An avid sailor friend of mine once said jokingly, "ocean sailing is like standing under a cold shower and tearing up hundred dollar bills." I'd have to admit that gardening can be like that too. Sometimes, it seems like no matter how much time, money and effort you throw at it, you still don't get the desired result.
How come? There can be many reasons - inappropriate plants, site problems or poor design. In my case, it was the lack of a focal point. You don't necessarily need to include one, but it gives your eye a place to land, especially important in a small space. If you've ever floundered around not knowing what to do next, read on.
This little garden was fueled by a romantic fantasy. My husband and I envisioned recreating a smaller version of our favorite spot - a couple of chairs tucked under a tree in a meadow surrounding our former New England farmhouse. Hah! That was a stretch, the only tree we could sit under in this little backyard was a Norway Maple that sucked the life out of everything I tried to grow.
When we finally got rid of it, I began planting like a madwoman. I couldn't create a meadow, but I was determined to create a cozy little nook to enjoy our morning coffee in.
Here's what it looked like in the early stages. Notice that my husband is not sipping his coffee in this garden. Neither was I.
Too much white fence, I thought. I layered in more plants and added a few ornaments to make it feel cozier. That helped, but even though I kept lugging more comfortable outdoor furniture in and out, we weren't moved to sit in this garden.
Then I thought - it's small, I'll add some textural details to make it more interesting. It did, but that wasn't enough to make us want to sit in it.
It looked enticing from the outside, but when I sat in it, I couldn't relax. It was packed with interesting plants, but instead of enjoying them, I felt overwhelmed. Something was missing, but it took me awhile to figure out what.
And it finally hit me, I needed a focal point. I didn't know where to look first in this garden, and it was making me buggy. By definition, a focal point grabs your attention. It can be an object or plant that is used to draw and direct the eye into and around the garden. It's worth saying that it should be a strong element you like looking at that is situated in the right spot. The ones I chose were neither.
I thought I nailed it when I planted a weeping pine (Pinus strobus 'Pendula') in the corner, but that wasn't the view we saw from our chairs - not the right place. I tried again with the Dragons Eye Pine (Oculus draconis) toward the center, but it definitely was not a strong enough specimen.
The solution appeared unexpectedly when my husband hid a lovely textured container (a birthday gift from my favorite haunt, The Artful Gardener) at the end of this little stone path. He couldn't have picked a better spot.
I don't know why I never thought of a container. It's just what was needed. My eye goes to it immediately rather than darting around to all the other flora and fauna. The path that never made sense to me obviously needed something solid at the end of it. It stops the eye and makes the whole space feel more intimate and inviting. With the exception of the Dragons Eye Pine (sulking because of all the rain), I've quit picking apart the other plants every time I sit in it.
My husband and I both agree that this little garden has surpassed our original fantasy by a long shot. Yep, now it's our favorite place to sit. And we have good company - you know you're on the right track when the fairies move in!