I’ve been mulling over garden design this summer.

Vegetable gardens are straightforward. You want to maximize sun and soil fertility, minimize wind, have water convenient and not hike too far from the kitchen to harvest. You grow the vegetable types you and your family will eat using the varieties that grow best in Cheyenne. Maybe you plant in rows or squares or raised beds.

Flower gardens have similar parameters for success: match the plants’ needs for sun, shade, wind protection, soil type, water, and if perennial, USDA horticultural zone – how cold it gets in winter. Cheyenne is rated 5b, but most of us look for plants rated hardy at colder temperatures, zones 3 or 4, unless we have a sheltered spot.

Once you account for plant needs, the rest is art: color, texture, form, contrast, blending. And if you are working with perennials, you are also working with what each kind of plant looks like at different seasons.

The first week in July, my Philadelphia aunt and I took a Road Scholar garden tour to Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. We toured 10 gardens, all but one public. We saw a lot of design approaches.

The expansive Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia is classic Japanese harmony. There are few spots of flower color. It’s mostly shades of shrubs, trees and ground covers.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the recreation of a historic scholar’s garden, is a courtyard located in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The elements – rock, water, path, gate, window, plant – are placed even more precisely to aid meditation and intellectual work.

The other gardens had multiple themed areas within. Almost all had rose gardens and the start of our tour was right at rose peak: six-foot-tall shrubs with delicious blooms as big as my hand, or small roses packed into panicles like grapes. I haven’t seen roses grow like that in Cheyenne, which I fondly refer to as the “Annual Rose Capital” because it can be hard to get some kinds to winter over.

Several rose gardens we saw were arranged symmetrically inside wrought iron fence enclosures to keep the deer out. Does anyone ever grow roses in anything but a formal setting?

Butchart Gardens, outside Victoria, has been famous for more than 100 years for its colorful beds disguising a played-out limestone quarry. Starting with spring bulb displays, then annuals, the beds may get replanted four or five times a year. Annuals usually have a bigger percentage of flower to greenery compared to perennials and work better for making blocks of color. The geometry of the Italian garden reminded me of patchwork and the sunken garden’s curved designs, applique.

It rained lightly our whole afternoon at Butchart. But clear umbrellas were provided to all visitors. The rain meant many fewer people on the paths. Flower colors glowed in the indirect light and roses with water droplets were very photogenic.

While touring the University of British Columbia’s gardens, I chuckled to see cactus and succulents growing under glass canopies to protect them from too much rain.

We toured only a small part of the VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver, filled with luxurious beds of more unusual perennials.

The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific outside Victoria is staffed mostly by volunteers like our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, but part of its mission is to train horticulturists and home gardeners.

I’ve been reading an English garden critic’s essay collection this summer, Tim Richardson’s “You Should Have Been Here Last Week, Sharp Cuttings from a Garden Writer.”

Richardson tours many historic English gardens designed by famous gardeners. Thanks to the internet, I can look up both gardens and gardeners. He fusses over too fussy Victorian gardens, too blowsy English cottage garden borders and worries about the New Perennial Movement taking over.

The New Perennial Movement started more than 20 years ago with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. He is somewhat responsible for landscapers now planting ornamental grasses and clump-forming perennials instead of shrubs all the time. And at least, compared to annuals that turn to mush when frozen, perennials can look good all winter.

If Richardson lived in Cheyenne, he would be grateful for every plant that decided to grow. My own garden is a hodge-podge of easy-to-grow perennial prairie flowers and old-fashioned favorites like iris and lilies. It’s a scrap quilt, where every patch of plants brings back memories.

Barb Gorges writes a monthly column about the joys and challenges of gardening on the High Plains. Find her past columns at http://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com. Readers are always welcome to contact her with questions and story ideas at bgorges4@msn.com.

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