Arts & Leisure

Judith’s Garden: Beauty beneath the trees

THE UMBRELLA PLANT, with its broad green leaves, grows behind the gazebo and is aptly named. Photo by Dick Conrad

It is a delightful mid-August afternoon as I sit in our gazebo encircled by my garden.
Unsurprisingly, as I glance around, my eye is initially drawn to the exuberant sun-filled borders full of colorful summer flowers — clusters of lacy pink yarrow backed by a stand of pure-white shasta daisies; deep-blue monkshood among purple coneflowers; groups of pink and white phlox; clumps of yellow and peach-colored daylilies; and a pair of prodigious panicle hydrangeas covered with creamy cone-shaped flowers.
There are also the blueberry bushes laden with fruit, calling me to get picking. While all around golden pools of rudbeckia are whispering in my ear that autumn is not far behind.
But there is much more to the garden than these busy sunny borders. Flourishing beneath the trees there are also several beautiful shady spaces. With soft colors and leafy textures each radiates a feeling of tranquility and calm. And, since in each I have deliberately included a place to sit, they also encourage me to slow down and relax awhile.
Drawing from the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, we see the vitality of our sunny garden spaces as a source of lively “yang” energy. But it is the shady spaces that bring us that indispensable and complimentary source of contemplative “yin.” And a truly harmonious garden calls for a blend of both.
In my last article I talked about the sunny, “yang” areas of my garden and what is flowering at this time of year. You can also read it on my website (northcountryreflections.com).
So now, as a complete contrast, let me describe three complimentary “yin” areas I have created in my garden:
Under the Serviceberries
The entrance to the garden is marked by four spreading serviceberry trees whose branches just touch, with the western two creating a natural arch over the wide path. Looking straight ahead, a diagonally-positioned gazebo beckons you, while to the left you see a stunning view of the nearby Mount Moosalamoo.
Every April these serviceberries have their week of glory. Indeed they are always one of the first plants to welcome the spring. But their contribution to the garden does not stop there. Throughout the season they create a beautiful shady canopy that is home to many special plants — including a group of showy lady’s slippers and a charming low-growing Solomon’s seal with creamy-flecked leaves.
Several handsome clumps of hostas stand out among smaller leaved plants, creating significant leafy focal points. I especially like “Gold Standard” with its yellowish leaves — like a patch of sunshine in the deep shade at the back of the bed. There is also “Guacamole” with handsome apple green leaves and dark green margins that grows in the partial sun nearer to the front.
False hydrangea (Deinanthe bifida), with large crinkly notched leaves and smallish white flowers, is another dramatic plant that, over the years, has become quite an impressive clump.
At the front of the bed a lovely spreading Japanese primrose with fuzzy leaves, called Primula kisoana, mingles with some white leaved lamium, while towards the back the arrow-shaped leaves of barrenwort (Epimedium rubrum) cloak any bare spots of ground.
Finally, at front of the bed but still in the shade, an elegant wooden bench completes the serene picture — and also provides us a delightful spot to sit and contemplate Mount Moosalamoo.
Around the gazebo
At the heart of the garden our 12-foot square gazebo, also a favorite place to spend time on a summer’s day, nestles into one corner of a large shady bed — another tranquil “yin” space.
A small stepping-stone path bisects the bed, inviting you to come on in and experience the different plants “up-close.” A beautiful blue ceramic pot handcrafted by our friend, Robert Compton of Bristol, marks the start of the path, while a set of steps, cut into the low stone wall around the northern edge of the bed, creates the end point.
About 20 years ago now, to provide both structure and shade for the inner parts of the bed, I planted a trio of delicate crab apple trees. In mid-May these small trees are covered with pink blossoms and the ground beneath is carpeted with daffodils — an exquisite sight. But, like the serviceberries, throughout the season their dappled shade also creates the perfect environment for special shrubs and perennials.
Indeed, just as the crab apple blossoms are fading, the first of my summer-flowering azaleas, Weston’s innocence, puts forth its pure white blossoms which permeate the air with their intoxicating fragrance.
Then, one by one, four more fragrant azaleas — Jane Abbott, Parade, Golden Showers and Lemon Drop — bloom in sequence.
And finally in mid-August, as the flowers of Lemon Drop are fading, it is time for the summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) to flower, filling the air with yet another delightful fragrance.
At the very the center of the bed you will also discover an exquisite dwarf white pine — aptly named “Curly” — just asking to be caressed.
There are also several clusters of perennials with lovely and varied leaves that flourish beneath the crab apples. Right behind the gazebo a dramatic stand of umbrella plant (Darmera), with huge dark green leaves atop three-foot high stems, is an exceptional presence. And a sizable clump of hosta “Guacamole” contrasts beautifully with the nearly black leaves of the bugbane “Black Negligee.”
And along the wall that forms the eastern side of the bed, there are woodland peonies, a mat-forming blue phlox and a pink-tinged Rodger’s flower all waiting to be discovered.
Beneath the Maples
The two areas I have described so far were developed from scratch during the 25 years we have lived here. But when we arrived, we were also blessed with a group of three mature sugar maples that shade some amazing rocks — deposited over a thousand years ago by the glacier.
This special space proved to be the perfect spot to create a small patio reached by a set of stone steps atop the largest rock, while around its lower edge a shallow bed, filled with a mix of textured plants, is held in place by a low retaining wall. And another magnificent pot crafted by Compton makes a dramatic focal point.
And finally a new bench set up against one of the rocks proved to be the finishing touch to this peaceful shady space. Even on the hottest day it is always pleasurable to retreat there and enjoy the garden from yet another angle.
Places to sit
We all work hard to make our gardens beautiful. So I feel it is critical that we also set aside some time to enjoy them up close in peaceful surroundings — a time to savor not only the flowers, but also the birds and the butterflies. It is indeed precious to spend time in a beautiful garden.
Thus you may have noticed how, for each of these areas described here, I have deliberately incorporated a special place to sit and relax.
To quote Elizabeth Lawrence, who lived in Charlotte, N.C., and was both garden writer and a “real” gardener: “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”
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.

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