Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Colonial Approach for Your Landscaping

A great many people seeking landscaping inspiration tend to overlook the actual style of their home. Certainly one of the most commonly found designs in our older, post-war communities is the so-called brick colonial, often complete with ye olde garage and driveway. These modern “colonials” typically feature an indeterminate landscape of lawns and azaleas rather than anything which might be considered truly Colonial, and perhaps better suited to the home and its setting.

Of course, there is a world of design opportunity and choice contained in the simple word “colonial,” ranging from Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon, with formal garden areas which might be a tight squeeze in many urban and suburban areas, to the more rustic living history sites found at the National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, Maryland, or Claude Moore Colonial Farm in Virginia.

Chances are that most landscaping budgets will favor the latter approach, which is closer to the land and much more practical, although a simple seventeenth or eighteenth century working garden can certainly pick up an elegant element or two from gentrified living, such as a formal hedge or a tidy knot garden of aromatic herbs.

Many homeowners are inclined to consider boxwood hedges for foundation plantings and to define pathways, often in imitation of National Historic Trust properties. However, it should be pointed out that boxwood is a considerable investment, whether of time, where small containerized stock can take a decade or two to reach an appreciable size, or of money, where a grouping of larger shrubs can cost as much as a new car or two. Besides, Theme Gardens author Barbara Damrosch points out that the use of boxwood dates more to nineteenth century design than the colonial period itself. Historic accuracy could actually save you thousands of dollars, enough to buy some real antiques for your parlor.

As you consider design elements for your landscape, keep in mind that earlier gardens served a useful purpose and were not simply decorative. Your plant selections can and should reflect some of these practical considerations, prompting you to develop beds to provide tasty salad greens, culinary herbs, small fruits and berries, and so on.

The setting for your colonial garden is often dictated by the overall layout of your home. Small herb gardens can be built outside the back door to your kitchen. Larger, imaginative designs can take over your front yard, where a picket fence can enclose a somewhat formal pattern of walkways between garden plantings.

A garden for a sunny backyard might include a fence capable of excluding deer, which were as much of a problem for our colonial forebears as for modern suburban communities abutting wooded areas. You will find that some of the historic farm gardens nearby were constructed with tall fences of rough-hewn planks and timbers. Modern pre-made stockade fences will suffice, and can become the backdrop for raspberry canes, peas, and other climbing vines.

For craft-minded gardeners, consider erecting a thigh-high wattle fence, woven from twigs and small branches or straight sections of wild grapevine. These fences have graced gardens, and kept out rabbits, for over a millennium, and will now add a natural, historic feel to a lively salad garden brimming with chives, onions, garlic, and leeks.

Pathways through your garden or between beds can be built with elegant, recovered brick, crunchy pea gravel, or even crushed oyster shells, which were popular in some of the finer manor gardens. You can also fall back on a neatly manicured turf path or, easiest and least expensive of all, a simple mulched pathway. Select materials in keeping with your garden’s function. Is your garden designed as a showcase to set off your home? Or is it a working garden generating produce for your table and pantry?

The net effect of your garden may not rival the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, but artful design will match and enhance the traditional style of your home, while creating a flavorful and inspiring link to the past.

Copyright 2009, Joseph M. Keyser

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