By Irene Virag
Sometimes when I travel south in winter and visit the lush gardens of southern California or see poinsettias decorating front stoops in Charleston, South Carolina, I think how pleasant it must be to live in a region where you can garden all year round.
But then when winter comes to Long Island, I realize I’m lucky to live in the Northeast, where you don’t have to keep going into the garden, where there’s time to settle down and not just look back but also look ahead to spring.
As frost comes we’ll have cleaned up the garden and replenished the soil. It’s a perfect time for me to relax by the woodstove with garden books and magazines. A time to dream about what I want my garden to be next year. I have a simple goal—restore order. In my garden that means symmetry. And roses.
My garden is a fenced-in, four-corner cutting garden, with gated arbors and cedar benches on opposite sides. A center circle contains an herb bed surrounded by paths, as well as four Belgian block-border quadrants designed for early-blooming tulips in spring, followed by vegetables.
The symmetry of the design calls for symmetry in the plantings. Flowers in facing borders echo each other, as do the vegetables in opposite quadrants.
But in gardens, as in life, it’s as Tennyson said, “The old order changeth.” The ups and downs of planting have become more difficult for my husband. As he puts it, “I can get down, but it’s harder to stand up.” Even though I’m a mere child compared with him, I’m beginning to understand what he means.
It’s also relevant that as some of my original perennials petered out, I replaced them with quick-fix annuals—verbena and nicotiana, and salvias, even cannas. They offer lots of color, but I’m really just using them as bandages. My garden’s symmetry is broken, and I worry that it’s teetering on the edge of a mishmash.
So I’m trying to come up with a master plan of more and order.
I’m starting with the borders. First I plan to make the most of the perennials. The tall, pink phlox that graces the four corners of the inside border needs to be divided and moved around to even things out.
Other plants that require similar treatment include purple coneflowers and Byzantine gladiolas, and irises, and balloonflower (Platycodon).
And I hope to restore some of my old perennial glories such as liatris, and gaura, and monarda, and rudbeckia. Finally I’ll leave some space for my favorite dahlias as well as vegetables—perhaps lettuce, eggplants, peppers, and bush beans.
I’ll take the same approach for the borders outside the garden fence. My biggest problems keep growing. They’re two giant lacecap hydrangeas that thrive on either side of the arbor facing my house. In their case two is a crowd. They have already overcome astilbes and chelone, and even threaten the velvety purple clematis that winds along the fence.
I may have to make a tough decision and replace them with something smaller—perhaps Knockout roses or ornamental grasses.
As for the quadrants … well, I have a dream that for me would make any garden worth tending. For years I have dreamed of a rose garden. I have roses, but they bloom in different spots throughout my back and front yards. I dream of a proper boxwood-border rose garden, and the quadrants are there for the planting. I can’t give you a list right now of the roses I would choose for my dream garden; that’s a big part of my dreaming and scheming this winter. But I have my eye on disease-resistant beauties such as Solero and Purple Martini.
And, of course there are more than the plants to consider. Introducing roses into the garden means rethinking my irrigation system, which currently depends on an overhead pipe that pops out of the obelisk in the herb circle. I want happy roses, and that means drip irrigation. I’d rather have a rose garden than, say, a weekend at a spa. Not that I couldn’t use a tune-up, but I think a rose garden would be more therapeutic.
So I’m not moaning over the advent of winter. I’m already smelling the roses.
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