If you’ve visited any great gardens, you know they consist of more than just flowers. They have fine trees and shrubs, pathways, perhaps stonework or pottery, maybe a bit of whimsy, or walls and great views. Now, before your trees are fully leafed out and the perennials have begun to distract you with their blossoms, this is a good time to think creatively about what you can do to make your garden spaces better.
I recently visited the Inn on Putney Road, a B&B in Brattleboro. This is a majestic old white-brick building with lots of formal gardens. I went to see it because I had seen the outdoor pottery of Steve Procter (www.stephenprocter.com/) at the Vermont Flower Show, and he maintains a wide selection of his pottery on display in the garden at the inn.
Steve Procter makes pots that are high-fired and impervious to the elements. Unlike flower pots, his pots are fully vitrified, and will not absorb moisture. Most are not designed for use as flower pots, but for their amazing looks. They come with lids and a drainage hole. In the summer, they may be displayed without the lid, and rain will not collect inside. In the winter, lids are recommended to avoid any ice buildup.
These pots would make my garden look even better than it does. But a 5-foot-tall pot takes Steve about three weeks to make and a full day at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit to bake - and days to cool it slowly. These are not inexpensive, obviously, and not in my budget just now.
Steve told me that although people are used to placing two-dimensional art work on the walls of their homes, three-dimensional art is less common and not everyone is comfortable placing big pots in the garden, He generally delivers the pots and helps to find a perfect spot for each. The pots are placed on a square of bluestone or concrete to keep them steady.
Whether you are placing a pot, a sculpture or perhaps a tall standing stone, three-dimensional art can provide a visual destination, something that draws a visitor down a path. And if you partially conceal the pot or art with a shrub or tree, Steve Procter pointed out it can create a sense of mystery. Or provide a surprise when you turn a corner.
Large flower pots filled with plants add much to a garden, too. I have a fig tree and a Frangipani (the tree that provides flowers for Hawaiian leis) in ordinary big pots - but have to bring them in each winter. That can be a struggle. But they can add a lot to my landscape.
What else can one do to provide three-dimensional interest? A simple ceramic bird bath adorns my garden each summer. Since the birds showed no interest in taking baths in it (I also have a stream nearby), I use it as a pedestal for a plant in a pot, or even as a shallow pot. Last summer, I grew papyrus in it. Papyrus grows in standing water, which is good as a bird bath collects water and would drown many plants in a rainy time.
Standing stones are also wonderful. A significant part of the stone must be buried in order to achieve stability. I think the perfect stone is long and relatively narrow with a base that is wider than the exposed portion when installed. I prefer stones that are 4 to 6 feet from end to end and just a foot to 18 inches wide.
To make a standing stone stable, I dig a hole 18 to 24 inches deep and 2 to 3 feet wide. Once I have the stone standing in the hole and vertical, I place stones around it in the hole. I choose stones the size of a loaf of bread or bigger to hold the stone in place. Then I pour into the hole a bag of ready-mix concrete, dry. The concrete will harden up and cure nicely over time. I finish filling the hole with topsoil.
When I install standing stones in public places, I make each even more stable by digging a mushroom-shaped hole. I dig the hole, then dig out laterally at the bottom to create a pocket under the un-excavated sides of the hole. This space gets filled with concrete mix, making a nice anchor. I use a hand tool called a CobraHead weeder to pull the soil out of the pocket area.
What else can you use to spiff up your garden? Benches are nice. Wooden benches are probably the most comfy. Stone benches look great, but are cold and hard to sit on for more than a few minutes. But any bench will draw the eye, and encourage visitors to approach the bench.
I have a marble bench next to my brook where there is a nice planting of umbrella plant (Darmera peltata). I placed some of my late sister Ruth Anne’s ashes under the umbrella plant at planting time, and it has been a nice quiet place to sit and remember her, particularly when it blooms in the spring with tall pink flowers.
So look for some three-dimensional objects to enhance your garden - whether pots or standing stones or even an old-fashioned gazing ball. And remember: You don’t have to prune or weed them!