I spent a recent Saturday volunteering as a docent at one of the five beautiful gardens on the annual Whidbey Island Garden Tour.
Garden Tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden.
They’re also a good place – if the garden owners are truthful – to hear cautionary tales about poorly situated plants, ground covers run amok and plant lust gone terribly wrong.
And, if you’re like me, you may return to your own garden, stare at your weedy and disorganized flower beds and weep like a professional mourner for an hour or two.
It’s like watching the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggle chainsaws and live chickens and then going home and stepping on a rake.
I’ve discovered one of the unifying themes that tends to run through these stellar gardens is planning and organization.
Not to say serendipity and whimsy aren’t encouraged; I think the best gardens display a respect and understanding of Mother Nature’s desire to fill in the blank spaces and round sharp corners into curves.
I’m not suggesting you go to the same extreme lengths as the landscape architects, gardeners and various artists involved with the design of the famous gardens of Versailles outside of Paris.
But do think about how you want to enjoy your garden and how best to showcase it to your friends and family.
After all, when you have something you’re proud of and you love, you want to present it in the best possible light to the people whose opinions you value the most.
If your garden is large, have you planned different garden “rooms” along a meandering pathway, each with a different theme or color scheme?
Will all or part of your garden be intended as a place for quiet reflection or a haven in which to observe wildlife?
Will there be plenty of bird and butterfly friendly flowers blooming in succession throughout the growing season?
Will there be benches, rock walls or logs provided along the way for garden visitors to rest?
Is your garden meant to be viewed from a deck or elevated ground?
Can you actually see it from the house or is it somewhere behind the grove of western red cedar or Douglas fir that you can’t bear to part with?
I’m not advocating cutting the big trees down, but how about planting a bed of natives that thrive on the edges of our forests, like red flowering current, evergreen huckleberry and red huckleberry, then add in the sun lovers as you gradually come out of the shade.
Then you can lead your visitors on paths behind and through the trees to the secret garden you’re only willing to share with the people who mean the most to you.
If your garden is small, you can provide some privacy and create an illusion of depth by using vines along fences and trellises, and by layering shrubs and small trees in incremental heights at the back of a bed.
Bamboo is often used this way, and honeysuckle and grapevines can easily give the impression that someone else’s home isn’t lurking a mere few feet away, just beyond your idyllic retreat.
When planning your landscaping, however, just be careful to keep your plants on your side of the fence or be gracious in offering to artfully prune any of your behemoths so the neighbors can also enjoy their own little bit of heaven in their own backyards.
Don’t forget, one gardener’s ivy-covered dream is another’s ivy-covered nightmare.