Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A New Garden Room?

The idea of a garden divided into rooms is credited to the British garden designer Lawrence Johnson.  Gertrude Jekyll, the most influential garden designer of the early 20th century, popularized the concept in almost 400 gardens throughout England and the United States.  Jekyll believed that no garden could be beautiful in every season and therefore promoted the idea that gardens should be divided into "rooms" or separate enclosed spaces, decorated as
a back fence garden room
differently as the rooms in a house, so that there would always be a beautiful room to visit.  Box hedges, trees and shrubs, herbaceous borders or stone could provide "walls" enclosing these rooms, and different plants, colors, and themes could individualize them for visitors who moved from one room to another.

Garden lovers witnessed that the concept is alive and well in Memphis as they wandered through the garden rooms of Jane Carter (one featuring a purple bedstead and matching flowers), Anne Riordan (yes, a garden room for golf), or another of the tour hosts for the MAMG Through Our Garden Gates Tour in early June.  

This penchant for garden rooms got me to thinking.  We live in a time when people's possessions overflow into attics or basements or garages or even PODS.  In dogwalking throughout my Midtown
a more cared for look than most alleys
neighborhood, I have observed that sometimes horticultural activities escape the normal boundaries of front, side, and back yard, even into that area behind the back fence.  I'm wondering if the alley could be our new "garden room"?

Now, I admit that alleyways aren't actually "enclosed," and even more to the point, most are anything but garden spots.
a typical overgrown alley
Every kind of Memphis vine, weed, grass, scrub brush or stunted tree can be found there. Trumpet vine, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy flourish on the fences. Johnson grass reaches its peak heights. Frequently, rubbish accumulates and is covered by the brush. 

There are exceptions, however, to the typical alley, as the first two pictures above illustrate. One of my favorite alley gardens runs between Forrest and Galloway just west of the Memphis zoo.  Here, there are no weeds.  Flowers bloom in most seasons.  This narrow alley garden is planted and cared for perhaps because it is adjacent to a garage and the main entrance to the property, but I wouldn't bet that was the major reason.  Its attractiveness seems to be an outgrowth of the owner's love of plants. 

looking east to McLean
looking west

functional and attractive
I also enjoy several alleys where hydrangeas flourish.  I'm not sure these alleys would qualify for the Mid-South Hydrangea Tour, which took place this past Sunday, but they certainly brighten up a dogwalk. The first picture shows a garbage can tucked in among attractive foliage, and also sports some nice signage. The hydrangea scene below backs up to a wrought iron fence that adds to the attractiveness of this alley.  

A few years ago, I started trying to keep my alley neat, or at least free of noxious and annoying weeds and debris.  One thing led to another.  I began to transplant extra stuff from my yard--Dutch iris, daffodils, and canna--between the monkeygrass, periwinkle and Virginia creeper that grew there uninvited. A holly showed up (I didn't plant it). A friend gave me some orange daylilies (ditch lilies) and they went to the alley. Replacing the old fence with a new one was an incentive to consider new plants, and last year I added several hostas. One of the hostas (a Lowe's purchase) turned out to love the alley. So I imagined a new life for the mophead hydrangeas languishing in the afternoon sun by my front porch, and transplanted them to the alley. 

I don't know whether the alley garden should be labelled a room rather than simply a border.  I have observed only a few that can accommodate a bench.  Maybe what I am calling the new alley room is simply a less exalted type of the French allee, the formal pathway between similar trees or shrubs inviting one to a distant feature. Yet, whatever the name, alley gardens offer a casual passerby what all of us strive for in our usual gardens: a pleasant design of color and texture, a sense of calm and peace, and an invitation to pause in our busy lives.  

I know that I will keep adding to my alley plant collection--new daffodil bulbs this fall and whatever else is in abundance.  I expect that I will be "decorating" my alley garden room for some time to come! Oh Gertrude Jekyll, what would you think of this?


1 comment:

  1. Interesting garden idea Kathy! And perhaps even a small narrow bench.


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