“The main purpose of a garden is to give its owner the best and highest kind of earthly pleasure,” observed the esteemed garden writer Gertrude Jekyll over a century ago.
Living in New York City for most of my adult life, I’ve had no opportunity beyond growing plants indoors and in window boxes to test out this hypothesis, but sensing that there was truth to Miss Jekyll’s statement and experiencing a growing passion for gardening, I suggested to The Sweetie that we rent a house for the summer. After much looking around, we settled on a lovely house with a big deck just west of the Berkshires in E. Chatham, NY so I could try my hand at gardening on a larger scale.
Since we were not arriving until July 1, missing any opportunity for spring planting, it dawned on me that it was going to be too late to design and plant a “real” garden deeply rooted in the earth, one whose perennial plants would grow bigger and stronger every year–like the day lilies in this photo–planted in the front garden by the home’s owner.
So I decided to do the next best thing: I got right to work turning the deck into a floral wonderland. When we arrived, the deck was close to bare. There were two Adirondack chairs and two small pots of red geraniums. I started by setting up a flowing line of plastic containers and willow baskets bought at tag sales and thrift shops. (I decided to blow my budget on plants, not pots.) The Sweetie hauled in many bags of organic soil and I filled the containers with annuals, perennials, lettuces, kale, radicchio, tomatoes, and herbs. True, this was not a garden in the classical sense, but on the bright side, plants in containers on the deck did not disappear into the mouths of deer or bunnies. No slugs showed up, and there were no voles eating my potatoes–a sad sight I witnessed in the large vegetable garden of a dear upstate friend, Cathy Roberts.
Since I purchased plants and plugs already in bloom, here’s how the floral part of my container garden looked by July 20th. What a thrill to sit out there and be surrounding by such beauty.
To enhance the feeling of being surrounded, I placed some smaller containers along the top railing. These containers also expanded the garden vertically and blended it in visually with the tall trees in the distance. I attached a few of the heavier ones to the railing with invisible fishing line, but on windy days, I took the small containers down to avoid their blowing over.
Along the two shadier side decks, I planted a long window box of herbs and some kale, lettuces, and other vegetables. In the edible category, I had a great boost from Kerry Trueman, friend and blogger extraordinaire for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kerry-trueman) and Green Fork (http://www.greenfork.org and one of the founders of Eating Liberally (see my blog roll). Kerry has a home nearby in Rhinebeck and, despite an abundance of rain and slugs, is attempting to grow her own vegetables and herbs in raised beds. Kerry gave me two beautiful hanging baskets planted with alpine strawberries, heirloom cherry tomatoes, parsley, lovage, and borage. I added two radicchio seedlings to the basket you see below. This magnificent edible offering has given me great pleasure. As of this writing, the tomatoes are tiny green orbs and I may not get a chance to eat a ripe one before I head back to NYC on the 31st. But what fun I had watching everything grow!
Kerry also introduced me to the Northern Dutchess Botanical Garden in Rhinebeck, NY (http://www.ndbgonline.com) where I was able to purchase many annual six-packs and edible seedlings at very good prices. All during July, however, everyone involved in gardening lamented the bountiful rain and infrequent sun that characterized the past spring and early summer and gave plants a very late start. I thereby joined the universal chorus of gardeners’ litanies–endless complaints about the weather and its effects on the garden. From my readings in garden literature and from these conversations I gather that no gardener is ever happy with his or her garden–or the weather–for more than a moment at a time.
Sedums are so hardy and flexible that I decided to try some in a little basket I had picked up in a thrift shop. They have been thriving and even flowered a few weeks ago.
In most of the remaining containers, I tried to create a mini garden within each pot. I combined colors and shapes that seemed complementary, trying in most cases to put the shorter plants in the front and gradually moving towards taller plants in the back. Once in a while, I got bold and put in some red or bright yellow blooms where they would shock the eye. I often put a trailing vinelike plant in front to hang over the container.
Here is one of my favorite containers of shade-loving plants which I placed in a shadowy area of the deck. I love the color combination and the tiny white flowers hiding under the butterflylike lavender leaves of the oxalis in front.
In two weeks we will be going back to NYC. I’ll take back what containers I can and will find good homes for the others. It will be a sad leave-taking but, for us humans, most earthly pleasures have some element of earthly pain.