? I take it that you are a professional landscaper so it must be a tough way to make a living - telling potential clients to enjoy their landscaping "as is."

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 9:15AM
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I think you need to read again what I wrote patreesh because you have not understood it.

I am an advocate of gardens that reflect the personality and life style of their owner hence my initial comment. But since mike challenged my point of view I offered a suggestion from a personal perspective. People with gardens like yours tend not to employ professional designers so I am rarely in that position. Whoever I design for I try to design around THEIR tastes and not attempt to make a garden that meets some other criterion. I guarantee that whatever you do now to "reconfigure this" it will look exactly like it is now in two or three years. I don't see gardening as a neurotic exercise so if you want to work on your garden I suggest dividing, discarding and simplifying which is what needs to be done periodically with ALL perennial gardens, this is husbandry not design.

Incidentally your snide remarks are duly noted as childish and and this post ends my contribution.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 10:51AM
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I'm very grateful to all of you who tempered your critiques and suggestions with nice remarks. A little kindness goes a long way. Guess being a professional isn't necessarily a prerequisite for having some manners. As is obvious by looking at the picture, I've only been gardening for a few years and you honestly did help to sort things out for me. Despite what Inkcognito believes, (who I'm certain will read this) the arced path is just the ticket; it will break things up enough to give the garden some order but will not require me to do a major overhaul. I'll post pictures again in a few years so you can see how well it has worked out. Thanks again!


    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 3:47PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Patreesh, the transition you're trying to make is one that many of us regular contributors have had to do; it's often what has led us to this forum. It is the transition from plant collecting and gardening to designing our spaces for overall appearance. A change from, if you will, the minutiae and individual identity of each plant, from a love affair with each plant if you want to get really romantic about it, to the point where you evaluate each individual primarily for the contribution they make to the whole, and where you're even willing to sacrifice individuals for the good of the whole.

Idabean did a really nice job of giving some methods for the process of converting from gardening to landscape design.

Ink's comments were not actually rude, in this case, although I understand why they hit you that way. My garden too has reflected my personality at various stages of its evolution, and at most of them I've looked around at the result and not liked what I've seen. I still don't! And as I read your question, you don't either.

However, as is very common as you begin to think about landscape design, and with OPs here on the forum, you yourself diagnose the problem incorrectly. In fact, it is debatable whether you have a problem. Your riotous floral overload look is what many people who aspire to cottage gardens hope to achieve. But you, like many others who have achieved it perhaps by accident, realize that a riotous excess can very easily slip over the edge into chaos.

What Ink said is simply that this result is what your style of gardening and your evident plant preferences will inevitably achieve, and that if you want to change the look, you have to change the gardening. I felt that the way you posted the question suggested you might be open to that, but Ink obviously didn't see it that way. And if he's right, then so is his comment - your garden is what it is; you will improve things about it, but when you take a picture in 5 years maybe it will still look very much like it does today - a riotous beautiful floral overload.

What Pam has suggested is a path through the riot, almost like a frame for it. Nice idea. Will improve it. But if you really want to make it look controlled, nuanced, and really layered, a lot of thought has to go into what plants and stuff are in there for what reason, what hardscape and pots are really contributing, and how the whole composition is framed.

If you look at the yard and feel primarily joy about whatever special plant you've got in those pots, then those pots belong. But if you are looking at the whole thing and primarily thinking, why does it look like such a mess, then you need to think in terms of plant shape, size, structure, and thus landscape contribution. It's a different relationship with plants.

One thing I've done is to get some bigger, nicer pots as focal points and put my special plants, my trilliums and other spring ephemerals for instance, in them. Of course, being a person who does everything somewhat to excess, there are still too many pots! But for me Ink's words to you are actually a bit of a release from worrying about it. It is what it is, I am who I am, and my garden shows it. I'm on the path to improving it, now that I understand how, but in the meantime... so sue me :-)

You'll make gardening transitions in your own time, and I hope that you can take something positive for that process from everything that's been said here.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 5:26PM
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Thanks Karin. Well-said. You're exactly right, except that, sorry to say, I achieved the overload on purpose and now want a tamed garden with a new way of gardening. I thought I wanted a cottage garden until I got it. Thought it would be ideal for me, who has no sense of design. At least I now know what I don't like. Over the years I have moved things around, yanked things out, divided, added structures, stepped back, thought it looked okay for a short while then started over. Believe it or not I have gotten rid of a lot! To add to the problem, this year I started growing from seed indoors and also did winter-sowing, so, naturally, even after giving much away, had to find a spot for the rest of that as well.(Hence the pots). The good thing is that I won't be starting 75% of it from seed next year. I really am learning from my mistakes and enjoy the process.

Regarding Ink: I came asking for help in making changes. His remarks about no one being able to sort it out for me amd telling me to stop worrying, although I'm sure not intentionally, came across as condescending. In his second post, in which he addressed his comments to Mike rather than to me, it wasn't necessary to make the "forest through the trees" remark or add the bit about "plastic" pots. To the unitiated those comments can be mistaken as pompous. I can see that those of you who frequent this forum are used to his manner of writing and think highly of him so I'll work on growing a thicker skin. Undoubtedly he's a very knowledgable guy. Thanks again to all for the terrific input.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 8:14PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Color wise, it's very tame. The discipline that it takes, combined with your love of plants, must have been hard to do.

I designed a garden with just lavender, red, and white, with just a dash of yellow once. The customer was very happy.

Again though, the garden structure is more important, design wise, than the color of the flowers.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 7:58AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

About pots... :-) Plant lovers, plant collectors, often find their gardens scattered with pots, even when trying to be rid of them. It's something the gardener may not even notice until seeing a photograph, where suddenly all the odd pots seem to stick out like a bad rash.

I concede have my own "pot ghetto"; even though I have edited the plants and pots, and edited again, and made a sincere effort to get everything into the ground, the damn things persist.

In an effort to impose some discipline in my garden, any remaining pots must be very large (minimum 18" in diameter, preferably larger), and the pot material and color must be uniform (in my case, terra cotta). Yes, I still wince when a photo exposes the potted derangement, but at least I no longer insult myself with the black nursery pots and the leftover miscellaeous mismatched pot collection from the previous homeowner. (Yes, it was really bad!)

Kim, trying very hard not to be a pot hoarder. (roll eyes)

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:57PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I think hardscape is the are a plant lover. You need something to structure it FOR you. I'm in the process of unifying my pots...with a few key exceptions. Most of my pots are high-fired black clay.

My garden has been crazy this spring/summer...and I'm still working on editing. (I, too, need three-of-everything!)Additionally-I let my English phlox get out of hand.

Here is a spring photo of my front bed--the nigella is blooming (I've pulled it all up now):

And a close-up of my phlomis fruticosa backed by my miscanthus 'morning light'.

And this is how my pots matured over the course of a year:

melanie/dipping my toe back in after a long absence

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 5:08PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

ugh. I don't know what happened...clearly I've forgotten how to post pictures!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 5:37PM
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So good she showed it twice. Don't tell me, is that a Japanese maple in yonder pot?

Hiya mel.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 6:52PM
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If it were mine, I'd divide that large garden into three equally sized gardens with grassy paths between to give it some structure. Your plantings are fine as, or have fun re-arranging/editing as you desire.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 7:54PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Hey Ink! Not one, not two, but THREE JM's in yonder pots. A 'Yuri hime', a 'Moonfire', and a 'Sangu kaku'. Hello, my name is melanie, and I'm a Japanese Maple addict. I'm up to...17 different cultivars. Yeah. I have a problem. ;^)

In all honesty--the Moonfire and the Sangu kaku are awaiting some serious landscape/earth-moving/tree-removal type work before I plant them. Maybe in a year or so...


    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 8:35PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Also--I didn't mean to hijack the thread. Honestly. I wish I could grow delphiniums here. Yours are STUNNING. I'm kinda digging pam's paths...

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 8:48PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Welcome back, Melanie! Missed ya.

I have some Phlomis also. A rather odd, self seeding plant in my garden.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 9:44PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I drafted this up earlier but didn't get around to posting before others said similar things, so forgive the repetition:

"OK, that's better explained in terms of your objectives. And it's always been my thought about people who come here saying they want a cottage garden, "wait till you get it!" Thanks for that :-)

So you're wanting both a new plan and a way of transitioning to it. Yup, first thing is to change what you do. I had to stop stopping at every nursery I drove past!

So a couple of ideas that might help.

1. Think about integrating the bed with the rest of the yard in terms of travel, seating, views, and transitions. It looks to me like you have a green pitch with beds at the perimeter. Search this forum for the word perimeter or perimeteritis for some discussion on that. So instead of just drawing a plan for this bed, draw a plan view of the whole yard, and see if you can link it to other functions of the yard. Photograph the yard as a whole and consider the function of this bed within it. Maybe your lawn can run up the slope a bit, the garden into the lawn a bit.

2. Similarly, instead of looking at the garden and thinking about where plants should be, think first about where YOU should be in that space. Plants as focal points often don't work, as you're sensing with your trellises, because they don't read as destinations. So mentally drag a virtual bench or bistro set around the yard and see where it is needed... maybe at the top looking down, maybe at the bottom looking up. At the very least, places to walk, if not to sit, need to be clear. And paths that are solid, not broken, have more presence (eg adjacent flagstones, not scattered).

3. Think hardscape before plants. For my taste there would be a some retaining, division, edging, in this garden... bottom or middle or both. Paths can partly function for this.

4. There will be a move to woody plants involved than you have now, I think. I moved my preferences from perennials and herbaceous shrubs to conifers (dwarf types), rhodos, and Japanese maples. I still have a lot of the other stuff, but these shrubs are now my bones, in addition to trees. See where your plant interests lead you in the woody plant family."


    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:20AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I'll second "quit stopping at the garden centers." It's even worse when one WORKS in one. Oy. There's a reason I have seventeen Japanese maples. I, too, am transitioning from herbaceous perennials to more permanent shrubs and such. Though a couple of the new fancy echinaceas found their way into my car this spring. Along with more peonies. (I'm planting anti-deer food these days.)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 12:06PM
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I once took a quick look at the Winter Sowing forum and after seeing patios, etc. filled with milk jugs, bottles, crates, etc. I knew that wasn't for me even in my wildest flights of gardening fantasy.

Per the OP To add to the problem, this year I started growing from seed indoors and also did winter-sowing, so, naturally, even after giving much away, had to find a spot for the rest of that as well.

Stopping the winter sowing and indoor seed starting might be a good idea for reducing the plant abundance... at least to start dealing with what you've got without adding to it.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:06PM
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Hi Patreesh - I think you have gotten some really good advice here - structure, paths, grouping plants and planting in repeats so the eye move through the garden is how I would sum up the good points of this discussion. Japanese maples - that is also a very good point- add one if you can. My only additional advice would be to create a curve to the front edge of the bed; the whole thing is very rectangular and a curved front edge would soften the effect.

You dont have to stop collecting interesting plants - you just need to create a structured garden in which they can exist.

Although I dont agree with Ink - I do have to appreciate the excellent "hoarders" reference...

Melanie - those are gorgeous pots and amazing plantings...I LOVE the grouping of gold/yellow pots with the delicious green and burgundy. Beautiful.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 6:50PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

drtygrl--thanks I am particularly fond of those pots. Alas...the Moonfire (burgundy) maple is going to need to get planted somewhere else this is outgrowing that pot. Guess I'll just have to find another red-leafed acer to take its place. Hmmmmm...

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 9:27PM
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