Designing with Focus

There are a few rules of design that should be obeyed. Plant in threes and incorporate earth, man and sky height variations into garden vignettes are two pretty basic rules. I am sure you can send me dozens of photos of gardens that have broken these rules and still manage to look presentable. Generally speaking though, it behooves us to follow the rules.

The third rule is perhaps the easiest rule to follow. When focusing on design, create a focus in your garden.

Our eyes and our mind need a place to settle, to focus on, when viewing a garden. We take in the entire gardenscape and then search for a place to rest our view. Once we find that spot we look at how the garden relates to that focal point. It matters not if the garden is a small bed along a garage or a sweeping lawn that ends in a thick stand of trees. A garden landscape is visually and emotionally more appealing when we have focal points.
The alley along the great lawn at the Indy Museum of Art is planted as a woodland garden. I love this blending of formal and natural planting and design. Stone and grass paths direct us through the woodland garden as this statue creates a year-round focal point, an additional reason to venture into the space and a touch of formality in the woodland garden.

Let’s look at the gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for examples. Focus in the garden came be man made such as statues, benches, arbors or even a strategically placed large rock. OK-the rock is nature made, but man placed.

This statue is placed within a large grass opening surrounded by mature trees and paths that take visitors into the woodland gardens. The subject matter of the statue draws us in. We want to see this young boy's face and know what has him drawn so deeply into thought.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have fabulous focal points compliments of mother nature. A majestic evergreen, a rock outcropping, a valley view that leads the eye to a pond or for the really lucky a mountain or desert view fit for a postcard. Oh to be one of the lucky ones!  It goes without saying that if you have nature provided focal points, you should work with the gift, not against it. Gardens should lead the eye to the focal point and plants should enhance not compete or distract from the natural focal point.
The grounds at the museum include generous lawn spaces. These space are in proportion, balance, to the stands of mature trees. They allow viewers to stand at a distance that is ideal for taking in such a view. The statue defines the center of the open lawn scape, helping us define the space as well as draw us in. Finally, a bench reassures us that the lawn is to be explored. I like how the garden visitor becomes part of the garden scape when sitting on the bench- garden and viewer are one. 

A quiet spot given a bit of privacy by the graceful spruce.

At the far end of the expansive lawn is a reflecting pool and matching planters. Imagine how wonderful it would feel to stroll across this lawn early in the morning, dew still thick on the grass or, after a dinner party, arm-in-arm with a fellow guest to share a little private conversation. The reflecting pool mirrors the trees and blues skies- enveloping you in setting where nature and garden are in harmony.

These maidens look out across the lawn to the home.  


A Texas Treasure

“I garden on a rocky hillside in Central Texas. There are many challenges but then, with years of travel and multiple gardens under my belt, I have learnt that every garden has its challenges,” writes Jenny, author of the gardening blog Rock Rose and our newest Best Gardening Blogs 2011 winner.

Jenny’s photos of her garden are inspiring. She draws us into the details of the garden such as the placement of pots, small flowers that require us to look closely to appreciate their beauty and how pretty water on pavers can look.


Aullwood Gardens and Park

Recently I joined a few fellow hikers on a trip to Dayton for an easy stroll about the gardens and trails around Aullwood Gardens. Usually our hikes are quite challenging, but this destination fit me just fine. I visited Aullwood last summer and was eager to see the grounds in the spring.

I was not disappointed. Some of the pictures are from areas protected by a fence and others are just along the park's trail system. The planting in Aullwood Gardens has spread to the surrounding area, offering a bit more to view than lesser celandine and honeysuckle.

There were a few places I would have liked to have gotten a better picture of a plant but I will not break trail, especially in the spring when wild flowers are emerging.

To my dismay, my practice of staying on the trail is not held by all. I was disappointed to see some hikers take a few steps off the trail and stand in the flowers while we took a break. Needless to say, I voiced my objections a few times.

I typically do not vent or soap box in my blogs, so please excuse this departure from the norm.

We have trails to minimize our impact on the woods. It is beyond my comprehension how an adult can see stands of wildflowers and decide that it is perfectly fine for them to break trail to get a photo. I am very disappointed that adults, when presented with a do not enter sign within a garden, breeze past it in complete indifference.

By the grace of private foundations, parks and other organizations, we have the privileged, not the right, to enter gardens and other habitats.

I expressed my displeasure. Scolding adults is not what I consider enjoyable.
As you can see, the gardens and surrounding trails offered ample opportunities to see wildflowers up close without having to wander off the path.

If I was alone or with my friend, I would have enjoyed a short rest on this bench. The show of flowers blooming this day was simply wonderful. It seems like no matter how many pictures I take, no matter how slowly I walk through a garden and try to soak it all in; the memory gets a bit hazy. Spring is so fleeting. I wish there was a way to capture the feeling I get when standing in a spring garden in bloom and carry it with me for a few days or weeks.

Aullwood Gardens
Their page on the Dayton Metro parks web site describes the garden beautifully.

Feast your eyes on a spectacular display of winter aconite, bulbs and bluebells on our hillsides. Some people wait all Spring for this sight! Tens of thousands of mertensia cover the hillsides in April. They are accompanied with a profusion of blue-eyed Mary's. Hepaticas, drifts of trillium, Dutchmen's britches, shooting stars, and violets are throughout the woods. Peak springtime bloom is mid-April. In May the lilacs are at their best, flowering shortly after the Korean spice Viburnum (wonderfully fragrant!) End of May the peonies flower. A carpet of pansies throughout April and May becomes a rose garden in June; nearby, a huge old climbing hydrangea finds it’s way up the side of the Aull house. Woodland trails are open for hiking, and returning birds abound in the woods, woods edge, stream-side and prairie habitats. Spring provides excellent chance to catch many migrants on their journey through the area, including the rarely seen Golden-winged, Connecticut, and Mourning Warblers.

If that doesn’t get you a bit giddy to get to the garden I do not know what would!


Garden How To with Kathy Cropp

Kathy Cropp, a talented, well respected radio show host asked me to join her on one of her podcasts for Horticulture magazine.

I was a bit nervous at first, but my worries were for not. Kathy, a true pro, is a lot of fun to talk with. Right off the bat I felt like I was chatting with an old friend.

We talked about gardening when you have no land, and we discussed all the wonderful opportunities there are for gardeners if you open your mind and let others know you have a trowel and will travel.

At the end of our time together we talked about focusing on what you have, not what you don’t have, such as a flat yard, more sun, or heck, a yard at all! You never know what exciting things are waiting for you if you focus on what is great in your life.

I do not have a yard. Yet I get to write about gardening all the time and last week, I made a new garden friend in Kathy.  Click here to hear the podcast.


Galloping Along on a Garden Adventure

As Patty, our fearless leader, was jet setting and rubbing elbows with the garden elite in San Francisco, I was pouring over guide books, busily compiling my bucket list for this year’s garden treks. It should come as no surprise then that our new Best Gardening Blogs 2011 winner is a garden trekker herself.  Charlotte, the author of The Galloping Gardener, takes her readers to some of the most wonderful gardens England, India and North American have to offer.  Read more!