In October 2011 our family relocated to a house and land about twenty minutes from our former location. The old house and the new house are both in rural areas, although the new location is less densely populated and more wooded, and generally quieter, with less traffic.
The General Prospect
The most noticeable change for us is the view. Our former home faced a field leading to a little brook valley, and wooded hills rising up behind. We had a view, a vista.At the new house, the woods starts directly across the street. At the old house, the view to the back was more obstructed, but still allowed the eye to travel. I’m not saying this is bad, just different. If you are familiar with Julie Moir Messervy’s design archetypes, you might say we went from an island vantage point–being in the middle of an open space–to a harbor vantage point–enclosed and surrounded by the woods. Some family members really miss an expansive view of the sky and often walk down the road to a farm where the pastures and fields enable them to enjoy such a view.
The Lay of the LandThe house is situated on land that slopes from front to back, dropping steeply down from the driveway and then sloping much more gradually to the brook in back. After that, the slope once again rises. There is another brook that travels under the road and forms the northern boundary of our property. These two brooks merge and flow into a culvert just off our property. In general, the side brook has more water than the back brook. This past summer, the back brook went dry, and the side brook was reduced to a trickle. How our ten-acre parcel fits into the surrounding area was aptly described by my son:
…here the property sits at an odd place in the lay of the land. It rests in a crook of the hill’s shoulder, so it seems when you stand there you might be situated within a small enclosed valley. The reality is, you are perched near the top of a hill and if you fought your way through the scrub and trees to the western rise nearby, you would find in due time the land falls off quite sharply, and steeply, to open on a vast valley, far greater than you would expect. But that valley, or the descent to the north if you follow the creek, are both well beyond the ten acres. Here, with all of that unknown, it seems you stand in a small dish of a valley, the hollow of a hand sheltered from the bigger world.
As best as I can infer, the former owners viewed the landscape as a way to set off the house and not much more. When we arrived, there were foundation shrubs along the front of the house, a bed of ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) along the side and a few shrubs and hostas edging the back. Most puzzling to me was a scrubby area of shrubs and saplings on the northwest side of the house.Given the manicured look of the rest of the landscape, this spot looks like it was not mowed for years and the birds planted most of it. It doesn’t seem to serve a function in the landscape, and the slope doesn’t seem as steep as some other areas of the lawn. It is a favorite place for the birds waiting for their chance at the feeder, and it has a lovely patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in the spring.
The one area that you could have reasonably called a garden when we moved in is this steeply sloping area by the carriage barn.The real estate copy referred to it as a perennial border, but there are a lot of shrubs in there, and it really doesn’t border anything. Since the slope is its defining characteristic, I call it the slope garden.
The soil is rocky clay.
First in a Series
This is the first in a series of posts about my thoughts when designing new garden areas and revamping existing ones in our new location. In the coming weeks, I hope to describe many of the areas labeled on the map. My goal today is to give you a point of reference when I talk about various areas of the garden. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.