Judith’s Garden: The art of decorating outdoor spaces

Even though we — and our gardens — are still in the midst of winter hibernation, many of us are planning outdoor changes, both large and small, we will be making this coming season — perhaps making a new flower bed or maybe trying some gorgeous but unfamiliar plants.
Beyond Plants
But, in addition to plants, what about enhancing your garden with some special highlights — a new bench, a decorative planter, or perhaps a compelling sculpture? It is like choosing a beautiful necklace to compliment your new outfit, or hanging some evocative pictures on your walls.
The possibilities for decorating our gardens are both endless and also extremely personal. Perhaps your imagination is triggered by a beautiful classic hand-crafted ceramic pot you saw at a local flower show, or a stunning arbor at the public garden last summer. Or maybe the sweep of a flower bed motivates you to go in search of an elegant sculpture.
In addition to choosing that special decorative item, it is helpful to consider the impact you want to make in the garden — for instance to create a dramatic focal point, an imposing entrance, a beckoning destination or welcoming outdoor room.
Here are four ways I have used non-living things to create special highlights around my own garden, and indeed they run the gamut — from classic to whimsy. I hope they will inspire you to find new ways of enhancing your own garden.
1) Dramatic Focal Point
While the shady corners in our gardens may be soothing and relaxing, sometimes they can also feel featureless and uninteresting. But just the simple trick of setting a classic ceramic pot among all those green leaves will create a focal point that draws our attention and brings that shady space to life.
I am the proud owner of three beautiful colorful pots that I bought many years ago from Robert Compton, a skilled potter who lives in Bristol. And, at around 20-inches high, they make perfect containers for shade-loving flowers.
A BRIGHT BLUE ceramic pot planted with colorful tuberous begonias creates a dramatic focal point in a shady corner of Judith’s garden. Photo by Dick Conrad
Every spring I put out these special pots in different parts of my garden. I set each one up on a couple of pavers, both to create a firm base and also to elevate the pot slightly above all the surrounding ferns and hostas. Finally adding a few tuberous begonias with brightly colored flowers creates the perfect foil for all the surrounding greenery.
2) Beckoning Destinations
Like many people, Dick and I love to spend time outdoors chatting over a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine.
Thus not only did we build a screened gazebo for those times when the bugs may be biting, but I have also carefully positioned several benches and pairs of outdoor chairs around the garden in both sunny and shady areas.
A SMALL REFLECTING pool, made from the top of an oversized copper  birdbath, creates another focal point in a different corner of Judith’s garden. Photo by Dick Conrad
And while our preferences have evolved over time, at this point our favorite bench for day-time forays sits on a specially created “mini-patio” under a huge maple. From this shady vantage point we can look across the sunny garden beds, and watch the butterflies and bees as they flit from flower to flower in search of nectar.
If your garden seems to be missing that special “something,” I suggest you add a garden bench or duo of chairs where it will be visible from your favorite indoor room. Garden seating seems to magically conjure up evocative feelings about the specialness of our outdoor world. From spring until fall it will beckon you — “come on out and enjoy the garden” — while even in the depth of winter it will be like a ghost of summer reminding you that spring will soon be here.
3) An Enticing Entrance
The space around our back door is strictly functional; there is a small raised bed where I grow herbs and salad greens, plus the wash line and the woodshed. Thus my mood here is decidedly busy and focused.
But a few steps away I walk out along a short path and my mood is transformed to serene and tranquil. This is the entranceway to our back garden with its colorful flowing flowerbeds and, off in the distance, a view of Mount Moosalamoo.
LEADING INTO THE back garden: iron trellises reflect the shape of the serviceberries above.  Photo by Dick Conrad
The entrance path is made of flat irregularly shaped bluestone pavers, flanked on either side by deep flower beds. Here I planted a pair of serviceberries and in their dappled shade, I grow many favorite woodland plants. Finally, to finish the picture and further emphasize this special entrance, on either side of the path I placed the free-standing wrought-iron trellises.
Furthermore, this arrangement is lovely in every season. The flowers on the serviceberries are a springtime delight, the trellises support a pair of flowering clematis for summertime color, the leaves on the serviceberries turn a beautiful orange each fall, while in wintertime the snow on the ironwork is nothing short of magical.
4) A Welcoming Front Doorway
The south-facing space around our front door, enclosed on three sides by house walls, is a quintessential “outdoor room.” Narrow flower beds run along each wall, while the central stone patio (just 18-feet by 14-feet) easily provides room for the front walkway and, to one side, a charming metal bench.
Our front door is a busy place. In addition to our guests, Dick and I also use it for all our own comings and goings. So I really want this small space emanate a huge “WELCOME.”
Not only does the bench create the perfect sunny spot for enjoying a cup of tea, it also sets an easy relaxed mood as we come home.
And, although most of the vertical wall space is claimed by windows, in each of the remaining areas I have hung carefully selected objects. On the east wall a burnished metal sun with radiating flames shines down, while between the windows on the north wall a charming metal trellis provides support for a climbing honeysuckle, which has the added benefit of enticing the hummingbirds.
THIS WHIMSICAL SMILING face near Judith and Dick’s front door says “welcome!”  Photo by Dick Conrad
Finally, about five years ago, to add a delightful touch of whimsy to the scene, I hung the smiling face to watch over our arrivals and departures. And, since she has a small planting pocket concealed in her hair, each year I can give her a new hair style.
Our lovely “face” is work of talented Vermont ceramicist, Susan Smith-Hunter, and, if you are interested, she currently has a few for sale in the Brandon Artist’s Guild — each a unique individual.
More Inspiration
I will be presenting a seminar on this topic, including over a hundred beautiful photographs, at the Vermont Flower Show held at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction on March 1, at noon. I hope you can join me.
Judith Irven and Dick Conrad live in Goshen where together they nurture a large garden. Judith is a Vermont Certified Horticulturist and teaches Sustainable Home Landscaping for the Vermont Master Gardener program. You can subscribe to her blog about her Vermont gardening life at northcountryreflections.com. Dick is a landscape and garden photographer; you can see more of his photographs at northcountryimpressions.com.

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