Garden planning: Make a mockup

The house addition inches onward. Now that the sheathing is on and the windows are installed, I am able to grasp how this developing garden room may relate to the house. I can clearly watch patterns of light and shade, and notice where water collects and what stays dry (of course, that will change a bit when the gutters are installed).

The new addition with windows installed and wall and roof sheathing.

The new addition with windows and wall and roof sheathing installed.

As much as I love to rearrange my plant furniture, I recognize that if I am to  embrace my goal of producing more of my family’s food, and particularly fruit, I had better devise a plan and stick with it. Fruiting trees and shrubs do not appreciate being moved, nor do I appreciate a lack of production from them.

For once in a rare time, the plants and I are in agreement.

I like to sketch a bit, but I’m not terribly talented at it. I do love a good mockup, though. In the past this has tended towards my scrounging bits of  junk, like fallen tree limbs, lumber scraps, and overturned buckets, and placing such objects around the garden to simulate borders, edges, and large shrubs and perennials. Then I live with it for a while. But it is an uneasy existence, as I have to explain to visitors and neighbors that really, I don’t mean to live in an untidy dump. There’s a purpose to it. I’m visioning.

There is, however, a better way.

Making a Garden Mockup

Exploring the attic recently, I found a long, narrow piece of plywood. Dragging it down the rickety attic stairs (not advisable), I dug out a copy of our plat map, a calculator, and a tape measure.

A quick cut or two with the circular saw and I have a board whose proportions mimic our lot by a ratio of 1″: 3.75′. Time for nerdy arts and crafts!

mock up of west-facing view of house and garden

I raided the recycling bin and the kids’ craft supplies, commandeering some cardboard boxes, a bag of drinking straws, duct tape, toothpicks, paper bowls, paper towel rolls, and modeling clay.

First I assembled the house, measuring to scale, cutting out the cardboard, and duct-taping it together. The real roof has a relatively shallow slope, and the corresponding cardboard roof doesn’t sit well on the walls of the house, but as the cardboard house doesn’t have to pass any safety inspections, we shall give it some grace.

Paper towel rolls (cut and slimmed down to approximate diameter scale) topped with upturned paper bowls represent, if you will, very tall oak trees. The bowls, when they stay on their trunks, provide reasonable representations of the shade cast by the trees.

A view over the proposed hedge

Time to play with the clay. The red snake at right represents a low brick wall, roughly 12 inches high. The bizarre drinking straw forms are Lonicera fragrantissima, or winter honeysuckle, which is an ungainly but gorgeously smelling evergreen shrub whose long, thin branches sprout from the base like a forsythia’s. Pipe cleaners would be a more appropriate craft material here, but alas, we are all out.

The three dark green pyramidal lumps in the foreground are proposed Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Northline,’ one of the fruits recommended by Lee Reich in his book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.  It’s probably a little hopeful to model them in dense pyramidal shapes; open blobs might be more accurate.

On the left (above), near the house, is Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk,’ which already lives on the property but needs transplanting. I put some gray rocks nearby, which would need to go in before any planting gets done. And the green smudge in the middle is my proposed Carex lawn.

view from the kitchen window

The proposed view from the kitchen window.

This design is the rough outline of one option, playing with my idea of a cloister garden. The space would also be filled with a mixture of vegetables and perennial and annual ornamentals, but modeling that level of detail requires both more clay and more leisure time than I have.

I welcome your ideas and comments.

Dreaming and scheming

The house addition progresses despite frequent rain. Thanks to an unusual dry week last week, the framing is up, and sheathing is on.

house addition framed and sheathed

And with the sheathing, I can finally get a fair sense of how light will fall in the emerging garden space. It gets good morning sun, but the space 6 feet out from the wall is deeply shaded from about 11:30 or so in the morning until about 3:30 in the afternoon. Then it gets harsh sun again. And of course, the light will be very different in the winter.

shade 6 feet deep against north wall

The new garden space measures 25 feet deep and 22 feet wide, almost precisely (that is to say, give or take 5/8 of an inch or so). I do love when that happens.

And so I am beginning to explore what I can do with this area. I would like it to give some sense of enclosure (still dreaming of my cloister), so some kind of screening towards the back is called for, though it does not have to be a solid evergreen wall, necessarily. I have five roses that are calling to be transplanted here (2 ‘Abraham Darby,’ 1 ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’ 1 ‘Sophy’s Rose,‘ and 1 ‘Generous Gardener’ climber). I also have a Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ that wants re-siting.

Although the left side of this space, opposite the large window, has a staggered planting of  three Lonicera fragrantissima which are mostly evergreen here, I am going to need additional evergreens. And I am craving more homegrown fruit. I’ve had my mitts on Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and am now trying to decide how to cram all these fascinating foodstuffs into 550 square feet.

I do want a bit of grass in this spot, although nothing I have to mow frequently. I am thinking of putting in a small Carex lawn, and planting it with crocuses and colchicums to give it a little kick. And I need to reserve space for lots of spring ephemerals, minor bulbs, and maybe a Melianthus or a Rodgersia. Gunnera, alas, can’t take the humidity here. Who can blame it?

What fun to plan! If you have any thoughts on how to gracefully cram in a medlar orchard, do let me know.

Seeking sanctuary: Ideas for a new garden space

Maybe it’s because I’ve been home with the kids all summer (only 3 weeks until school starts!), or because I have a giant project for a volunteer commitment for the next three weeks (good timing), or because it is hot outside, but I am seeking a little sanctuary.

In the few moments each day when something or someone is not making harsh demands on my attention, I try to think about what I want this new garden space to look like. The room addition is progressing; the block walls of the foundation are laid and the drainage work is done. Framing should begin this week (hurrah!). What I see forming is a kind of squarish courtyard, framed by the ell of the house and two large oaks at the edge of our deck.

Part of me wants a cloister garden in this space.

By Jjpetite (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Cloister at Fontenay Abbey, Marmagne, France by Jjpetite (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Typically, a cloister garden is formal in style; a quadrangle of calm framed by a sheltered but open walk.

Westminster Abbey cloister, By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Westminster Abbey cloister, By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This grandeur, clearly, is not part of the renovation plan. However, if we are willing to stretch the definition of cloister to a courtyard that can be viewed in part from all four sides, we may be able to develop this idea further. I can see this spot from the rooms in my house where I spend the most time, so I think I must insist on its being visually calming. The trick, though, is that I know I won’t devote the time to perform the fine maintenance that a formal garden requires to keep it looking top-flight, and I won’t set myself up to look at mess from all sides. That would rather defeat the purpose.

This section of the garden receives good sun from midday on; I am working on a list of plants that I may need to move into this spot.

How do you find sanctuary in the garden? I’d love to hear ideas.

A new project commences: The away room

There’s always something under development at the MHM home and garden. Sitting still is not part of my toolkit.

The weather has finally cooperated to the point that we can begin building our addition onto the back of the house. We’ve been close to starting the project for two months now.  I came back from the beach to find that the footings had been dug. Yesterday the materials for the foundation were delivered and today the foundation will be poured.

I love house projects second only to garden projects, but I’ll keep the focus on the garden (probably).

The renovation objectives

We (I) have been planning for this addition for a long time. Our architect developed the plans for this room when we remodeled our very inadequate kitchen three years ago. It’s not going to be an especially large room, but it will give us tremendous flexibility. Either it will serve as an occasional guest room and frequent “away room” (a concept developed, as far as I know, by architect Sarah Susanka, author of the “Not So Big House” series), or else it will be adopted by our oldest child for his room, and his current (very small) bedroom will instead become the guest/away room.  Last September saw the first flight of the Great Azalea Migration, when massive chunks of even more-massive shrubs, displaced from their home near the corner of the house, found refuge along the northern border fence of my garden. This May, the arborist team removed a post oak with an 18- to 20-inch diameter. And now, it is time for the real work to begin.

The renovation’s garden impact

I knew, having mapped out with fallen limbs and landscape timbers and garden hoses, that the footprint of the addition would change dramatically the way we move in and out of the garden, and the way we interact with all the connecting spaces within the garden. But it’s entirely different once big holes are dug and we are forced to begin finding our new pathways.

Finding our new pathways is also going to be slightly complicated for the foreseeable future, as our shed is presently sitting where I imagine the new garden entrance will logically be. (Another project.)

I’ve begun sketching ideas, making lists of plants to move or acquire, and trying to envision how to move through the new space. But most of this will not be able to get well resolved until the structure is finished (at least, externally). Only then will I be able to see whether the light will fall the way I think it will fall, or whether people will be determined to move from one area to another in a given path, regardless of whether that’s where I want the path.

So much to think about! I love a good project.

Building the white garden

Work continues slowly on my white garden. Proceeding backwards to how one should, I am adding in the structural plantings after having put in a handful of perennials. A few weeks ago I planted 3-quart pots of Camellia sasanqua ‘Northern Lights’ and C. japonica ‘Morning Glow.’ ‘Northern Lights’ has a ribbon of pink around the edge of the petals, while ‘Morning Glow’ is pure white.

The tricky thing with single-color gardens is that they can become quite static. One way of avoiding this is implementing lots of interesting textures and forms in the plant material, but when plants enter winter dormancy, it’s possible to lose this dimension. So incorporating small tinges of color can help the primary flower color pop. I’m hopeful this will happen with the pink fringe to the petals; from a distance, it probably won’t register at all.

Still looking for some additional evergreen structure. In my winter sowing experiment, I’m going to try Magnolia grandiflora (or what I think is Magnolia grandiflora). My mother found the plant, about 24″ high, growing in the woods on the edge of her property and transplanted it into her garden, where it’s effectively doubled in size every year for the past four years. I’ve got a handful of its seed pods and I shall see what happens. Assuming it works, in order to actually install one in the garden I’m going to have to remove an oak tree that gives me the shivers every time I see it; although I’ve been assured it’s healthy, I’m convinced that it’s going to drop a giant limb in my neighbor’s yard. Have I mentioned it’s a very ugly shape as well?

Also thinking about Sciadopitys verticillata, or maybe a nice Podocarpus. I love yews, but I think I’d be asking for deer problems. Maybe once I get a fence put in (keeping with the theme of working backwards…).