February 5, 2016 by Jean
Dreary winter days are a great time to get out into the garden of the imagination while remaining warm and cozy indoors. This winter, I’ve been taking advantage of the Portland Public Library’s great collection of gardening books for inspiration. On Wednesday, with cold rain pouring down outside, I sat down at my desk to begin designing the next section of my new front garden.
The photo above is of the slope on the side of my house where this planting will go. Many gardeners can look at a site like this and then just buy plants and put them in the ground. Because I have lousy spatial reasoning skills, this approach doesn’t work for me; I’m always surprised by either how many or how few plants can fit in the space available. So I carefully lay out a planting plan before I begin(knowing that it will inevitably get adjusted to conditions on the ground). I used to do this on graph paper, but now I use the computer. I don’t need a fancy CAD program; Microsoft Word’s drawing tools are good enough for me. Playing with the shapes and colors reminds me of coloring (even better, because you can change your mind and change the colors with just a click of the mouse!).
I had created a file with a close approximation of the awkward shape of this slope months ago, so I opened the file and began to fill it in. First I put in some lines to represent horizontal bands of plants that would help to give this amorphous space some structure and definition. By the time I went to bed, I had added shrubs at both ends of the slope to provide needed mass and put in a row of Baptisia and peonies along the top. (To see the status of the plan when I went to bed on Wednesday night, click here.)
Of course, when you are working on a project like this, your brain doesn’t necessarily stop when you turn off the lights and get into bed. As I lay between waking and sleep, I was problem solving issues in the design and mentally moving plants around. I even dreamed about this garden design. By the time I got up in the morning, I had changed the number and location of some plants along the top of the flower bed and made a list of other plants I wanted to include. I was so eager to get those changes recorded that I was at my computer working before I had even showered and dressed, eaten breakfast, or made my morning pot of tea. Of course, this totally threw off my schedule for the rest of the day. But that’s one of the joys of retirement – you can jettison your schedule and go with the flow when the creative urge strikes. By the end of the day on Thursday, I had a draft of the whole planting design:
This is not the final design for this planting; I still have about three more months of mental gardening ahead of me before I can get out and actually work on this. During those months, as I learn more and think more, I will make revisions. I am already looking for places to include some clumps of Liatris. And I always end up making changes when it’s time to buy plants and when I actually put them in the ground. As I sit at my desk on a snowy February morning, mental gardening warms my soul.