July 23, 2013

Fixing a Good Thing

When we put in a gravel seating area next to the house, I liked the improvement right away. It was exactly what I wanted. And then I set out to fix it.

Here is what we started with, the "before" pictures. A small snaky border out in the yard hemmed in a strip of grass bisected by tiny stepping stones.
Before
Before
In September, 2011 we hired a crew to dig up the grass, install steel edging and fill the area with pea gravel. I added some plants to the borders that ringed it, and by early October the area was absolutely what I had envisioned. Perfect. I could not have been happier.
After
After
Perfect until I started making changes, that is.

First revision: those chairs. The low slung plastic chairs blew over in every breeze and were cheap looking. Here's what I replaced them with. Much nicer. An umbrella and a found stump for a side table were added.

Second change: I added rocks. Yes, I went to the rock store and bought rocks. I can't believe I did that. Here are a few of them artfully strewn about the edges of the area, just as a retreating glacier would have left them. Work with me on this.

I bought two twig towers for vines to climb, and put them next to clumps of inkberry hollies. I added a metal moongate and arbor and eventually a kiwi vine will drape over that.

(I haven't actually found the vines I want for the twig towers. Blue flowered plumbago was nice one summer, and trailing nasturtiums are ok this summer, but I'm still experimenting.)

I found cool looking containers and put them around. Found a couple more cut logs for side tables as well.

I moved a small Oxydendrum (Sourwood, or sorrel tree) to a spot in the border, and the tree has never looked better. It loves its new spot. This was last summer when the sky blue plumbagos climbed the twig towers and nasturtiums spread below.

In fall I added some green canvas director's chairs to the space so entire parties of four could sit around and admire the place.

But wait! Not done yet.

Notice five small round 'Tide Hill' boxwoods in an angled line transecting the edge of the gravel. I love the look, but need to move the strawberry plants away from the boxwoods. The line has a strong clean look, but the sprawling strawberries crowd it. The funny shrubs on either side are young fothergillas (Mt. Airy) that will get too big and they also take away from the clean architecture of the transecting line, so they will be moved.

More revisions. I can't stop.

Opuntia was added to the gravel, and despite my fears that it did not survive a wet cold winter, it did. I was pretty surprised to see the mess of soggy prickly pear cactus this spring turn into a healthy plant this summer. It even bloomed briefly in early summer.

I added a beautiful red buckeye tree, Aesculus pavia at one edge. A small white-flowered styrax tree was planted this spring on the other side. These small trees, along with the sourwood, a paperbark maple and a stewartia that were already planted along the edges will get large enough to enclose the area and shade it a little in a few years.

The sourwood blooms in July.

The inkberry hollies loved our wet spring this year and are really filling in.

A caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy' offers variegated foliage along the edge.

This gravel sitting spot is the one area that I constantly tinker with in my garden. I need to wait for the plants to catch up -- there is a smokebush 'Grace' near the paperbark maple that needs to develop a nice form, and the small trees all around need to bulk up. I'm waiting for the kiwi vine to climb the moongate arbor.

Often I am dissatisfied with how a garden looks, and tinker with it incessantly to get it looking the way I want, adding, editing, moving things around and still not happy. But not this area.

For some reason every iteration, every change, every modification to this area pleases me completely and I think it is just perfect. Then I change it.
 

35 comments:

  1. I think it was perfect with each picture. I was wondering if by the end of the post there would be any gravel left :)
    You have a great sense of style in the garden, and seem to know what will work together well.

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    1. Patty, thanks. I do think I am starting to overplant the area.

      I can always edit things out later. . . . (don't laugh!!)

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  2. It's a great little oasis that keeps looking better and better.

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    1. Kathryn, oh, I like the description of this area as an oasis. It really is, to me.

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  3. I like Patty's comment. Would all the new plants crowd out the gravel? ;-)

    Just kidding. I love your sense of design. You've created a marvelous space and it just keeps getting better.

    I think you are a true garden artist. No kidding.

    ps - Won't the Oxydendron get a little large for that space eventually? I've heard they grow 25-30 feet tall...

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    1. Aaron, thanks so much. I think I will never be in danger of underplanting an area. The Oxydendrum will get tall, as you note, but the mature ones I have seen are quite narrow. It's not a big spreader. So my hope is that it will fit the area but be tall enough to offer shade. Come back in 20 years and I'll show you.

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  4. I love all the little changes you have made to this area, even after you declared it perfect, to improve it. I love the transecting line of those boxwoods marching into the gravel. Brilliant idea! I'm going to steal it, but I think I might use something other than boxwoods (stinky things). And the boulders strewn across into the gravel looks so good. Well done!

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    1. Alison, than you. I will want to see what shrubs you use instead of boxwoods to make a diagonal line through your garden. It will be interesting to see another interpretation of the idea!

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  5. Isn't there a big box seller that wants us to "never stop improving"? It looks great (and I may steal those chairs one day--they are perfect).

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    1. Heather, those low slung chairs take some athleticism to get up out of. If you get some that are similar, plan to sit for a good while, you can't be jumping up to pull weeds or move things about!

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  6. We gardeners are never totally satisfied. I think this area is quite lively with all the plantings, pots and seating. I can see how you would be drawn here time and again. While being there you can always edit an item or two. That is part of the fun of gardening.

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    1. Lisa, we do change and edit all the time! It's funny though, that I keep thinking I like this particular area just as it is, and then go and make more changes.

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  7. I remember some of those changes, the gravel seating area in particular. You done good. But that's never enough. Perfection is not even enough because, like the dynamic garden itself, perfection exists for only a moment.

    Like me, you may be guilty of loving too many plants, too much variety, thus putting too many wonderful plants in one area – you who embraced that fine concept of editing. I'm building a new garden, virtually from scratch, so it'll be a while before mine feels or looks overcrowded to me. But I know it will.

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    1. Lee, you are so right, I am in danger of not just crowding, but putting in too much variety, not just in this gravel garden, but all around the yard and garden. Like your new blank slate, this yard was empty at first, so I know that urge to "fill it up". Dangerous track to go down!

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  8. I love all those changes! I don't really think of them as changes but as additions to an incomplete space. It feels more full and established now.

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    1. Tammy, each change seems to make this garden feel established, and then I go and do more . . so apparently I haven't registered "established" yet!

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  9. It is in those changes that a new scene occurs and boy do you have a scene!!! Your garden is Insanely beautiful!!! Your plant selections as well as your chairs and garden structures are perfect!!! I enjoy seeing the evolution of things and you are one of the best at capturing that!

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    1. Nicole, Thanks! I like going back and seeing the evolution too, and I enjoy seeing how gardens on other blogs evolve over time. It's fun to watch the growth and transition.

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  10. I don't think we gardeners ever create that image of perfection we envisage, but if we did, there wouldn't be any fun left! I thought the original gravel area was a lovely place, but it just kept getting better and better with each photo. You have such a great eye for design, Laurrie--beautiful!

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    1. Rose, I've had fun with this area, changing it over and over -- unlike some other parts of my garden that frustrate me!

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  11. I love your gravel garden, Laurrie. What fun to see the progression and hear the thought process behind each tweak. Garden rooms are a reminder that a garden is not just about the plants. Decor is necessary too and you've certainly stepped up to that challenge perfectly. Nice job!

    Hiring a crew for the grunt work was a good move. I have a small lawn installation project that's been languishing for over a year because I keep thinking I can do it myself but never seem to find the time. It would be the perfect small job for a landscape guy.

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    1. Sue, having a crew was the key, I never would have done this myself. But in truth, I overpaid -- I actually hired a garden designer to "create" this space, but then found I already had exactly the shape, materials, plants, design and look I wanted firmly in mind, and simply dictated to the designer what to do. I could have hired a landscape guy with a truck to do the installation. Lesson learned.

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  12. Isn't one of the aspects of gardening is it is never done? Isn't this the thing that keeps gardeners going? If so, we will live forever.

    Keep tweaking!

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    1. Joene, you're right, we may live forever, (and our weeds will still outlast us)!

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  13. Laurrie, your gravel garden looks wonderful! How amazing it is to look at those variations you made in your garden. Great work! Nice share!

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    1. Brisbane, thanks so much for your kind compliments : )

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  14. It is nice to see the evolution of a garden. Certainly gardens by their very nature change and grow. My biggest problem, which I know you have complained of as well, is underestimating the mature size of things. That alone forces be to move and change things.
    Your gravel courtyard is one of my favourite parts of your garden. What a nice place it must be to sit and relax. I love the shot with the pink mums and the nasturtiums look so pretty as well. One day the trees and shrubs will fill in and the vine will cover the arbor and I think you will find that it was worth all the work and "improvements".

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    1. Jennifer, thanks so much. Underestimating the size of mature plants surely is the biggest challenge in any garden. I do like sitting in my gravel garden, and picturing how enclosed it will be when everything does get too big!

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  15. Having just returned from a nursery outing in which I bought nothing because everything I loved was too big and I had no good spot for it, I think it's very important to have a designated garden arer where you can play with new ideas and keep changing things. That way, you get to satisfy your lust for new plants and your desire to be doing "something" in the garden.

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    1. Sarah, you are right, and I think my gravel garden has become the spot for endless experimenting. I keep doing things to it and that seems to keep me happy.

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  16. I love the idea of the gravel area in between instead of grass and its metamorphosis is wonderful...love all the additions and design/style.

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    1. Donna, thanks! Gradually we are eliminating more of the grass, and this was one way to take out a big area and make it something nicer.

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  17. Beautiful! I'd join you there, to relax a bit among the blooms in the sunshine!

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    1. Rosemari,it is a great place to relax but come on a cloudy day -- the trees aren't big enough yet to offer enough shade to sit in on a sunny day!

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  18. Laurrie, LOL! So I am not the only obssesive gardener. I am constantly tweaking things around in my back and front gardens. The front yard was easier as I had so over planted my backyard that I pretty much had a full on nursery to transplant from. I had 27 Japanese Maples in my backyard. Ha ha. You have a great design eye and you have not over planted in your gravel area. It is beautiful and a nice paradice to get lost in. I have no lawn in my backyard now and I love my pea gravel. Is an artist ever really finished with a canvas?
    Sandra

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