I’ve pooh-poohed many a gardening rule and succeeded anyway. I planted tulips much too early (September) and still had a fine showing the following spring. Conversely, I’ve planted lily bulbs in May and they also lived. I (*gasp*) don’t plan on winterizing my pond or even cleaning it out till spring (nothing living in there anyway). Rules, schmules. All those gardening tenets get in the way of my experimentation. I knew I had found a fellow dissident when I first read Sign of the Shovel’s Manifesto. Her #1 principle: “Add manure. There. That’s the only advice you’ll get from me.”
As much as I hate rules, I have unwittingly created my own, through experimentation. (Isn’t that the scientific method? Observation -> Hypothesis -> Experimentation -> Rule? ) If I listed my self-developed principles, I think #1 would be: “Thou shalt not garden in a straight line.”
I didn’t just make that up, either. You’ll find garden design references full of advice to create sweeping, swooping borders. Still, I had to do my own thing when I started creating borders. I’m efficient and I know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Therefore, I created straight, 5-foot deep borders along the fence lines in one corner of the backyard. The result: phenomenally boring. After the inspiring June garden walk in the Licking Riverside Historic District, I went home and added scallops to one edge. I then cut diagonally across the corner with a small paved area. Finally, I connected one straight run to a nearby half circle border, so that the final result was the undulation suggested by the experts.
I initially did the same boring thing around the deck. I surrounded it with a skimpy two-foot perimeter of plantings. Hated it! While I’m limited to a thin border on one side to allow for traffic, I’ve added a generous curve to the front and have big plans to add more bulges and bumps to the other side. Suddenly, the deck looks less artificial and less stark and more like an integral part of the landscape.
I thought I was liberated from the straight line, but, alas, my fight was far from over. Once upon a time, some other “efficient” person like myself created borders with poured, concrete curbs around nearly the entire house. You guessed it; the curbs form a neat rectangle around our neat rectangle of a house. Some of the borders I can do nothing about. The front bed is bounded by a sidewalk, poured parallel to the house, so, without ripping up the walk, I’m stuck with its shape. I did, however, add a sweeping border on the other side of the walk (eating up some lawn) and the result is much more organic than the original, geometric border-sidewalk-lawn combination. The shade beds are also bound by poured concrete. Again, I’ve created free-form borders on the other side of the curb, leaving a small walkway between the curb-bound border and the blobs. One hardly notices the boring rectangles anymore.
By far, the worst travesty is the yard-wide sunset bed, along the northwest side of the house. Those same garden experts who advise curvy borders will also tell you that three feet is far to slim for a border, but I suppose it made sense to someone to make the border the same width as the stairwell. I’ve finally found plants that will work in the harsh, northwestern exposure, but I was so bound by the damn curb that I planted them in straight little rows, with the poor butterfly bush (buddleia weyeriani) smashed up against the house. The silly thing is, the curb is so badly eroded in this bed, that it’s as if there wasn’t a border at all. I could garden right over it, and no one would know. (In fact, the henbit and mock strawberry make regular forays from the lawn into the garden bed.) So, I’ve tortured the poor buddleia for nothing. Next spring, I plan to extend the bed out into a semi-circle as if there were no curb at all. (The red line on the photo is the proposed new edge.) The butterfly bush will get the room it needs and the rectangular bed will no longer stick out like a sore thumb among the garden’s exuberant curves.
So, that’s my gardening rule: no straight lines. I will do my best to resist the parallel influences of the house, the fence, and the sidewalk. I will fight my tendency to be efficient and give in to the urge to be extravagant. It can be oddly freeing to follow the rules once in a while.