Monday, December 19, 2011

Gardening in Four Dimensions

Through the Seasons Tripytych
No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden.
~Hugh Johnson

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite aspects of gardening is the excitement of its continual change...its progress and evolution from day to day, season to season, and, of course, year to year. The constant change of a garden is one of the most intriguing...and challenging, parts of planning a garden. It's not enough to just plant something that looks good right at that very moment...because it will (generally) never be that way again. From the moment you plant a garden it starts to change and evolve. In essence, a garden is not a just the static, 3-dimensional thing it appears to be at any one moment, it is also product of time. Come along with me, then, and let's look at my garden as it progresses through the course of a single growing season.

Front Border Spring Summer H
Front (East) Border in Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
As the photos above show (and as we all know), just a few months can make a huge difference between a sparse border and a packed-to-the-gills one! I'm always amazed by just how much growth plants can accomplish in such a short time. For example, even though only a few months elapse between the photos, the Sumac goes from being practically invisible to becoming the focal point of the garden. It's amazing how the empty space in an early-spring garden seems so vast…it's so tempting to keep filling it in…only to realize later the plants are all jostling for space. I find I constantly under-estimate the eventual, mature size of plants.

North Border Spring 2 Summer 4D
Side (North) Border in Late Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
As the year wears on, the garden can change dramatically in mood. Above, the cool freshness of the late spring garden soon transitions to the rich, warm hues of summer. During the growing season, I find myself in the garden every day...constantly checking on things. My neighbors must seem it fairly odd, especially in early spring, when the garden is little more than sticks and mud. I find that while I enjoy the garden in the moment, I am always thinking forward to the next "stage" of the season. During the Tulips' reign, I look forward to the Echinacea...when the Echinacea bloom, I pine for the Agastaches. The anticipation is sweet, like the days leading up to Christmas when you're a kid!

North Border Spring Summer H 2
Side (North) Border in Late Spring (Top) and Midsummer (Bottom)
The same part of the garden as above, from the other direction. Again, I love how plants come into the spotlight during one season only to fade away as another group of plants asserts themselves. Planning for this succession of interest is one of the most challenging aspects of gardening, indeed, there are whole book written about it!

Rudbeckia 4d
Grouping A:
Geranium 'Rozanne', Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', Agastache 'Desert Sunrise' and Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Of course, this constant evolution takes place throughout the entire garden, but it can be fun to focus on small vignettes as well. Take the above example…while in summer the focus is on colorful blooms with their contrasting colors, shapes and sizes, as they fade, it's their shape and form that creates visual interest. As fall moves into winter, most of the plant material will fall away, leaving only bare branches.

Echinacea 4D
Grouping B:
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus', Pennisetum 'Hameln', Agastache 'Golden Jubilee', Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Above is another small grouping that whose progress I enjoyed throughout the seasons. In spring, bulbs such as Tulips and Alliums dominate. In summer, the above plants have completely overgrown the fading bulb foliage. While colorful and vibrant in summer, as these plants fade, the scene becomes more monochromatic and structure again becomes the key to the scene's interest.

North Border H Triptych
Side (North) Border in Spring, Summer, Fall
Above is the North Border during almost the entirety of a growing season. Missing, granted, is a shot of it in late Winter, right after I cut all the previous years growth back…at which time it's pretty much just mulch and dirt! I love seeing the constant parade of plants, continuously changing. Again, I'm always intrigued at how each group of plants passes on the baton to the next group as the season progresses. I'll be the first to admit that although my garden has lots of "winter interest", it's probably being generous to say it's "pretty"!

North Border V Triptych
Side (North) Border in Spring, Summer, Fall
Above is the North Border again, from the opposite direction. Again, love how we move from the (somewhat bare) spring display into the full, verdant glory of summer into the more melancholic decline of the garden in autumn. Winter, luckily, is quite short here in the often feels as if we skip it entirely. Nevertheless, I think winter is as important as the other seasons in the garden, if for no other reason than it makes us appreciate summer all the more.

Front Garden Hor Triptych
Front (East) Border in Spring, Summer and Fall
The front border again from the beginning to the end of the growing season. This part of the garden is one that I've continually struggled with to get right. If it were a larger space, I might plant a few shrubs to provide a bit more structure…but I hate to block any of the already limited light to the rest of the garden. I've re-worked parts of the garden each year…working in more structural plants (mostly grasses) to help define the space more. At the height of summer, the lack of structure is inconsequential…but during other parts of the year, its absence is a definite drawback. As the years pass, and some plants start to attain their mature size, I'm having to re-evaluate the space as well…as these large plants block light from smaller plants around them. It's a constant balancing act, adding, subtracting and re-arranging. It's true what they say, a garden is never really "done".

North Border H 4D
NE Corner section of garden in Late Summer (Aug 29) and Mid-Autumn (Nov. 11)
The two scenes above are just a little more that two months apart. It's amazing how much can change over the course of such a (relatively) short amount of time. In Portland, I usually think of August as "High Summer" when the garden is really in full swing. It's always hard to believe at that point that the slow slip into autumn is just around the corner. This is one part of the garden that has quite a bit of structure. I love, however, that even these very structural elements (The Miscanthus, Eutrochium and Saccarum especially) are in a constant state of change…never static. Even while they anchor this portion of the garden, they are, like everything else, completely transient.

Of course, every one of these photos, if I were to try to re-create them next year, would look very different, there is always that little bit of mystery and unpredictability. Also, no matter how much control I think I have over the garden, there are factors (like the vagaries of the weather) that are beyond my power to control...or even predict! They do say the only constant in life is change…but isn't that what makes us get out of bed each day…the "what if"? Similarly, isn't that at least part of what makes gardening such a fun, challenging (and sometimes frustrating) endeavor…the "I'll put these plants here, here and here…and see what happens!?!?"

Sometimes, in spite of all our planning, it seems that we gardeners merely set things in motion and then go along for the ride...but what a ride it is!


  1. Great concept for a post, Scott, but it's really your gorgeous photos of your gorgeous garden that blew me away.

  2. Scott, As gardeners, we love to see the progression of the seasons. You have captured the mood of each so beautifully. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Very impressive post! A labor of love, obviously.

  4. Hi Scott,

    Lovely photos, it's always so interesting to see people's gardens changing!

    This year I have managed to largely ignored taking wider views like this and know I will regret it when some parts of the garden have no record of their development at all!!
    I think it would be nice to also see where you started from i.e. how the garden looked when you first moved in; now I am sure that will be a stark contrast!

  5. Great post. It will be interesting to see how your analytical bent takes you to new places in the future of the garden.

  6. Hi Scott, you know i am here all the time as soon as you posted. However, most of the time it is difficult for me to download the post, it keeps circling and circling but they don't, and the photos mostly don't open. I am here not only for the flowers but mostly because you take great photos, that are very inspiring for me. Maybe you are not resizing the shots before uploading so it takes time. Anyway, you now know how i feel, Merry Christmas.

  7. Your neighbors must love your yard! I'm always in mine too even when it's just sticks and mud. I really enjoyed this post, especially seeing all those beautiful flowers!

  8. Lovely contrasts here between seasons, colours and textures.

  9. Gorgeous Scott. Always wonderful to come in and view your photos. Like Andrea it can be difficult to download. Resizing is usually the main issue for that or not changing the DPI with the resize. Regardless, a blog I LOVE to visit for it's beauty.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  10. Your garden is fabulous! Makes me want to move to Portland!

    Hope you have a wonderful holiday.


  11. I too am fascinated by the process of layering 4 season interest into one area, which I have experimented with, with varying degrees of success. You have done an amazing job with it in your garden. It looks beautiful in all seasons and your photography is gorgeous.

  12. You've captured so well, in the garden and in photos, the dynamism of a perennial border. Love the sumac!

  13. I really enjoyed this pictorial. Your garden reflects the seasons beautifully. However, like Andrea, the first couple of pictures didn't download for me completely. It's so frustrating only because we know that we're missing something very beautiful. The rest of the pics downloaded fine for me, though - they are spectacular.

  14. Hey Scott,
    I'm not into gardening quotes but this o0ne calls to mind a quote from Mac Griswold of the New York Times: Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts. Great work.

  15. Your garden makes some amazing transformations through the seasons. You do a great job planning the succession of the plants.

  16. Scott, I always love the pictorial journeys you take us on. I'm going to do a similar project, take a shot per day from the same spot and put it together as a time-lapse video for some music I've been working on. Could be a cool project.

    I would love to use some of your photo work for a seminar I'm giving in march. (Vertical accents)

  17. Scott, I really enjoyed the post. I appreciate how you layer your gardens and how they ebb and flow during the seasons. I imagine folks in your surrounding neighborhoods enjoy taking walks past your place to see the beauty that your gardens offer.

  18. Pam/Digging: Aww…thanks! It was a lot of fun looking through all those photos of the past year :-)

    Lucy Abbott: Thanks, glad you like the post!

    Allan Becker: Thanks…it really was quite a bit of work..but it was fun work :-)

    gwirrel: Oh yeah…I've done that before, and I made a mental note every time I was out taking photos to get a few wide shots…even if they weren't amazing, they are great for reference later.

    James Golden: Thanks! I know, we'll see if it helps me be a little more organized ;-)

    Andrea: Hmmmm…that's disappointing! I'll have to look into that…it may be Flickr…I occasionally have trouble with the image links working consistantly. Merry Christmas to you too!

    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress: Hahahaha…glad to know I'm not alone ;-)

    hillwards: Thanks so much…glad you enjoyed the post.

    Sunray Gardens: Oh no! I'll definitely have to look into the image issue…blast!

    Freda Cameron: Come on over!

    sweet bay: I'm the same way, I kind of just keep trying things until I find something that works. Occasionally, it will look great on the first try…but more often than not, it takes years to get it "right"!

    Denise: Thanks…don't you love the Sumac…such a lovely plant, for sure!

    HolleyGarden: Thanks! So sorry you had trouble with the images…I do think they were a bit larger than usual, which may account for the issues :-(

    Patrick's Garden: Absolutely! I remember thinking about that quote the entire time I was doing this post!

    Bluestem: That's quite a compliment, coming from you…thanks again!

    The Plant Geek: I love that idea! I might try that as well (just need to be dedicated). I think it would be amazing if we could get EVERY garden blogger to do the same…and have a youtube channel just for those vids…could be amazing! Of course you can use my pics…thanks for asking :-)

    Jenni@RainyDayGardener: Thanks so much…I do see the neighbors stopping by on occasion, it's always a little embarrassing when they catch me watching them ;-)

  19. True. That is what is so enjoyable about authentic landscape design. True change of the seasons, year by year. And also change due to maturity. Buildings do not offer that or interior design. Or paintings. Very unique.

  20. Hi Scott! It took me 3 days to read and fully enjoy this beautiful post of yours. I wanted to savor it. Pictures are fantastic as ever, I love the 'before/after' and you even put the 'meanwhile' here :)
    I wonder if you have some soil left in those borders, it's so packed with bulbs and roots and yet it looks fantastic and perfectly balanced. I am so envious, I have wider spaces than you in my garden and less than half of your plants!

  21. Those pictures are so beautiful I am having a hard time reading the post. I keep scrolling up and down looking at the pictures! Really looking forward to moving out of my apartment and into a house next week so I can get to work creating a garden of my own like yours.

  22. Very beautiful photos! Me too scrolling up and down!
    Merry Christmas to you and your family! Have a great day!

  23. Thanks Scott!
    Time-lapse project starts today. Pic #1 is taken. Now if I can make sure I get out there every day for the next year I'll be good. Of course if I'd spent an extra $300 and got the next model camera up I could have also gotten the time lapse controller and just mounted the camera and let it rip. Ah well. Happy Holidays everyone!

  24. Love, love, LOVE this post. What an incredible garden you have!

  25. greggo: So very true…and exactly what I love about gardening. I find the landscaping shows to be so at odds with what I think of as gardening. They seem determined to treat it as just another form of decorating…which always drives me crazy.

    altroverde: Hi Alberto! So glad you enjoyed the post…it did take me a while to get it all together, so I'm happy you found it worthwhile :-) Admittedly, the borders are packed to the gills…which makes it really hard to move around…and even harder to plant bulbs! I do hope someday to have a bigger space…maybe a little place in the country somewhere…sigh.

    Kaveh: Ahhhh….so glad you enjoyed it…I'm excited for you to have a garden…that's awesome…I'll be following your blog to check on your progress!

    Malar: Thanks so much, very glad you enjoyed it…Merry Christmas to you too :-)

    The Plant Geek: No worries ;-) I'm totally going to try to do the pic-a-day thing too…we'll see how long I manage to do it! Oh yeah…if only we all had money to afford all the toys we wanted.

    Heather: Thanks so much…glad you liked it!

  26. I love love love these type of seasonal posts... I too very much enjoy the change that goes on right before our eyes each year. Its fascinating to me how something so beautiful can be so beautiful but so different in mere weeks.

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

    1. So glad you like it, Jess! I'm the's that constant change that really gets me excited and stirs my imagination!

  27. Wow! You sure have that "bloom for every season" thing mastered. Beautiful gardens!

    1. Yes! That's pretty much my goal...not easy, for sure!

  28. Lovely images with a high photographic level! And the text content is up to par with your images too. Fantastic to see the big changes over just one season. And you must live in one of the best climates to be a gardener in.

    Glad I discovered your blog. I'll be back. Definitely.

    1. Hi Lars...glad you found me too! Indeed, I have to admit, the Pacific Northwest is a gardeners Eden...makes gardening far less of a challenge!

  29. I want to live across the street from you.

    1. I'll keep an eye out for any "For Sale' signs ;-)

  30. The spine in Tips SM700 Signature bank Two Food processor may possibly be an exceptionally reliable form of these things.

    In such a edition you can still research through process of including fruits and vegetables to
    produce yours more healthy wine bottles. It really is launching of any juice extractor imply bringing out political election.
    Intestines blenders could homogenize goods to come up with
    to # 1 toddler objects, a pot of soup coupled with a range of

    my blog post :: westinghouse-sa23950-turbo-blender-stainless - -

  31. When I stepped into the showroom, I felt like I was in Provence. The scent of lavender and the sound of running water from the antique limestone fountain along with the incredible selection of French garden antiques were really impressive. If you are looking for very large garden ornaments, French planters, etc. this is the showroom to visit. A total of 15,000 square feet of the most incredible French garden antiques, French limestone fountains, fireplace mantels and the most selective collection of planters from France with immediate availability. Each piece feels real, the atmosphere is so calming and rural. A true and unique gem to be found in West Palm Beach! Their website is

  32. Colds: a Virus, Angina, Cough, Flu, High Fever, Sinusitis
    and Rhinitis, Stuffy Nose, Tonsillitis, Pharyngitis,.
    Aloe Vera cream is found in almost any drugstore that has sunscreen. Beside that using natural aloe-vera is also
    very promising.

    Here is my blog post - aloe vera acne