The garden – its function in life?
Growing up in a city in the UK was a lot different than living in Bermuda.
I lived in a terraced house with no back garden, just a backyard.
The front ‘garden’ consisted of a hedge three feet from the house as a privacy factor between the house and sidewalk/road. The view from our kitchen was of a blank wall, part of another terrace block which ran at right angles to ours. Surprising then that as a career I chose horticulture and its related sciences.
There were trees planted along the other side of the road and a small park 100 or so yards down the road. Fast forward and having a garden at the back and front of the house is common which shows how important ‘green’ is to our daily lives.
The pandemic forced us to shelter in place last year; for many of us it highlighted the relevance of outside activity and how it contributes to peace of mind.
What is it that influences the style of a garden? Do you look for simplicity, ease of maintenance, a place for children to play, an area for entertaining, for growing fruit and veg; a functional mix of hard and soft landscape?
It has become the norm that gardens basically consist of lawn and flower beds with, on occasion, an effort of hard landscaping thrown in for good measure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but one often needs to question the designer’s eyesight.
Gardens were, by their very nature, places to relax and enjoy the floriferous nature of rolling lawns, flower beds, streams, lakes and strategically placed statues.
Their makeup was such that plants imported from around the world were planted to highlight the wide range of colour, leaf shape and seed and fruit-bearing capabilities – vegetation that people would usually have to travel to see.
From these gardens the desire for the small garden was born. It was initially a status symbol, which merged into a realisation that gardens created the opportunity to be creative, to exercise, to play, eat and relax.
Today we have taken this to the next level with the incorporation of swimming pools, saunas, BBQ areas, putting greens, volleyball courts, large patios for entertaining, play areas for children and dog runs. Plants are still a feature but perhaps not to the extent they once were; in many cases they are simply flowering plants found at the local nursery.
The interest level in the rare and unusual is not what it was. What’s most often used are geometric green ‘objects’ that only slightly resemble living plants.
Today’s garden can be tailored to ones needs in many ways – simplicity for the not so keen gardener; more ‘exotic’ for the keen gardener.
There is no need to mass plant if simplicity is desired. It is possible to create visual interest with fewer ‘architectural’ species strategically placed for views from the house or patio.
Low maintenance can often be achieved by using such a mix as slow-growing palms with either single trunks or clustering habit eg Christmas palm (veitchia merrillii); lady palm (Rhapis excels); European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis); Thurston’s palm (Pritchardia thurstonii); Sago (Cycas revolute); cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) – the latter two are not true palms!
Grasses are attractive with both foliage and flower spikes: purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum); pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana); tiger grass (Thysanolaena maxima); zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis Zebrinus).
Miscellaneous plants with interesting foliage become part of the design concept when used properly. Consider for example: chalk fingers (Senecio vitalis); lavender scallops (Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi); Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata); candelabra cactus (Euphorbia lacteal); firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis).
And then there are ground cover plants to interplant with those above: training rosemary (Rosmarinus o. prostrates); mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas); lily grass (Liriope spicata); yellow honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens); foxtail asparagus (densiflorus myersii); the holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) prefers shade.
Single species, when under planted with ground covers, make a bold statement, as the ground covers suppress weed growth as they fill in. Lay a design out on paper before you begin.
Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society