Design

Make the Garden an Experience

Creating moments large and small will ensure your space is unforgettable

Issue #202 – November/December
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

We have all had them: instances in a garden when we just stop. And the words that jump to the front of our minds include “wow,” or “yes,” or “oh my.” Then there are moments when we just lose ourselves, forgetting about anything other than the flitting of birds from branch to branch, the subtle gradation of hues on a flower, or the swaying of a stem in the breeze. We are gone from our normal lives—no laundry, pickup times, or to-do lists. There are just birds, blooms, and breezes.

Whether these moments happen instantly or gradually, they have power. They delight our senses and lift our spirits. If there is any garden where one can see this in practice, it is the garden of Denise Lane. On a property just shy of an acre outside of Seattle, Denise has created a garden that is a collection of moments both big and small, amounting to an experience a ­visitor is ­unlikely to forget. We all want our gardens to have a similar effect, and not just on guests. We want to feel it too. This peek at what makes ­Denise’s garden work provides some lessons we can all put into practice.


| The Plan |

It seems bigger than it is 

Sitting on just under an acre, Denise’s garden packs a lot into what seems like a much larger area. Part of the key is screening one area from another with large shrubs and trees.

It seems bigger than it is 
Illustration: Elara Tanguy

 

A big impression is just the start. Dramatic elements—for exam­ple, the large leaves of a gunnera or a bog filled with water—are sure to dazzle, but subtler elements, such as a well-placed container, add charm to power and make an area memorable for many reasons.
A big impression is just the start. Dramatic elements—for exam­ple, the large leaves of a gunnera or a bog filled with water—are sure to dazzle, but subtler elements, such as a well-placed container, add charm to power and make an area memorable for many reasons. Photo: DoreenWynja.com

Big moments start the journey

The big moments are the most noticeable. They fill you with a bit of awe and admiration, and Denise’s garden has several of them. Plants are perfect for making these moments, a fact about which no gardener needs to be reminded. Perhaps the most obvious statement plant in Denise’s garden is the gunnera (Gunnera manicata, Zones 7–10), which she has used on the edge of a bog (photo above). This area naturally holds water year-round, so rather than fight against the landscape, Denise took advantage of the conditions to make the area special. It isn’t just the gunnera’s size that makes it impressive; it is its architecture. Denise uses other plants with distinct forms and shapes, such as rodgersia, to make an impact (photo below). The larger the number of plants, the greater the impression. 

Size is relative. When viewed with the gunnera next to the bog garden, the rodgersia doesn’t seem so big, but it does draw you in for a look. Then, when you take it on its own, you can admire the large leaves with their reddish tones.
Size is relative. When viewed with the gunnera next to the bog garden, the rodgersia doesn’t seem so big, but it does draw you in for a look. Then, when you take it on its own, you can admire the large leaves with their reddish tones. Photo: DoreenWynja.com

Another big moment is “The Ruins,” a water feature surrounded by pillars and lushly planted to provide a sense that nature has reclaimed this spot (photo below). The location of this feature is crucial. Because you can see The Ruins from the house, it beckons you into the garden. Once there, you notice that it sits at the junction of the paths into the rest of the garden. Having lured you in and dazzled you, this area then inspires further exploration. There is more to your journey.

It works on many levels. “The Ruins” is impressive from afar. But once you get close enough to notice the delicate interplay of forms, textures, and colors among the plants and hardscape, you understand that this is more than just a cool water feature.
It works on many levels. “The Ruins” is impressive from afar. But once you get close enough to notice the delicate interplay of forms, textures, and colors among the plants and hardscape, you understand that this is more than just a cool water feature. Photo: DoreenWynja.com

Perhaps the most obvious big moment is seeing the entertaining area. Here you’ll find a large patio, a bar, an outdoor kitchen, a firepit, and ample space to wander. What makes the space special is not the size or the accoutrements, but that seeing it makes you want to be there. Denise creates a comfortable atmosphere by having distinct spots within the enter­taining area: a small table and chairs for two, and low seating walls nestled around the dining table and the firepit. These smaller spaces keep the scale from being overwhelming and make the entertaining area perfect for beginning and ending a journey around the garden. 

 

entertaining area
Large areas should include smaller spaces. As impressive as the entertaining area is (above), the inclusion of smaller spaces within it keeps the area from feeling overwhelming (below, left and right). And by bringing in elements of the garden, the area feels part of the overall landscape. Photo: DoreenWynja.com

bench and garden
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

two chairs, flowering pot, and garden
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

Smaller moments add the charm

If the big moments are the ones that proclaim, “Look at me!” a smaller moment is one that politely calls out, “Yoo-hoo, over here, dear.” Some smaller moments just gently clear their throat. These instances add the charm to the garden, providing artistry to the spectacle and rounding out the experience. For instance, after you have been amazed by the entertaining area, a closer inspection reveals how Denise has brought the garden into the space, making this expanse of hardscape an integral part of the landscape. 

Well-placed plants have power. Anyone coming across this combination would have to stop and admire the way the ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower simultaneously adds contrast and harmony when set among shrubby hare’s ear and ‘Jethro Tull’ coreopsis (Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’, Zones 5–9).
Well-placed plants have power. Anyone coming across this combination would have to stop and admire the way the ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower simultaneously adds contrast and harmony when set among shrubby hare’s ear and ‘Jethro Tull’ coreopsis (Coreopsis ‘Jethro Tull’, Zones 5–9). Photo: DoreenWynja.com

At The Ruins, an impression is created by the columns and the water feature. But when you take time to notice how the outward stretch of the concrete leaf (a gunnera, of course, connecting this area with the bog area) is mirrored by the habit of the plants around it, or how the forms of the plants at the ground level echo the large columns, you are ­delighted on a level that the stature of the feature can’t provide. 

Within the length of a border, a special plant combination might be the thing to catch your eye. As a manageable way to approach the creation of these vignettes and combinations, Denise suggests limiting your efforts to “how much area you can see without moving your eyes.” Then, she adds, “make that area work.” She likes to use color echoes, such as when the ­golden center of ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower unites the shades of yellow that are above and below it (photo right). 

 

We all want our garden to have these moments and to be the experience they collectively create. If you are put off by the fact that you haven’t the space or the budget to create similar moments, don’t be. Concentrate on your garden’s moments. Where are they? Make the areas you want to spend time in comfortable. Use architectural plants to create impact. Use color and form to add to your moments. And always remember that no matter how big or small they are, moments in the garden are treasures.

 

You don’t have to be big to impress. A medium-size water feature helps turn a beautiful planting into a magical scene. The feature’s geometric shape helps it catch the eye, but its subdued, earthy colors make it feel like an integral part of the garden.
You don’t have to be big to impress. A medium-size water feature helps turn a beautiful planting into a magical scene. The feature’s geometric shape helps it catch the eye, but its subdued, earthy colors make it feel like an integral part of the garden. Photo: DoreenWynja.com
Woman gardening
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

| Plants |

Denise’s top picks for eye-catching perennials

If you want to stop a gardener in her tracks, show her a cool plant. It doesn’t have to be big; it just has to be interesting. Here are some of the plants in Denise’s garden that are worth noticing.

‘Rotlaub’ rodgersia
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

1. ‘Rotlaub’ rodgersia (Rodgersia podophylla ‘Rotlaub’, Zones 5–8)

Julia Child™ rose
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

2. Julia Child™ rose (Rosa ‘Wekvossutono’, Zones 4–9)

 

‘Green Goddess’ calla lily
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

3.‘Green Goddess’ calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Green Goddess’, Zones 8–10)

Compliment Deep Red cardinal flower
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

4. Compliment Deep Red cardinal flower (Lobelia × speciosa ‘Kompliment Tiefrot’, Zones 6–9)

 

‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

5. ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Zones 5–9)

‘Purple Gem’ dahlia
Photo: DoreenWynja.com

6. ‘Purple Gem’ dahlia (Dahlia ‘Purple Gem’, Zones 8–10)

7. Anise sage (Salvia guaranitica, Zones 8–10)

8.  Shrubby hare’s ear (Bupleurum fruiticosum, Zones 7–10)

9. ‘White Swan’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Zones 4–9)

Anise sage
Anise sage. Photo: DoreenWynja.com

 


Steve Aitken is a former editor at large.

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Comments

  1. mrrey214 10/13/2021

    garagerepairlancaster.com/

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful place. keep on sharing.

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