The concrete chronicles, part II: Composition

Four weeks ago, flush with excitement and ready for anything, I sallied forth into garden centers and drove by nurseries, eager to begin the transformation of my concrete balcony slab into an urban oasis. Tragically, the early springtime weather – being the horrid, disobliging thing it is – thwarted my plans: There were no plants to be had and no work could be done. I couldn't even console myself with painting flower pots due to the cold. What to do? I immersed myself in the idea of my perfect garden.

Last time, we (hopefully) figured out what we liked and the kind of garden best suited to our personal tastes. I decided on the classic English garden, I found when designing a garden along a specific genre (in this case, English), a good place to start is with the question "What makes an English garden an English garden?" Thus armed, and with a rudimentary idea (an English garden has clipped hedges and rose bushes, and ... tea tables? I was a little hazy on the details), I gathered some books on the subject and got to researching.

An important note: When researching your garden, be prepared to be blown away and completely overwhelmed by the abundance of information and variety about to be thrown your way. Did you know there are two types of English garden, each at odds with the other? There's the Formal, with its clipped hedges, knots, gravel walks and geometric patterns, and the Landscape, which is designed to look as natural as possible, almost like a park or nature preserve, albeit a very trained and guided one.

I opted for the former, since that was my initial idea, but woe to me; it is still not that simple. Formal English gardens had large stone memorial columns, Gothic "ruins", mausoleums, arches, and temples erected in them. I highly doubt I shall be placing a large marble pillar on my balcony any time soon.

Small gardens like mine are not able to house such grand trappings, which would look odd and take up valuable space. When space is at a premium, decide beforehand what is most important to you, and what you want to get out of both the area and your choice pieces; make your selections both functional and stylish. A seating area was important to me, so I chose a wrought-iron table and chairs suitable to my English theme, and I have an empty space against a wall where I would like to have a baker's rack to keep potted plants on. Finally, a small sundial, popularized during the reign of Henry VIII, would balance the two large objects while adding to the overall English feel. 

Naturally, we must be guided by what is practical, feasible and in good taste. Always remember that we're not trying to create an exact replica, but to impart a general idea and look while ultimately creating a garden tailored to suit our own needs. What I create in a Northeast Ohio garden in the 21st century is not going to perfectly align with what was created in an Oxfordshire garden in the 18th century. It's better to select a few choice pieces to reflect your chosen style; people will get the idea.

Just don't go putting your gigantic pink flamingo in your Japanese rock garden and confusing them. Harmony is the goal here. Do your homework, make your plans. And prepare to be surprised. 

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 8, Posted 10:42 AM, 04.16.2013