ANOTHER GARDENING BLOG…….seriously?

Yes indeed…..another gardening blog. Bear with me though, as I present a designer’s perspective of what is for some, a minor hobby, and for others an obsession so grand they forget to eat, bathe or feed their children……. the garden.

My intention had been to start blogging on Jan 1st – New Year, new endeavour. But honestly, I just couldn’t get excited about garden writing when the darkest days of winter were still upon us, regardless of the above average temperatures we’d been experiencing. Then when winter truly hit and we plunged into the deep freeze, so did any ambition to write about all things spring and summer.

Temperatures have since moderated – in fact the days are again unseasonably warm and the promise of spring is actually believable. There are still weeks of winter ahead of us though – Balzac Billy saw his shadow. So…. what better to write about than the garden in winter?

Many gardeners don’t see winter as a ‘gardening season’ and I guess, considering nothing is growing at this time of year, we don’t really garden. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, design our gardens with winter in mind. In fact as a designer, when I‘m choosing plant material for a landscape plan, I always start with winter appeal – evergreen plant material, trees /shrubs with colourful bark or berries, plants with strong form or interesting texture. All these things allow us to extend the beauty of our garden-scapes beyond the growing season to fill much of the rest of the year.

These first blog posts then will address how we might plan our gardens for winter interest.

Focal Points in the Winter Garden

A Focal Point refers to an element in the garden that is constant, unchanging. This means it is a ‘hard’ feature, i.e. non-living. A non-living element doesn’t grow, or change colour, or lose its leaves. It simply remains the same – drawing the eye and giving it a place to rest, throughout the seasons. Never is the importance of focal points more evident though, than during the dreary winter months when there is often little else to capture our attention. A well placed bird bath or piece of sculpture in the dead of winter can be as lovely as any summer garden scene, albeit more subtle. The presence of a focal point reminds us that the garden is still here, still beautiful in its simplified form.

But just plopping the aforementioned feature anywhere in the yard will not necessarily create the postcard winterscape we’re after – a focal point is most effective when properly staged. Too often I see a unique garden element with no visual support – stuck out in the middle of the lawn or a part of the garden that is completely barren from fall through spring. Of course everything is picture pretty when covered in snow, but in the austerity of a snowless landscape (as is often the case in Calgary), more artful planning is required. Plant material that maintains a presence throughout the year will provide an effective prop for your garden ornament. This means using woody plant material (trees and shrubs), ideally some of it evergreen, in the vicinity of or surrounding your focal point.

I drove by this garden recently while taking an alternate route home - this charming lady presents an elegant focal point and would be equally lovely even in the absence of snow. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I drove by this garden recently while taking an alternate route home – this charming lady presents an elegant focal point and would be equally lovely even in the absence of snow. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A single boulder, ideally with a unique shape and textural interest, can serve as a focal point. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A single boulder, ideally with a unique shape and textural interest, can serve as a focal point.
Photo: Pat Gaviller

Containers are a valuable addition to the winter landscape - the container itself serves as the focal point and also allows for the use of seasonal arrangements, as this homeowner has created. In this example the rocks play a supporting role rather than focal. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Containers are a valuable addition to the winter landscape – the container itself serves as the focal point and also allows for the use of seasonal arrangements, as this homeowner has created. In this example the rocks play a supporting role rather than focal. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This wintry scene as viewed from my back window illustrates how a focal point can be so well merged with its setting that it appears to have ‘grown there all by itself’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

This wintry scene as viewed from my back window illustrates how a focal point can be so well merged with its setting that it appears to have ‘grown there all by itself’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Another photo taken by my sister on one of our walks - not sure if the colour of the gazing ball was purposefully chosen to echo the golden inflorescence of the reed grasses in the background, but the result is quite effective. Photo: Pat Gaviller

Another photo taken by my sister on one of our walks – not sure if the colour of the gazing ball was
purposefully chosen to echo the golden inflorescence of the reed grasses in the background, but the result is quite effective. Photo: Pat Gaviller

A focal point, in any season, can pull together an otherwise nondescript scene. This gazing ball is surrounded by woody and evergreen plant material surround, so will have the same effect in winter as well. Photo: Sue Gaviller

A focal point, in any season, can pull together an otherwise nondescript scene. This gazing ball is surrounded by woody and evergreen plant material, so will have the same effect in winter as during the growing season. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Bear in mind that your focal point needs to be level. If your bird bath is leaning, get out your level and straighten it, otherwise it just looks sloppy.

And don’t be tempted to overuse focal points – this is probably the most common mistake gardeners make with garden decor. Too many of these in close proximity will create competition for the viewer’s attention, hence visual unrest. So how many is too many? Unfortunately there is no formula for this – it depends on the particular focal point, the overall landscape design and the size of the area.  Generally speaking though, for an average size front yard, one bold focal point can deliver sufficient visual ‘punch’ – there will be other ‘soft’ (i.e. living) features drawing the eye as well. I’ll discuss these in my next post.

Consider too that there are superfluous elements in the garden that may inadvertently serve as focal points, e.g. a couple of my personal pet peeves – bright blue security system signs and outdoor lighting fixtures.  I don’t mean elegant post lamps or subtly placed spot lights – rather I’m referring to the cheesy sets of lights gardeners poke haphazardly into the ground, forgetting that the purpose of garden lighting is to draw attention to the lovely light that is cast, not the fixture that is casting the light. But more on garden lighting another time. As for security system signs, I appreciate that they serve an important purpose and hence need to be visible, but to me they are beyond visible, they are visually distracting– just keep this in mind when placing them.

I often pass by this well done landscape on my neighbourhood walks – though it’s especially attractive at this time of year, I doubt the homeowners intended for the light fixtures to be the focal point in this composition, especially since one is noticeably lopsided. Photo: Sue Gaviller

I often pass by this well done landscape on my neighbourhood walks – though it’s especially attractive at this time of year, I doubt the homeowners intended for the light fixtures to be the focal point in this composition, especially since one is noticeably lopsided. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Well, so ends my inaugural blog post. I realized when writing this that I ought to practice what I preach – the bird bath in my front yard could use some evergreen plantings around it. That will be my first purchase come spring – ah yes, spring………….so close, yet so far.

Til next time,
Sue

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

32 comments on “ANOTHER GARDENING BLOG…….seriously?

  1. Ronald says:

    Nice work!! Looks Great!

  2. Jeanne Ross says:

    This is exciting! I don’t have time to read it right now but can hardly wait! Thanks Sue, Jeanne

  3. Susanna Walsh says:

    Hello Sue,

    Glad you decided to write a garden blog finally. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to future blogs. Have a great 2012 garden season!

    Cheers,

    Susanna Walsh

  4. jane says:

    Hi Sue,
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts about focal points.
    Looking forward to reading more…

    Thanks :)

  5. Welcome to the blogosphere, Sue! I really look forward to reading your posts. FYI, I hope to be putting in the front patio you designed for me this summer.
    … And I promise to go level my birdbaths as soon as the ground thaws!
    Cheers,
    Janice

  6. Carol Ann Beedling says:

    Good Morning Sue
    What a lovely surprise to hear from you especially in a garden blog form.
    I’m in Palm Springs for the winter but will be home in April to start my seasonal work at McInnis and Holloway.
    I usually have one or two designs a year to do from word of mouth. I paint, so in all the variety is perfect for me. Thinking of changing my English garden to a more contemporary look with less upkeep. Add a grandchild and priorities change.
    I will look forward to your blog updates.
    Carol Ann

  7. Chris Koper says:

    Hello Sue, great to see your blog. I will pass it on. the pictures look great too! I will have to take phase three with you at sometime. I am currently chairing a Green Committee at WHCA (West Hillhurst Communittee Association to build Sustainable Garden beds this spring. I have looked at many community gardens and although they look great in the summer with all the plants, they can be somwhat generic in the winter. So I designed something with a nice sitting area for the gardeners to sit and reflect over coffee on a nice day and for the communittee to congregate. We didn’t want just a bare bunch of beds that looked like coffins (as someone I answer to said!) I would love to get the word out there that if anyone would like to be part of the build to join us! Also the WHCA Warbler (communittee news) has a garden article in it every month! Love to see you again. Ann is on my Committee too!

    • Hi Chris,

      It would be great to have you in my Level 3 Design class next January.
      I drive by the WHCA often – I think the design you did for the front of the building turned out very well. Nice work!
      As for your comments on community gardens etc. – I’m with you there. When I designed the Culinary Gardens for SAIT it was with that same thought in mind – what is this going to look like when not brimming with veggies, herbs and all manner of greens? The brick patio, bordered pathways, wooden structures and even the adobe style wood-fired oven, all provide something attractive to look at during the winter, as will the fruit bearing shrubs and perennial herbs (once they grow up a bit). I had originally designed a sequenced planting of Skyrocket junipers, dwarf currants and daylilies along the outside of the fence bordering the garden, but they opted not to plant these – too bad, it would have looked elegant during the growing season and provided some much needed colour and structure at this time of year.
      Anyways, thanks for reading!

      Sue

  8. Diana Lane says:

    I so agree with your your two pet peeves of lighting and security signs! I have moved our security sign to the side of the house and so far have not jumped into lighting until I find something that is aesthetically pleasing. Love the pictures!! That KF grass and gazing ball are beautiful!

    • Thanks Diana,

      Moving the security sign to the side of the house was great idea – still visible but not front and centre. Glad you like the photos. I’ve discovered finding good pics is a real challenge – for every 100 I take, I’m lucky to be happy with one or two of them! I’ve gained a huge respect for garden photographers!

      Sue

  9. Treva Usher says:

    Well Done! You really are a very good writer. I enjoyed reading this and can’t wait to hear more of your opinions supported by great photos.

    • Hi Treva,

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I’ll be including some photos of designs I’ve done that you and your team of ‘gorgeous guys’ installed – I’ll be sure to let everyone know whose fine workmanship it is. Looking forward to the coming season and working together again.

      Sue

  10. Evie says:

    Bravo Sue! An outstanding start to what looks to be a fascinating blog (even for no-talent gardeners like me). The images perfectly illustrate your words. You tone is inviting and warm. I intend to let everyone I know about it, especially the gardeners among them. I am so proud of you!!! Even better – it’s going to become a family affair!!!

  11. Ralph says:

    Thank you for starting your blog, this is one I will look forward to following. Well written and photos round out the discussion beautifully.
    Maybe an idea for Landscape Level IV will come out of this!?

  12. Corinne Hannah says:

    Wonderful beginning to this new venture. I look forward to following your musings – always thoughtful and inspiring.
    Corinne

  13. Cathy says:

    Hey Sue

    Well done! Although if every post is as thoughtful, creative, insightful, well written and inspired as your first, how will you ever find the time to do anything else? Good thing your children can feed themselves ; o )

    Seriously – it looks great and was a pleasure to read…look forward to the next one

    C

  14. Judy Madge says:

    Hey Sue, great work. It’s work (and pictures) like this that keeps us going through the dark days, doesn’t it?

    Cheers,
    -j-

  15. Bonnie Rogers says:

    Sue,

    The blog is fantastic, I will be a follower. I am currently reading The Prairie Winterscape by Barbara Kam and Nora Bryan. This is a great book for designers. I will be making some changes to my views from my house to yard.

    Bonnie Rogers

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for reading – glad you enjoyed it! Winter interest in the prairie garden is a unique challenge – but then I guess everything in the prairie garden is a challenge isn’t it? Stay tuned.

      Sue

  16. Susanna Walsh says:

    Hello Sue,

    Great blog once again, pictures are fantastic. Happy Spring to you and your bloggers!

    Susanna Walsh

    • Thanks Susanna,

      Happy Spring to you too!
      It’s so nice to have moisture falling in the form of rain now instead of snow. Spring indeed!
      Thanks again for reading the blog – I wish I had more time so I could post more often.

      Sue

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