That curvy green line across the garden, roughly an S-curve with a bent tail, is the metaphorical spine of the garden, its axis.
The shape of the axis is not arbitrary. It follows the pattern of storm water flow around the house and across the garden to the long slope down to Lockatong Creek. This natural flow of water–the garden soil being predominantly wet to wetter–creates various ecological “patches,” and determines (along with light, aspect, elevation) the compositions and locations of the plant communities in the garden and thus, in large part, its look and character.
Some helpful phrases from The Free Online Dictionary definition of axis: “line segment serving to orient a space or a geometric object … a reference line … a center line to which parts of a structure or body may be referred… an imaginary line to which elements of a work of art, such as a picture, are referred for measurement or symmetry.”
Except this axis is not straight. But it is a visual reference, an “imaginary line,” that helps define the various parts of the garden, gives the garden a kind of momentum with occasional side currents, swirls, diversions–a series of reference points from which to look back from, to, and across the space, helping define spatial relationships. Is it a structure? I suppose so … made up of a sitting area in the far corner of the garden, the wide, curvy path shown above, a long raised stone planting bed filled with box, and a long pond. Last weekend we completed two new linear stone beds that align with the curve of the pond, bringing that interrupted, curvy axis to completion.
Probably two years ago, my friend Peter Holt, a garden designer near Halifax, Nova Scotia suggested I add raised stone planting beds at the woodland end of the house, and plant them with Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). You can see them below, waiting to be filled with soil.
To use Peter’s words, the new stonework “echoes the boxwood stone caterpillar further along and reads as a part of the hill, a fragment of the hill that’s eroded off.” So I have some independent confirmation this may work, from the guy who gave me the idea in the first place.
The stone beds do reflect the low stone wall around the base of the house plinth and suggest geological features that broke off or eroded.
I intend to plant Japanese maples (small ones that will remain low and weep over the edges) and Rodgersia in the beds. I’m also thinking of other ground cover plants such as Helleborus foetidus and other low shade-loving plants.
But equally important will be planting around the base of the stone beds to integrate them visually. Ferns, certainly. I’ll need to experiment to see what grows well and looks appropriate to the acers and rodgersias. I want them to look old, moss and lichen encrusted is the idea.
Here you can see the raised planter curving around into the line of the pond (now full of winter-blown debris) and following the curve of the existing stone wall on the left.
In the next view, you can see how the new stone work complements and visually joins the existing spine of the garden, moving through the pond, then through the long stone planter of box (the boxwood stone caterpillar, as Peter calls it).
Beyond the box planter is another area of box I added last winter. This, in turn, links to the long, curving path across the middle of the garden (shown in the opening photo).
This photo from an icy day in December better shows how this all is intended to look once it’s given life by plantings.
The spine of the garden terminates here, at this seat, which will be backed by a corner Hornbean hedge (the Hornbeams have been planted three or four years and should register as adolescent hedges this spring).
Not a big event, but the view back from the bench is great …
… especially in the green season.