Making A Peaceful Place In Your Garden

You should arrange at least some part of your limited “man-made landscape” to provide an area where you can rest and think, a peaceful observation point. I prefer a natural “planted” space instead of the old-fashioned gazebo garden-house structure. Though we all want some gay flowers and brilliant sunshine, we also need the seclusion of a quiet area, a cool reflective private spot. Here you will almost taste the freshness of the air you breathe. You can listen to the mourning doves, and the phoebe—the wind rustling the maple leaves. Smell the warm dry scent of summer, the fragrance of the lilac drifting on the breeze.

courtyard800x600Our own private retreat is a cool shady spot—a hillside above the brook. A hillside and a brook are, of course, not essential. They just happened to be there for us.

Bulldozed level, this terrace hideaway is twenty feet long and fourteen wide. Two spreading maples provide shade. We made a small retaining wall about two stones high (three in some places) to hold back the bank on one side, and hold the land up on the other side. A rope hammock is attached at one end to a cedar post, set for the purpose, and at the other end to one of the maples.

Bird and Worm`s Eye View

When you are in the hammock you are sometimes beneath the world and sometimes above it—depending on which side of the hammock you look from. Out one side you look up at the curve of the meadow. The land lies above, and you beneath. Out the other side you are in the greenery of tree tops looking down through leaves to the brook with a totally different perspective. This is, to our way of thinking, a pretty neat trick and it makes the hammock an ever-fascinating place to be.

The terrace-retreat itself is shady, but beyond the limbs of the maples the sun shines. Japanese iris grows in the sun fringing the area where we sit; so does Jacob’s ladder, blooming from May on into July, the violet flowers touched with white, and each stalk of delightful foliage a small green ladder.

On the other side of the terrace a stretch of Dutchman’s breeches spills down a steep rocky bank to the brook edge. The blossoms greet us in late April when the first days of the hammock begin. A pink and a white dogwood add to the shade and beauty. Lilies-of-the-valley (especially for fragrance) cluster beneath; foam flower parades in soft white along the bank; gold thread peeks from the leaves; jack-in-the-pulpit rises in dignity in the lea of the wall; white trillium, bloodroot, and red and yellow wild columbine bloom in succession; blue forget-me-nots and cardinal flowers thrive at the brook’s edge; Virginia bluebells nod their bell-like flowers flanking the terrace up and down the hillside, and maidenhair, cinnamon, and royal ferns grace the area.

Though no pines stand in the vicinity, pine needles cover the terrace floor, for we have access to a fine source of them. Each spring we spread a carpet of fresh and fragrant needles gathered in two old bedspreads dumped in the back of the car and carted home. They contribute a pungent scent, a rich brownness, and a pleasant four-inch-deep rug, soft and resilient to walk upon.

A Place To Call Your Own

Haven’t you some small area of similar possibility, a remote corner with no sun, an area of trees, a thicket perhaps, even a shady spot where growing things has been difficult? If so, with some pruning, replanning, and possibly additional planting you can create an ideal retreat complete with hammock, simple comfortable outdoor furniture, and possibly a few old stumps of special character. The area can be large or small—really tiny —and still achieve its purpose, still become an inviting spot to while away an hour or a day, a place dedicated not to doing, but to the simple art of being.

Our shady retreat has given us the opportunity to grow some of the loveliest of plants, ferns, some evergreens, certain shrubs, and many flowers. Most shade-loving plants need no special care after they are established.

Mountain laurel is a grand broad-leaved evergreen for the secluded shady area. It wants sandy, peaty soil, always acid (no lime). Rhododendron is another fine flowering evergreen. When you look out the window in winter, rhododendron tells you the temperature.   When you see the leaves curled like cigars, it is very, very cold and you had better put on that extra sweater.

Moist & Acid

Azaleas in shades of crimson, pink, flame, white and yellow are especially successful in a woodland setting. Some are fragrant. The plants grow from two to ten feet tall. Acid soil and oak leaf mulch are beneficial. The white fragrant blooms of the swamp azalea open in July, later than the others. It does not need its feet in a swamp to thrive, but do give it shade and rich leaf mold soil.

Other favorite plants for shade are crested iris, countless varieties of native wild violets, and myrtle or periwinkle (Vinca minor). Bleeding heart (the tall variety) and begonias (especially tuberous) add loveliness. Blue phlox is lavender-colored with a meadow scent. Spiderwort has white and blue flowers and spidery gray-green leaves. Each bloom lasts only for a day, but many flowers continually come. Japanese anemone bears sturdy rose-colored blossoms. Mist-flower unfolds furry blue-violet blossoms in autumn, and spreads marvellously.

This shady area provides a splendid summering place for many of the houseplants which will also add a decorative note. Tuberous begonias in tubs will be lovely, and if by chance you are orchid raisers, as we are, here is the dream spot for the orchids to summer. They like morning or afternoon sun, so we hang ours (using cut up re-shaped old wire coat hangers) in the trees at the edges of the area, and set some on the retaining walls where they get sun until about eleven in the morning and again after four in the afternoon.

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