Not every day do I need to look at a drift of hellebores blooming, or a yellow magnolia in its glory. I don’t always require a succession of perennials, blooming. Some days are just much simpler than that. My grass gets cut on Fridays. Some Fridays I barely notice. Some weeks the weather has been wet, and the cut is ragged and too long. Some weeks there is no rain, and the grass looks flat out parched rather than mowed.
I do not entertain that much. In early summer, almost never; I am too tired after working all day. July of this year was so brutally hot, I was only outside long enough to soak my pots. Our very hot weather has moved on to some other part of the world; we have had regular rain. We have begun having friends to dinner in the garden again.
On those nights, I am glad for the delphiniums, the roses and asparagus representing, the lush stands of ferns, the fountain jets making their music, the boxwood trimmed just so, the balmy temperatures- This is any gardener’s idea of first class entertainment. I like my garden to entertain my company; that they have a good time gives me pleasure. All of the visual punch I can muster makes a garden a visual getaway for dinner guests.
But there are those nights when I come home with a less vigorous agenda in mind, and perhaps more in need of nothing more demanding than that closely and simply cropped plane of green grass. Not every day calls for a party with some plant or another popping or holding forth.
My grass is one of my favorite perennials. By no means do I have acres of it-a few small green grass sheets is more like it. It endures the corgis, the drought, the heat and the cold with aplomb. As for care, I water when it needs it; it gets cut once a week. You can tell from this picture that we have had rain. There is no substitute for water from the sky.
As for my experience of the garden, a lush lawn still perfumy from the mowing is a pleasure of a quiet sort. When the grass is green good, and neatly cut, everything else in the garden looks better. The grass is the lowest, and quietest place in my garden. It is a shock and sound absorber. Properly watered grass gives underfoot.
Lowering the lawn plane 8 inches, and retaining the soil with steel edging was my way of making that grass plane an important visual element of the landscape. This grass is not what was left over after the landscape beds were made-it is a feature. Any plant or element in a garden gets visual importance from how it is handled. Long ago when I had acres, I featured the grass plane by how and where I mowed.
The corgis have an especially good view of the grass; their legs are barely 8 inches long. My lower level garden permits a corgi-eye view of the lawn plane of the upper level. This is just one of the reasons how a change of level in a garden can delight the eye.
I placed this 19th century American cast iron fountain in a client’s existing terrace pool 6 years ago. Last fall, she was ready for a change. A rectangular pool much larger than the original circular pool was installed, and a steel surround was built to finish that new pool. The overgrown boxwood was removed, and additional stone was added to the terrace.
A picture frame opening was left in the stone, and planted this spring with isotoma fluvialitis. The steel surround was painted in much the same color as the original fountain. The surface of the steel was only primed in patches, so the surround would rust in the same manner as the fountain. The design of the surround was taken literally from the lower part of the base of the fountain. More recently, she decided that the color of the fountain and surround was too light; she wanted to tone down the color of both pieces.
Working with color outdoors is challenging. But I knew I would be developing the finish in stages. A pale blue gray would be applied first. Though this is a pastel color, it is distinctively blue. Successive coats would reduce that blue to a trace.
A darker brown-black coat was applied over the blue, to tone it down. The pool surround got its first coat of blue gray. Like the blue, this very dark color applied to the fountain would eventually be barely visible.
I sanded the entire surface of the fountain at this point, to bring some of the blue back up, remove some of the black, and expose some of the cream-white of the original color. Working on the color with the fountain in place is necessary. It is much too difficult to imagine an entire environment, and how light affects the surface. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on a ladder.
The sanded version has a lot of contrast-more contrast than what I wanted. The intent of the finish color is that it will reflect the predominant colors on the terrace, without standing out. All of the furniture and containers on this terrace are of subtle and restrained color. Much of that color is a result of age and exposure to the elements. To replicate an aged finish is by no means easy, and my experience creating them is limited. On my side-I had the time to let the finish develop.
The sanding brought color contrast to the surface. The gray wash which came next toned that contrast down. I liked the close relationship between all of the colors, but I knew I needed a gray that was a little darker, and less blue for the finish coat.
Over the gray wash, a darker, gray/brown wash. At this stage, I was wiping off as much paint as I put on. Though the fountain pool would prevent anyone from being this close to the surface of the fountain, It was my intent that the color be best described as gently faded.
Every color layer is represented, to greater, or lesser extent. The final coat of gray is dark enough to make the fountain sculpture blend gracefully with the rest of the terrace. Subtle does not have to mean sleepy; up close, there is plenty of visual interplay between all of the colors.
This afternoon, the concrete interior of the fountain is to be painted black. This will make the surface of the water reflective of what is going on in the sky. It will also change the feeling and appearance of the color on the fountain. In a perfect world, the fountain sculpture color will need no adjusting. If it does, I’ll be ready. The finish color on the surround will be much influenced by the black interior. I hope to finish that part of the painting this afternoon.
Late afternoon update-the interior of the concrete pool is painted, and the surround is one shade darker. What a huge difference the black makes; the fountain looks darker to my eye. It must be that no more light is being reflected onto the fountain via the pale gray concrete. I am thinking a lighter gray wash over the dark surround color is all I need to do to finish.
You have heard plenty from me over the past few years about hydrangeas. OK, I am crazy about them. I am reluctant to address the topic once again-but the summit of my summer is all about the coming of the hydrangeas. Hydrangeas figure prominently in any American garden. I do not plant Annabelle hydrangeas anymore. Their ball shaped flower heads flop to the ground, unless they are rigorously staked. Love the Annabelles? Plant them on top of a wall-their drooping stalks and flower heads will soften that space.
Limelight hydrangeas are a hybrid of white blooming hydrangeas that require much less of your time and effort. They stand up straight, they bloom in August in my zone for what seems like months. The blooms acquire a pink tinge as they begin to age; they may deepen to rose pink in the late stage. Here, they happily fill in the space between the densiformis yews, and the tall evergreens. This entrance is very inviting on a summer day.
Limelight hydrangeas are strongly growing shrubs. They soften the evergreen structure of a landscape. They adapt to almost any pruning style. I have pruned them to within 14 inches of the ground, and had good flowering, and shorter height. All they need is a good set of buds above ground to develop.
Lots of hydrangeas available now in nurseries local to me are shy bloomers. Pink or blue hydrangeas in my zone-sometimes they oblige, and sometimes not. I so love hydrangeas blooming in the summer, and I favor those varieties that perform. Should you be looking for a considerable summer show, look no further. The greenish white blooms compliment any color scheme you might have in mind.
This hedge of Limelights is three staggered rows, planted 30 inches apart; it has been pruned lightly. Most of the pruning is done on the top branches, so the side branches still get enough light to flower. I so love those plants that ask for so little, and deliver so much. Not interested in a garden extravaganza such as this? One Limelight is equally as effective.
It is high summer in my zone. I have 2 big blocks of Limelight hydrangeas on my small property. Those blocks are making a very big statement today. They grow so fast-buy little ones. Plan and plant them wherever you need a plant 5- 7 feet tall. Plant them wherever you need some summer romance. I can promise you this-Limelight hydrangeas will endow your garden with a little late summer magic.