Couple years ago I bought this stepping stone with DREAM printed on it. I’m a dreamer, and so it appealed to my tea towel in the windness. I think of a garden in that way, a place to dream, and so it seemed apropos.
Almost mockingly, the crack formed a peace symbol and broke my heart.
It wasn’t a stepping stone.
It was wall decor.
I am an idiot, as I could now clearly see that in fact, it was much too thin to be stepped on. Em, something in that, but I digress.
And thus my stepping stone of broken dreams was born.
Lying there in the soil taunting me, fifteen dollars of my hard earned cash, and what to do with a broken dream? The universe was testing me.
Well, I left it there. Eventually, I turned it over and set plant pots on it, to hide its’ brokeness.
I’ve had other gardens, big ones, small ones, by the lake gardens, high-rise apartment gardens, shade gardens, and sunny alike. Some were a success, and others fell short, some fell short by miles and miles of what I had intended.
It did beg the obvious question, how does one recover from your broken dreams?
This garden I knew from the start would always be a challenge, with the big Black Walnut Tree standing right outside my door, and so not everything would thrive as many plants don’t like the toxin that Black Walnuts give off.
Yet, being in love with Woodland gardens, I learned that a lot of the things I wanted to plant – hosta’s & ferns, and other woodlandia – would do well, and so off I tramped back down to the garden centre to see what they had.
When I moved here in the fall of 2013 there was nothing but dirt outside my door, with a tangled mess of Virginia Creeper, and a few big leaf Hosta’s, and a spray of Ditch Lilies out the front. The landlord had given me the ok to do whatever I wanted, and so… my little heart fluttered at the thought, and another little garden was born.
But this was not going to be a garden of broken dreams.
As the fronds of the ferns unfold, and the Forget-me-nots go on for days upon days, as the big ol’Plantagenet Hosta’s unfurl, this little space has come into its own, and I am enchanted by it.
First, a woodland by its nature is generally between. Between fields, between houses on rural acres, and mimics, though is not, a true, bonified forest as it is smaller, more contained. They are foresty ecosystems that shelter the wild.
(1) Principles of Design
As with any garden, I’ve created, or have had a hand at, I give a nod to FOLIAGE, FORM, FUNCTION & FLOWER. The order to which one applies those is interchanging, depending on personal preference, yet each should be thought of.
In my garden, the first is always foliage, as that is my passion. The many shades of green, varying textures, from the smooth almost kelly green of the big hostas’, to the chartreuse of the Golden Creeping Jenny. Leaves are long and graceful, like the ferns or the Golden Japanese Forest Grass, or round like the Creeping Jenny, and each in some way mimics the wild that I find on my many journeys in the forests of this part of Ontario.
TIP: when choosing plants, never get just one, always at least two. Plant en masse, as you find in a woodland there are sweeps of plants, not individual specimens lined up like soldiers. Group in 2’s, 3’s, 5’s or more. I have a ‘stream’ of the Creeping Jenny that winds it’s way along the path, and in years to come it will fill in more and more and become even more striking, setting off the darker greens of the hostas and ferns.
(2) Light Me Up
My own shady nook only sees the dappled sun in the morning through the leaves of the many trees over top, to a bit more direct dappling in the late afternoon as the sun falls behind the trees that dot the village. I design with this in mind, as I’ve sat and watched where the sun goes, I’ve chosen some plants that brighten up little spots in the garden, so as to mimic that dappling. I wanted things that both caught the light and retained that brightness even in the shade of the afternoon. For this I found the following were quite happy to reside underneath the Black Walnut:
(3) Where The Wild Things Go
A wee bit of the wild is essential to the authenticity of a woodland space, so leave some room for it. A place for the birds and such. My own garden space has elements of a Japanese garden aesthetic, but there is a small area dedicated to chaos, as it were. There I have my bird feeder, with a shelter of branches for them to hop about on, and where also they feel a sense of safety, as it is a bit away from the rest of my little in-between space.
(4) The Human Space
For the in-between, for enjoying of and repose, I have pillows, a little Ikea stool made of bamboo, a couple teak chairs my sister gave me, and a little shabby chic table in Chartreuse that a friend provided for the cause.
Decor – found objects, broken bits become little tales hidden amongst the foliage of the plants. Tucked up underneath. My theme is a Victorian Folly, with the seeming detritus remains of a Roman Villa, replete with a bit of samian ware (pottery chards) strewn about, as well as an old Tiffany like lamp shade I dug in to provide a wee bird bath (to which I empty every now and again amongst the ferns that love the danky rainwater).
(5) Focus and Feelie Bits
So the plants are in, the garden each spring unfurls, and the next thing I needed was somehow to direct one’s eye. A technique that I use is to squint my eyes up, to blur the space, and see where my eye naturally goes, and play with that. If there isn’t anything, then add it, and then do the squinty eye thing again to see if it worked. The idea is to draw the eye IN, and gently guide one visually, so as you enter you only then begin to see little bits and bobs. It becomes a bit of a surprise, and as you come down the walkway you only then see the little tales the garden tells.
So, what was once broken has been transformed into an oasis of shade and light and peace. With a bit of the wild, a little of the Zen, and lots of woodlandia.