Anna Naeser: Anna’s garden
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Several weeks ago, looking over the railing of my deck at the garden bed below, I had a very special garden moment. While admiring my pair of bridal wreath spiraeas, their cascading branches clustered with snowy blossoms, my brain seemed to be riffling through its archives. It pulled up an image filed away in its depths years ago and lined it up with the actual scene before me. A perfect match! Yet the image I unearthed was an illusion, a fantasy, only a hope.
Layers of terracing go up and down the hill on the west side of my house. At the bottom is part of a dry-laid stone retaining wall that was here before we were and inspired our terraces. The next two walls are timber, strong and serviceable, but to my eye rather homely and blank when seen from the street and I wanted to decorate and soften them.
About 10 years ago, I stuck two cell-pack sized Spiraea x vanhouttei bushes, purchased for the princely sum of $9, into the stony clay fill of the third level. To me this shrub always looks airy even when massive, so I envisioned a delicate leafiness and “bridal wreath” flowers arching over the wall and contrasting with the solid denseness of the railroad ties. To veil the wall further, I planted several vines, and to fill in while the puny things filled out I put in bulbs and perennials, mostly scavenged from the rest of the garden.
Something happens over time. This may be especially true when the soil has not been “improved.” For years, plants appear to grow agonizingly slowly. I wonder if I should dig them up and try something else. Then, more often than not, what began as a leisurely stroll reaches a tipping point and seemingly overnight, morphs into a sprint.
Already the spiraeas, not yet fully grown, are fending off an explosion of the exuberant silver-lace vine, Fallopia baldschuanica, whose grasping, coiling shoots would bring them down in no time if I relaxed my vigilance. The filler plants have covered the ground as thickly as mulch. Gentle valerian, Valeriana officinalis, such pretty camouflage for dying spring bulb leaves, is staging a takeover, even challenging the silver lace vine. Regular weeds don’t even try to compete. Tree and shrub seedling “weeds” have popped up in one corner though ” chokecherries, unidentified evergreens, and a cotoneaster species much used in this valley for hedges.
It’s a terrific garden bed. Glimpses of it can be had from various vantage points: from the deck, from the steps to the vegetable garden, from my attic office window, even from the lawn at the base of the wall. The one place from which it can’t be seen is the place I meant it to be seen from!
What I didn’t plan for was the changes around it. Below the spiraeas and billowing vines, our token square of lawn, once an open space in full sun is now a green walled room, cool for dogs and little kids in the heat of the day. The blue spruce, chokecherries, and box elders that shade it are growing below the lawn and above the original stone wall and are not tall enough to shade the spiraea bed ” yet. The blue spruce, from a gallon pot, though somewhat narrowed and elongated in its reach for the sun has developed much better and faster than I anticipated. I didn’t expect the upright, stiff, and symmetrical spruce to combine so beautifully with the unruly shrubby habit and linear leaves of the chokecherries and the multiple trunks of the box elders with skirts of suckers bearing oversize maple leaves. I never expected my neighbors to extend the planting of Genista lydia I have along the top of my section of stone wall below the spruce tree, to their section, so that instead of a nice splash of yellow, there is an eye-catching garland. (It’s blooming right now, by the way.)
You plan, you plant, you tend, and you watch. For years, what you see is composed of part reality and part dream. If fantasy and reality merge, it is as if you are seeing the garden for the first time. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your plans don’t work out at all; oftentimes you end up with something better than you ever dreamed. For now I’m letting the self-sown trees and shrubs grow; I may need them as the spiraea bed and the garden around it continues to change.