A little structure shapes up a garden

JEAN WOFFORD - Victoria County Master Gardener
Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

I was looking in my garden and thought it could use a lift. I wondered about form and structures, but what exactly did I have in mind? This was a new concept for me, and I had to think about it a bit.

I could prune my plants in different shapes, but my landscape really didn't lend itself to this. So, I would have to come up with something else that wasn't too difficult and that I could do myself.

Some plants do have interesting growth patterns, so they could be shaped and made to work. You could prune out some of the limbs, making focal points of the more interesting ones left behind by really opening up the plant. Naturally, it would depend on the plant as to what you chose to do with it.

Urn it How about some very large pots or maybe urns? There are so many nice ones out there and I think they can be especially effective if you lay them on their side or just tip them a bit. You could also plant something low-growing, such as cascading petunias, verbena or purslane that would lie close to the pot or urn without covering it.

Urns are also being used for bubbling fountains. This definitely makes a focal point in the landscape. I have seen them used surrounded by some kind of rock or even gravel and they are beautifully simple while providing a soothing sound in your garden.

Bird oasis Birdbaths always make a great statement in the garden. There are many different kinds - very elaborate to very simple - and many different sizes. I like to plant some jewel-toned flowers around the birdbath, preferably something like salvia, petunias, plumbago or sun-loving plant.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that birdbaths really do better in full sun. If shaded, they usually have a fungal problem. An added bonus is that you will have more birds as well as butterflies. Take a seat You could use a park bench in a shaded area of the garden with a walkway leading to it and surrounded by ferns and naturally low-lying grasses, a bed of caladiums, impatiens or some other shade-loving plants. This would make a very nice structure in your garden setting.

Light touch I have seen an old streetlight that wasn't connected to electricity, in the middle of a flowerbed. It had a light vine, such as a mandevilla, climbing on it. This gave a very nice vertical shape to that garden.

Add an arbor Arbors are wonderful structures to add to a garden. They come in all shapes and sizes and definitely add interest.

They can be planted with an evergreen vine such as the evergreen wisteria that blooms a very unusual maroon, or a vine that dies back each year. The Rangoon creeper is a favorite of mine. It has bunches of tubular flowers that range in color from almost white to the darkest red. Since they have a tubular shape, they attract hummingbirds. You could also plant morning glories or a lovely night bloomer, like the moonvine with its large, white bloom and heart-shaped leaves.

If you want something really different, plant a luffa sponge vine. These are started from seed and planted in place where you want them to grow. This vine has a bright yellow bloom that is similar to a cucumber bloom, only a little larger. During the bloom cycle, which continues almost all summer, it starts putting out these little cucumber looking fruits. I have been told they are edible, but ...

If you just leave the luffa growing, it will turn light brown and very large. When dried, you peel them, shake out the seeds and use them for a bath brush. Now, isn't that interesting?

Bed of flowers? An idea I have played with for years is to put an old cast iron bed in the middle of a flowerbed. It would be planted, in the space where a mattress would normally be, with something bright and beautiful that wouldn't rise above the bed itself. Perhaps with some balsam, sweet potato vine...either the chartreuse purple or the beautiful pink, green and white variegated. It would look like a floral bedcover. I am still thinking about the iron bed and, if I ever see an old one, I just might try this idea.

Another way to have form in the garden would be to have different shapes and sizes of flowerbeds. You could have some round beds. Use a nice border to raise them higher than the surrounding beds. This would add even more form to the garden.

Taking shape When we first moved to our house, I was faced with a very large, empty yard. Since I had never had a large yard, I was challenged. A big empty space in the middle of my yard had to be filled first. It was actually too big for a rectangle bed, so I started moving around landscape timbers. I was trying to find a shape that was pleasing to me. I needed something different and unusual. Imagine my surprise when I stepped back and found a perfect Star of David!

In the middle of this wonderful bed, I have an heirloom cabbage rose bush. It is huge, and blooms almost all the time with lush, pink, fragrant roses. It is very carefree and only gets trimmed to keep it in the area I intend for it. In the points of the star, I have planted different annuals, some plants that re-seed and some perennials. It is always a source of pleasure to my guests. This is a great form in my garden.

As you can see, there are many ways you can add form and structures to your garden. It is always interesting to see just where our imaginations take us.