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. Sooo… 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.
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.
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.Till next time, Sue
© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.
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