Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

August 16 2014 016I have searched the picture files of my home garden in vain for a recent picture from just this angle.  I have plenty of pictures of the ferns on the lower level, the staircase to the rose garden, the boxwood flanking the stairs, and the fountain.  But nothing regarding how this change of level was handled.   I suspect I have no pictures, as that change had stopped working.  I had stopped seeing it.

July 20 2013 (29)From the upper level, the dark mass behind the boxwood hedge and lilac on standard was a row of yews-taxus densiformis.  Those yews were the lower part of a green wall that defined the upper level garden as visually separate from the lower level.  The Princeton Gold maples shielded the view from one garden to the other on the upper level.  I am not sure how long those yews have been there, but I am guessing 15 years anyway. They were a plain dark green backdrop for all else that was planted from both sides.  Gardeners can be timid about dividing or walling off their landscape spaces.  I see lots of landscapes that line up along the periphery of a property, but fewer that describe or make a statement about the interior spaces.

new-retaining-wall.jpgI do have pictures of that upper wall from the year 2000. It had just been finished.  The Palabin lilacs on standard which were there when I bought the house were baby lilacs on standard.  Still there was a considerably hilly drop to the lower level.

adding-another-wall.jpgTwo years later I added a second terrace.  The lower level would be flat and navigable, as would be the upper level.  The 1.5 inch caliper Princeton Gold maples were planted ahead of the construction of the lower wall. It was easier to roll the trees up to that level on a ball cart, as opposed to heaving them over a newly installed wall.

landscape-and-pool.jpgThe boxwood got planted, the arborvitae on the upper level were growing away, and the fountain pool was under construction.  Yet, I have no pictures of the yews that I planted on the edge of the upper level.

August 16 2014 003It was just 2 weeks ago that I took a good look at those yews.  While they were pleasantly green from the upper level, they were bare twigs and tufts of green at the top from the lower level.  As a stop gap measure, I planted a row of liriope spicata, in the hopes they would cover those bare legs. It took but a short while longer to realize that the liriope would languish in the intense shade, and I would still be looking at sticks.  The yews had become too big, and worse yet, they were not a good candidate for renovation.  The maples had grown considerably, and shaded the entire area.  By this time I was more focused on this spot than I had ever been. It did not take long to dig those yews out.

August 16 2014 004The light that came through once the yews were gone was considerable.  Seeing into the upper garden from the lower was a shock-but a pleasant shock. As a landscape ages, it changes-that’s obvious.  It’s the devil to predict how and when a garden will ask for a little renovation.  But I can say having those yews gone was a breath of fresh air. For the first time in many years I am looking at some bare dirt in my landscape.  What now?  I am certain I do not want to plant back anything that will grow tall.  I like the glimpses I am getting of the upper garden.  It could be that any change from what once was will be welcomed.

August 16 2014 006These ferns and European ginger on the south side of the stairs will benefit from the additional light.  Both of these plants tolerate quite a bit of shade, but they will thrive with more light. The view of the neighbor’s fence behind an old arborvitae that has shed its lower branches is not so swell.

August 16 2014 013It seems like I have a chance here to create a new intermediary garden, between the two older ones.  Milo went right to this spot first thing when he got home Friday.  We are both looking at it with fresh eyes.


  1. Thank you for this – the gentle reminder that nothing in our landscape is ever static. It’s a daunting task to contemplate removing a long-standing feature that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing (or not seeing). Sometimes we are forced into it by the harshness of weather and sometimes it is merely the aging process of our plants. Exciting things can happen at these junctures. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for your intermediary garden.

  2. My vote is goldenrod! Of course a creative powerhouse like you needs no suggestions. I think the feathery element of goldenrod would be so pretty.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Stephen, I think goldenrod would be very tall-I do love it, though. I think I might stick with the tall liriope spicata (18″ tall) and mix in something else. I am still thinking away. I spent 45 minutes staring at the spot tonight! Thanks, Deborah

      • Perhaps liriope backed by white-flowered Japanese anemone (to echo your Brunnera)? A nice autumn combination maybe?

      • Wendy Noreyko says

        45 minutes?! You do that too?! My indecisiveness has a whole new light cast upon it. When my husband laughs that I just stood in the same spot in my garden, apparently “just standing there,” now I can say, “Well, Deborah Silver does it too.” No, he won’t understand but I can appreciate my new confidence anyway. [P.S. Doesn’t that affect your profitability when designing for your clients? Or how do you somehow configure their plans on a different timeline?]

        • Deborah Silver says

          Wendy, designing is a process that takes lots of time-either standing in the spot, or looking at a site plan. What to do may not be obvious or easy to determine. If I don’t have an idea I think is good, I do nothing! Best, Deborah

  3. JoyceB in Atlanta says

    whoa!! I’m breathing with you. How refreshing to bring a new idea to an old garden. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make a quick decision. I just covered my newly bare area with cardboard covered in a thick layer of mulch, and I’m going to enjoy leisurely thinking about what I eventually want to see there. I can’t tell you how free I feel with the bed in a state of renewal.
    Good luck, and enjoy the process!

  4. It is so funny how those trouble areas slip through without being photographed… very often the case in my garden also. I am interested to see what you come up with!

  5. I am blown away by a few things….
    1 Seeing the early images of your landscape. They took my breathe away. A reminder of the possible.
    2 The reminder that garden are always changing….even when they seem as structured and permanent as yours.
    3 The thought of Deborah Silver with an intermediary garden. Intermediary: a person (or thing) who acts as a link between people (or places) in order to try to bring about an agreement or reconciliation; a mediator.
    Well….have at it Madame Mediator. I cannot wait to see what is reconciled or agreed upon.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michael, it could also be a transition garden-a portal. A foyer, of sorts. I don’t have an answer yet! Deborah

  6. It is reassuring to know that even a gardener of your experience and high level of professional undertakes a personal redo and feels rejuvenated by the process. I have just recently removed 3 ‘Gold Coast’ junipers that the tag and internet research said would top out at 3 ft. Well, even with ongoing, judicious pruning, those suckers evidently didn’t have that info in their DNA. They were waay too big and it has felt so good and liberating to get them out. Now I have the fun of trying something different.

  7. Ellen Reid says

    What a great space to play with. As the sun light filters through the tree leaves I can imagine how ‘Aureola’ Japanese forest grass
    could be both graceful and reflective along the edge of the garden wall backed by Lady Fern, Halcyon hosta or planted in mass. So many options, have fun Deborah.
    Ellen Reid

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