Sunday, May 2, 2010

Room with a View

In the May NJ Monthly article they mention something I described as mustache plantings and how I don't like them. The fact is that many plantings surrounding our homes are one dimensional attempts at having the house look good from the street. Few people think about the implications of this little strip of plants along the house and what they could do to improve it. We almost always inherit some plantings when purchasing a house and then we are kind of stuck with them unless you are ruthless and just remove them as I did.

The reasons for removing them were twofold. I wanted to have access to my house for maintenance and I wanted to see and enjoy the plantings. By moving the plants three or four feet away from the structure they tend to frame a view or provide you with one. When I have designed gardens from scratch I always design them from the outside looking in, but always keeping in mind how it will look from the inside. When I lay out the garden for planting I look at it from both vantage points to see if what it is that I have created works.

When I go on a vacation I always ask for "a room with a view." I remember some years ago traveling with a bunch of landscape architects in Mexico and I always would approach the desk clerk with a statement such as "my room is going to have a wonderful view of your town" invariably my traveling companions would laugh at me for being demanding, but when I got in my room there would be a view of a volcano, a patio or a garden, while my traveling companions got a view of a wall.

I guess my point is that if you travel and want beauty in your life why does it have to stop there? Although all my attempts don't always work because as you can see in the first photograph, my neighbor's trash cans and recycling bin can be less than appealing, most of the time I have considered what I want to see and how I am going to crop it.

My lot is not huge and houses are fairly close to one another, but in contrast to newer neighborhoods were houses are on top of each other, I have some room which I have used to create plant screens. These plantings look lush and green for most of the year and keep away the need of hiding everything with drapes. I have no drapes. I have roman shades which I rarely close and the rest I do with plants. The two pictures above are of my dining room and when the viburnums bloom it is magical to look out the window.

Similarly, my front porch is rather exposed and just 15 feet from the sidewalk, if that. There with some bamboo, rhododendrons and other viburnums, I have reached a pleasant level of privacy that provides lots of light and enough exposure. The above image, faces my shared driveway where my neighbor in their tall SUV drive past many times a day, but thanks to the bamboo I can choose to wave or not.

On the other side of my porch my other neighbors and I share my woodland garden which is planted with varieties of large flowering viburnums and flowering styrax trees and under planted with wonderful woodland plants. It is extremely private and not more that 20 feet-wide.

So why let your plantings be this little mustache against your house? Move them away from the house so you can enjoy them. Reclaim some of that wasted lawn space with something appealing for both those passing by and yourself. Paint with a dramatic broad brush and then pinpoint special attention to your favorite plants, colors or fragrance. Just because you inherited a few plantings does not mean you can't relocate them or incorporate them into a better scheme.

Finally, my little mud room/library faces the back porch and the back gravel walk down to the pond. It is my favorite view. I often sit back here looking out at the great flowering vista or reading a book. Here, more so than outside I choose to find refuge during much of the year. In winter it can be like a scene from Dr. Zhivago. In summer it has all the view and none of the bugs or humidity that will often limit being outside. I suppose, some of this sounds a bit like the romantic goo that Miss Lavish wrote about her Florence holiday in the Ivory Merchant production of A Room with a View. Oh, well grab your romance wherever you can!  Happy Gardening.

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