Challenge 1: The view of my back garden is weird (Part II)

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In last week’s post I explained Challenge 1: the view of our garden from my bedroom window is weird.  This challenge is primarily a design challenge that I’ll keep in mind as I make design decisions along the way.  Here are the main solutions I have come up with:

  1. Be patient and wait for my garden to grow up.  Based on last week’s post, you might be forgiven for thinking that I have a well-developed and established garden that I am trying to come to terms with, but actually it is less than a year old.  Before we moved here over a year ago, the entire garden was covered in “chuckie stanes” (landscaping gravel).  Any plant that is in our back garden, aside from the rogue sorrel, hasn’t been there longer than 8 months.  Also, we are planting and laying things out slowly (this blog is called “Slow Growing”, remember?), so the garden is not even close to being completely laid out or planted.  My frustration at how it looks is perhaps in part just run-of-the-mill gardener’s frustration–aren’t we all just nostalgic for how things were or looking forward to how they will be?  Once I have filled most of the holes in the garden and the plants have had some time to meld together as they grow, the edges and transitions will be gentler and I will see less bare soil and more of the intended effect.
  2. Accept that there are two views: one of the garden, and one of the landscape and sea beyond.  I only really stand at the window to look down at the garden.  It is not a spot that I am normally at for other purposes.  I don’t think the view-from-the-window rule has to apply if you actually have to go out of your way to look at your garden.  The long distance view, however (one that is both beautiful and very much out of my control in terms of its cultivation), I glance at many times throughout the day.  It’s what I see when I open the curtains in the morning and it is what immediately catches my eye as I walk past the bedroom when the door is open.  I love this view and it’s a big reason why we were attracted to this home in the first place.
  3. Use a strong layout by planting in drifts.  Another design rule that fits very well with the design for the view from your home rule, is plant in drifts or groups and avoid planting one-off plants (unless the plant is large and creates a kind of drift of  its own).  A whole garden of one-off plants can be confusing to look at, and can make the garden seem smaller or like chaos bound by a property line.  Planting in drifts, on the other hand, will gently guide the eye around the garden and draw attention to its features.  Sometimes you do want to plant one-offs to appreciate that singular plant, but when you think about the garden as a whole, planting in drifts (and repeating drifts) will pull it all together and enhance the one-off plants.  There are many ways to do this, many styles to draw on, and of course a bajillion kinds of plants you can use, so this not a rule that will leave you with a garden that looks like all the others that follow this rule too.
  4. Use some vertical elements.  This one is especially appropriate for a garden viewed from above but can work for all kinds of views.  Stong vertical elements (think trees, topiaries, arches, screens, hedges) can all prevent the eye from glancing over the top of the garden and down to the next thing (in my case, the drying green just beyond our garden, the telephone pole in the picture above, or the sea beyond that).  It is almost like a full-stop that gives the eye a chance to rest before going on to look further.  In my case, we will wait for the trees to grow a little more (although they are both on very dwarfing root stocks) and put in an arch with climbing roses over the path where the brown screen is.
  5. Use paths and unplanted areas strategically.  You can see in the above picture that we did NOT do this (although, all is not lost!  Keep reading…).  This is indeed the view from our bedroom window.  You will see that we have a marvellous direct view of a rather uninteresting gravel path.  A sightline like this should be exploited.  It would probably have been better to have planted a tree or a big patch of something gorgeous on this axis.  In future, we may adjust the path, or remove it altogether, but in the meantime, Idea 1 applies–be patient and wait for the garden to grow up.  The edges of the path will become less defined as plants grow, and in the raised bed at the end of the path we will eventually plant vegetables that will become a feature highlighted by the path.

Do you have any other ideas to add to the mix?  I’d love to hear them.  The next two challenges, which I will post over the next few weeks, are not design challenges like this one, but are also fundamental to my garden-growing process.

Three things: my garden, feminism+knitting, and ladybirds

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The only corner of my garden that feels cohesive and thriving right now.  I am very happy with it!  You can see in this picture: three kinds of kale, nasturtium, carex, yarrow, and a few astrantia leaves.  Ooh–and I’ve just noticed some sneaky broad beans hiding in there too!

Have just listened to this great interview with Debbie Stoller on knitting and feminism. …if we went to a family function and I was wearing a dress my mom had made herself, they would say, “oh, that’s such a great dress.  Can you make one for my daughter, too?”  And I would get so insulted on behalf of my mother.  Like, don’t these people realise that took maybe two or three weeks of evenings working to make that dress.  That’s not something you ask someone “make me one of those, too”.  It showed how little value and understanding there was in these kinds of skills that women had developed over centuries.  (Quote comes at 17.19 min mark)

This poem is waking me up out of myself today…

Challenge 1: The view of my back garden is weird (Part I)

thumb_IMG_6428_1024After living in our flat for just over a year now, I have become aware of the three main challenges of our garden… I am sure others will raise their heads in the future, but right now, these are the things I am trying to come to terms with.  The first challenge is that THE VIEW OF MY BACK GARDEN IS WEIRD.  This challenge is primarily a design challenge, while the other two (in future posts) are not.

A rule I have heard repeatedly from the amazing Margaret Roach on garden design is to design your garden for the view from your home.   It is always a good idea to look out your window at the garden and make sure it looks beautiful and makes sense from that particular perspective.  I spend a lot of time washing dishes in front of the kitchen window, for example, so I would like as beautiful a view as I can get from this spot (as well as a view of my four-year-old, safe, digging in the dirt).  Of course, it needs to feel good when you are actually out there, but this rule-of-thumb serves to remind us not to put the garden shed right in front of our living room window, or plant a spectacular flowering tree that attracts all kinds of observable birds in a place where we can only see it when we’re crouched beside the dog kennel with a strategically-placed mirror (just an example–we don’t have a dog… or a spectacular tree… yet).

This is all fine for my front garden, which almost feels like another room that we can look out on to.  The kitchen window has one view of this garden.  The other window is a large one in our living room, and at any time of day or year I like to perch on the wooden bench we have beneath it with a cup of tea.  In spite of the size of the window and its proximity to the busy road, the garden, tightly bound by a 5′ hedge, allows me to feel tucked away in my own sanctuary.  The view is not so much a composed one, but rather one that allows little glimpses of whatever is of interest at that time of day or year.

However, our rear garden is a different story.  While we are only 18″ above the front garden’s ground level, the rear garden is about 7′ below the flat’s floor level (so almost 13′ below my eye-level).  As is most often the case with these kinds of four-in-a-block flats, our garden is separated from our upstairs neighbour’s by a shared drying green.  Theirs is at the end of the section and ours is closest to the flat.

And therein lies the problem.  We need to be right at our bedroom window to see our garden below.  I am not complaining about the view beyond that (pictured above), however–over trees and houses and on down to the sea–it’s just that just that I would like to be able to look at my garden and not feel like I am looking down at a plan of my garden.  What should look like drifts of grasses and flowers look more like blobs and circles, and I can see exactly where they are planted–there are no layers revealing and concealing.  Simply, there’s no mystery from the perspective of our bedroom.  I imagine this is what it is like to be a very tall person looking down on the parts and pins in people’s hairdos.  You can see how it is done, but don’t get to appreciate the intended effect.  And here we are back to the “rule”–isn’t the intended effect to create a beautiful view to see from the window?

Have you got any ideas for how to work with this issue?  Let me know!  Meanwhile, I have a few solutions that I have come up and I will outline them in next Sunday’s post.

Three things: move, drink, and breathe

Move Your DNA has been one of my favourite books of last couple of years.  One concept from it that I like to remember when I am internally complaining about having to haul water from the front garden to the back and wishing we had a tap more conveniently located is this:  We are used to thinking about conveniences in terms of time-saving, but they are really movement-saving.  They are things that make it so that you don’t have to move.  (From this interview with Katy Bowman.  Quote comes at 19.55min mark).

Still fighting a persistant strep throat infection, so I’ve been eating (actually, drinking) a lot of soft foods.  I never want to see ice-cream again!  This pumpkin soup made with a red kabocha+a butternut squash has been perfect.

A breathy and breath-taking poem: A Small Needful Fact.