story and photos by claire c. schuchman StepS toA GreAt GArden First of a three part series great garden is like a well-planned home—it has good flow, with a living room, a dining room, a place to prepare and serve food and even a place to take a nap in the cool summer breeze. A well-planned garden appeals to all the senses. This garden may also have a fountain with gurgling water to mask street sounds, beautiful specimen trees and blooming shrubs in various vibrant colors. The spring fragrance would be intoxicating, and of course, the garden would be pretty. One test of a great garden, in fact, is whether it is as pretty year-round as it is in spring or summer—glorious in the fall as the foliage starts to blaze and just as compelling in the crisp winter air with naked branches of snow-crested shrubs and trees set against the intense blue sky. We all know a great garden when we see one, but what are the steps to creating such a place? The first step is to create a plan. As the saying goes, “Failure to plan is to plan to fail.” A sound plan involves learning, understanding and using good design. The second step is healthy plant material. No garden can be beautiful if the plants are dying, and the third step is the livability of the gar- den. We will deal with these in future issues. The planning step is crucial. It should include taking a good inventory of what is already in your garden, making a list of all your ideas, and then considering the five elements of good design: simplicity, rhythm and line, balance, proportion and focal point. The first element, simplicity, means just that: keep it simple. There can be too much of one good thing, and it’s also easy to fall into the trap having one of everything. Try planting your favorite plants in drifts using several of the same kind as one unit. This creates a “color block.” Imagine a large drift of ornamental grasses, plumes swaying in the autumn breeze, and in front, a beautiful swathe of Black Eyed Susans (rud- beckia fulgida goldstrum). Now, imagine just one grass and one Black Eyed Susan. No more need be said. You can achieve the second element, rhythm and line, by repeating the elements that work to draw the eye and people into the garden. Have you ever come across a garden path so beguiling you couldn’t resist opening the gate and walking in? This is rhythm and line at work. The eye is drawn down the path to a burgundy leafed shrub several feet away and at its feet rests gold variegated ground cover. You walk in to see this magnificent pairing. The path then curves to the right, but you cannot see what’s next without walking on to take a look. Repeated elements can help create that sense of mystery. A stand of variegated grass draws your eye and you start to walk. Once there, you find a gorgeous ceramic urn with a bur- gundy glaze in the middle of a striking stand of gold hostas. You realize this element of gold and burgundy is what drew you down the path to begin with. Repeated elements create rhythm. Rhythm helps to keep the garden cohesive. Good garden design is not about making it symmetrical; it’s about creating balance. In our small suburban gardens it’s difficult to achieve mirror-image balance. But asymmetrical balance is very achievable. One large shrub or small tree can be the visual balance for two smaller shrubs. A large burgundy leafed Japanese Maple can be the perfect balance for several Diablo Ninebark (Physocarpus “Summer Wine”) with its arching branches of dramatic dark burgundy wine foliage. Another important element is proportion. Think about the 38 mtl • april 2011 _________________________ __________________________________________ Step One __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ __________________________________________ “Where Do I Start ?”