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Vertical Interest

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 12 October 2001

How tall does your garden grow? Contrast in height sparks interest, the same way complementary colors intensify each other. In addition, taking advantage of a vertical dimension gives plants more space to grow.

Shrubbery is one way. the Oak-Leaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia) I started from seed last year is about three feet tall now, and should get from four to six eventually, with white panicles (cones, not snowballs) in May and burgundy leaves in the fall. If you use evergreens, don't let dense, dark green dominate the level they occupy, but mix in a variety of textures and colors.

Ornamental grasses can get quite tall. My Purple Reed Grass is about four feet, other Miscanthus varieties and also some Molina grow up to nine — with interesting foliage colors and feathery, long-lasting flowers.

Some plants will grow tall with support. Two of my roses have structures to support them: the arched wooden arbor over the garden entrance — and a metal obelisk trellis, eighteen inches in diameter and six and a half feet tall. The rose, which would otherwise be a five-foot mound, now rises up slenderly and then expands above the trellis with three-foot sprays, looking like a small tree.

Strong-stemmed Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) is a striking four-foot presence in my garden, needing no support. Its pink flowers feed many butterflies in mid- to late summer. But my New England Asters, which grow five feet tall, topple under the weight of their September flowers. I can cut them back early in the season; to reduce height at bloom — but I'd really like to put a pretty little piece of fence beside them, for them to lean on.

Fence alone can be an interesting vertical accent, as can other human-made objects. My blue Adirondack chair in the back of the garden pleases the eye as well as the tired back. In the rear left corner of my garden, two stylized copper frogs bounce on the end of three-foot, arched metal canes, in front of the otherwise blank wall of my neighbor’s garage.

My favorite tall item is my seven-foot scarecrow: straw-stuffed calico blouse and skirt, a felt witch hat, and a broom made of twigs. I bought her many years ago at a craft fair on Townsend Common; she's falling apart now — but isn't that how scarecrows are supposed to look?

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark