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The Lure of Garden Rooms

When our family lived in Washington, D.C., we often visited Dumbarton Oaks, to wander through its ten acres of gardens designed by Beatrix Jones Farrand in 1920. I remember walking from one garden to another like rooms in a house: they were enclosed, with walls of stone or brick or hedge, so that each was a new experience. That sense of enclosure was heightened further with arbors, carefully placed trees, and little nooks that sheltered benches. This design made every visit an adventure of discovery.

In Townsend our yard is only a third of an acre: too little, I have thought, for complicated landscaping of walled-in gardens. To mark the borders between areas with different functions, I use plants that stand out. A sweep of periwinkle divides the public sidewalk and the private yard. In the front border of the central garden in the back yard — a gazing garden, for ambling through — bright chartreuse hostas set it off from our outdoor living room, with lawn furniture.

Some landscapers do design even small lots like this with mazes of tall shrubbery to screen one garden room from another; this style is quite popular in garden magazines. But I've been using a more open plan, emphasizing an expansive view, and paths that lead the eye into the distance.

In fact my favorite view of the garden is from a window in the bathroom in the second story of the house. I have to step up on the wide edge of the bathtub to look out this window, but every time I do, I dream of putting French doors in the wall and building a deck up here for this view. (Maybe a sweet autumn clematis climbing up the supports, twining the railings with its vanilla-scented flowers in September....)

You can see the whole design of the garden laid out below. Except for one area: you can't see into the woods from above. At ground level you can see a little way in, but it's still a bit mysterious in there. When the old apple tree at the edge fell down, cutting off access from the main path, that barrier enhanced the mystery.

Now the path is clear again. But I've begun to crave garden rooms more hidden from view. Twisty paths shrouded in secrecy. Special corners, unseen until you get to them, that surprise you with delight. Shadowy private nooks; sheltered retreats. Enchanted rooms.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 3 October 2003

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