A few years after we moved into our home and my garden had started to look respectable, Fine Gardening Magazine ran a contest called “Inspired Gardens.” I thought my garden fit this contest perfectly because of it’s unique inspiration. I had to write an essay, submit photos and wait. I told my family I thought I could win. They thought my bubble-brained optimism was in overdrive. But I won. And my greatest prize was a workshop in Vermont with designer Julie Messervy. (jmmds.com) Julie was an inspirational, talented and gracious host and I carry her lessons with me every time I design. But I also learned a lot from all the other gardening geeks like myself. I learned, (in a pretty cool kumbaya moment) that, well, I’m not all that odd.
So here’s a little tour of the backyard. Some photos are from the year I entered the contest (2006) and some are from last year and a few are from today. I could spend weeks labeling all the plants so if you want one identified just ask. I’ll answer.
The essay I submitted for the contest:
My husband and I stood on a lot that was for sale. The property barely supported knee-high weeds because the topsoil had been scraped away in the land’s past life as an airport. Recently, the solid Ohio clay beneath, had been bulldozed into high swells and deep swales to form a shapely rolling golf course just beyond the edge of the lot. I thought buying this puny piece of real estate would be gardening suicide.
Our house at that time sat on a partially wooded acre where I had spent 18 years building soil and perennial gardens. We enjoyed wildlife: cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers and migrating orioles. Raccoons and skunks visited nightly, and muskrats raised their families in the creek running along the back property line. Forty-foot tall american elms had escaped disease to arch over our gardens. And a towering pin oak supported the families of many squirrels.
The kidney bean shaped patio, which acts as a vista, is supported by dry stacked stone walls which curve to mirror the shape of the putting green. To add shade to the sun drenched patio, I selected a 25 foot tall Ash from a field (it would have met it’s demise to construction if I had not saved it) and had it planted next to the patio. It serves to break up the straight lines of the house and anchor it to the lot. It’s root ball forms a gentle swale. Even the front yard is inspired by the golf course. Swooping beds of myrtle mimic the shapes of the rough and fairway, and a 30 foot red maple (discovered while looking for the ash) anchors a curving bed to the street.
The once empty lot now blends seamlessly with a golf course that looks like cumulus clouds turned green. The shape of the beds and the position of every tree, shrub and flower, were inspired by the view. I knew what time of day sun would filter through the grasses, and understood how the red twigs of a variegated dogwood would splash against a backdrop of white moguls in the winter. After 3 years, the garden is beginning to mature and I am rewarded daily. Now I enjoy prairie birds like bluebirds, purple martins, gold finch and red tail hawks. A great blue heron has visited the fountain on my patio. And when our golfing friends stop to admire the gardens with their hands on their hips, they temporarily forget about their unlucky shot and comment on its beauty. Squirrels never did that.