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.
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.
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.