Looking at the garden from up, down and all around
August 6, 2005
A multidimensional garden is more complex and engaging than one viewed from one direction. Right now, I am constantly peering over the banister of my deck to admire part of the border below. That is one dimension. Regarding the same spot at ground level from the front door is another dimension. The border is separated from the house by wide brick paving and from the street by a steep slope. It can’t be seen from the street at all, but the view from the paving where we eat lunch al fresco introduces a third dimension.A month ago my little vignette looked quite different. In front of my three big boulders, the spikes of speedwell Veronica “Crater Lake Blue” were still showing a bit of azure blue while the silver tips of the lavender wands were just beginning to color purple and a day lily was blooming pale orange. Perennial sweet pea Lathyrus latifolius showered them with a profusion of pretty lavender pink flowers. To one side a serviceberry displayed still unripe berries and to the other tall yarrow was just forming its flat rounded flower clusters.That was then. Now the pea vine has been ripped out, the purple is already being leached out of the English lavender as the seed heads develop and the Veronicas, sheared after blooming, sport second-growth leaves.The seed-grown yarrow, Achillea filipendulina, is in full bloom, a standout in brilliant yellow, and the serviceberries are ripe. The ornamental grass Helictotrichon sempervirens has taken center stage. Try it: hell-lick-toe-try-con. It is called blue avena or blue oat grass. My favorite grass is what I call it, and it is blue all right, a singular shade of icy blue.This grass is amazing! The stiff, narrow leaves and thin flower stems, twice as high, fan out from the center to the ground in perfect symmetry. While the leaves have stayed blue, the flowers have bleached to a fine wheat color. Not a flashy plant but neither is it a flash in the pan; it is an elegant star wherever I have seen it. I swear it never has any downtime, behaving like an evergreen instead of a perennial.One spring I cut this grass to its base, but usually I just use my fingers to comb out old leaves to make room for new ones. For me it flowers in early summer but its entire yearlong cycle proceeds so gradually I never notice exactly when. It doesn’t so much regenerate, like lavender, as it perks up, the way sagebrush does, the color of all its parts intensifying. How does this happen? Is it just an illusion? Whatever the reason, it always provokes an “it’s spring!” excitement. Such a paragon should at least be a deer magnet, but so far it has been let alone.The lavender echoes the linear lines and cool color of the grass but in denser, more solid form. The rocks look flat and massive, bracketed by the mass of coarse bright yarrow and the mature serviceberry bush, anchoring the mounds of airy grass and their lavender skirts. They all look beautifully balanced. When I move my head, the garden looks huge, expanding in all directions.From the vantage point of the front door, however, the boulders seem smaller and rounder, the yarrow less massive. The grass is still the center of attention but less dramatic and numerous small flowers appear. Foot-high garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, with pure white flowers on thin, firm straws stand upright next to the red-purple cones of drumstick alliums, Allium sphaeracephalum, flopping on even thinner but weaker hollow stems. Nepeta x faassenii, catmint, has recovered from its severe post-bloom haircut to form a loose green border spilling onto the bricks, softening the edge. A pot set unobtrusively into the border holds various herbs. The deck posts with lusty vines growing up them and summering houseplants hanging from the eves like a fringe make a leafy frame.From my seat at the patio table, the views I like so much look drastically different. All the elements remain: rocks, yarrow, grass, yet they seem to have melted into the rest of the border. Without adding or subtracting a single blossom, the frame has become the picture. When I contemplate how different the same group of plants looks from different vantage points, I understand the effort it takes for the gardener to create and manipulate a complex, dynamic scene. What fascinates me is how infinitely variable a garden in multiple dimensions is. I will never run out of challenges. I will never stop running up and down the stairs to check how the new plant fits in and if it would look better moved forward slightly or to the left just a hair.Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie. She’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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