by Nellie Neal
Gardeners often face a challenge
when they move into an established landscape. One finds a huge thicket
right in the middle of the lawn. Another sees a collapsing wall, another a
beautiful shrub that blooms where no one can see it. In these gardens, an
apparent barrier to enjoyment can be transformed into a hidden treasure.
While the first instinct may be to
clear away such seeming impediments, surprise yourself by using them to
enhance the landscape. Locate a bench behind that thicket, and wind a path
to it. Sit down, look out behind the thicket, and install a flowerbed to
be seen only from the new vantage point. You’ve created a garden
destination, a place of hidden refuge both you and your garden visitors
will seek out.
Repairing broken garden walls can be
expensive, and even if you just tear it out, there’s all that rubble to
deal with. But you can lead eyes and feet to find out what’s hidden
there. Add an urn to the broken area with a vine spilling everywhere, and
plant a clumping groundcover in front of it for camouflage. Now only
pieces of wall will be visible, becoming a border with planted surprises
instead of an eyesore. If there’s room for it, add a row of flowering
trees behind that wall to lift the eye. When the wall ends abruptly, or if
you find an ample pile of broken pieces out there, stack up a grotto to
shelter a small piece of art just out of view.
Good advice to anyone taking over an
existing garden: take your time. It’s likely you don’t know everything
that’s planted, so wait to see what will emerge. Each season may well
bring surprises like bulbs or a creeping perennial lost in the mulch.
Often it’s a dreary bed behind the garage where a lone shrub blooms
boldly. Maybe the previous gardener dug up everything else in the bed,
built a structure that shaded everything else, or perhaps time has taken
its toll on the other plants.
Think seriously before moving that
beauty to a more prominent spot. The longer it’s been there, the harder
it will be to move it successfully. Plan instead to feature its bold color
by adding plants that will bloom in similar colors in opposite seasons.
Signposts, pieces of art, and garden
plaques can work as surprises, too, and add their own sense of whimsy.
Where that path seems to lead nowhere, point a sign that says, ‘Road to
Rio’ or ‘Turn Back Now’. A group of deciduous shrubs may look quite
bland in winter, but a gnome or a gargoyle nestled beneath them will be
revealed only when the leaves fall. Add a sweet sentiment, or a naughty
one, with a garden plaque hidden in a deciduous tree or in that grotto.
You’ll smile every time you see it.
But if you’ve just begun a garden
on a new homesite, plan for surprises. As you design that new landscape,
create a corner to turn, or a path that goes somewhere unexpected. Add a
bench, a sculpture, or a stunning plant, and your garden will soon have
working with a landscape architect or garden designer, let the
professional know of your desire to include surprises in the plan. In a
standard sized backyard, a large mounded garden bed will provide plenty of
planting space and a nook behind it. Let your imagination run wild to make
the most of that spot. Anything from a table and chairs to a gazebo can
welcome you; add a bit of fence or a circle of shrubs, and you’ll want
to live in the new garden room. Even
a narrow garden, or the shady passages between houses, can hold surprises
for those who stroll through. Hang banners or plaques to obscure the view
straight through the space; change them with the seasons if there’s not
enough sun for flowering plants to add color. Plant shrubs across the gap
with a gate to one side for three impacts in one: the plants will be
handsome and the gate offers beautiful access that leads you to the scene.
The garden rooms on each side of the hedge offer new planting
opportunities and that’s perhaps the best surprise for any gardener.