November 24, 2010

My Archipelago

I am a beginning gardener and I have certainly made many mistakes.  The individual plant disasters and disappointments are legend.  But there is one overarching design problem I need to overcome that I know other beginning gardeners have made.

The problem: I have designed half an acre of islands, an archipelago of isolated atolls mounding up out of the sea of lawn.

Here's what I have created: a big irregular roundish bed in the middle of three separate birch trees.  A long mixed border along the edge of the meadow.  A strip of black eyed Susans and herbs along the patio wall.  A triangle with trees and shrubs at the top of the driveway.  A bed edging the driveway.  And more.  Each patch is isolated from the others by lawn.
Each garden has grown and developed and is pleasing.  But it feels like being on an island chain where you hop from place to place, enjoying each one, but aware that the next one is just over there beyond.  In my yard you visit each garden, but you are not in my garden.

When I sit on my patio, I look out over my string of separate plant atolls.  I am safely protected behind low stone walls, attached to the mothership of the house.  I do not feel like I am in the garden at all.  I feel like I am reviewing the gardens from a parade vessel.

I started with a blank slate with no landscaping other than a husband standing in the open expanse.  We did have a borrowed view of trees on the far ridge.  Some before and after shots show how far we've come.
Before and after from the back.

Before and after from the side.

We first put in trees for shade, then a deck to sit on.  Then two red maples, the three paper birches, a line of spruce trees, some stone pavers surrounded by a low wall.  Those became the first structures, all separately sited in various spots in the lawn.  A garden was attached to or plopped next to each one.  Completely random.

And thus, the archipelago was created.  It all looks lush compared to where we started.  But.

Garden designers, what should I do?  I know I should link the isolated gardens together, and eliminate much more of the lawn.  But simply extending two or more gardens into a great big blended area is daunting.  Half an acre is actually a big space.

Should I make a plan on paper? 
Install winding stone paths around the gardens as linkages? 
Make the existing gardens bigger? 
Hire a garden coach?
Plant more trees to create a woodland effect with the isolated gardens below?

Or should I give up and go to Hawaii, where I can view lush island atolls across the water while sipping a Mai Tai?

You decide.


  1. Oh you funny girl. Stay there while you are still young enough to tend your islands. Hire a coach if you feel overwhelmed. I would connect the islands. Make an outside room with some of the corners. Shrubs shrubs shrubs then perennials. What fun it would be to have this much room. Yay... Love seeing the befores. You have come a long way.

  2. I love the before and after shots, helps give me hope for our very daunting 3 acres. While I'm thinking the easiest solution is to link the islands, I also really like mai tais. Meet you in Hawaii?

  3. Hmmmmm, Hawaii sounds like a good options for many situations:) but I think getting a coach or a plan will be just the thing to help you see things in a fresh way.

    Winter is great for planning and dreaming!

  4. You've done a beautiful job with your yard. Those trees will eventually tie those bed together in any case.

    You could hire a garden coach or just let the answers come to you. Planning with paper and pencil has never worked for me.

    I would quite like the sensation of viewing the archipelagos from the mother ship!

  5. I think I've met a kindred spirit:) I, too, often find myself explaining that I don't so much have a "garden" as a series of flowerbeds. But I have to say, Laurrie, that the view from your mother ship is beautiful! You've done a fantastic job of creating some lovely islands here in the midst of your sea.

    I don't have any advice for you--in fact, if you find a way to turn your archipelagos into a mainland, I may be copying your ideas! I keep checking out garden design books and hoping for an inspiration, all the while digging up another little island:) Remember, island hopping can be fun, too!

  6. Lisa, thanks. I do need to connect the islands! Just have to figure out how.

    Marguerite, I would love to meet you in Hawaii and discuss planning your 3 acres. Book the flights!

    Garden Ms. S, I do think my winter will be spent with some plans and books and idea generators. A great way to spend it, I think.

    sweetbay, thank you so much. I do realize things will look a little more unified when the trees take on some size. I hope.

    Rose, it's good to know there is another kindred soul out there with the same struggles!

  7. Laurrie, You've made incredible progress and you should definitely be proud of that. Give yourself a pat on the back before you do anything else! It does seem like some type of planning is in order as your next step - either on paper or by taking lots of photos so you can really 'see' the beds and how they could interact with each other.

    I agree with Lisa that connecting some of them is probably the best option. Putting paths in between them won't really link them together. Remember, you don't necessarily neeed to add just plant items if you do decide to combine beds. A bench, a few chairs or a birdbath can do wonders to link to nearby beds together and create a quiet & intimate destination.

    Enjoy the planning process, it should be a great winter project.

  8. Debbie, thanks for the advice.... and for the compliments! I like your ideas about adding structure, not necessarily more plants, to link beds together.


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