The evolution of our four-square garden: Part 2

by Yvonne on January 23, 2012 · 4 comments

in Country garden maintenance, Landscaping

Four-square, May24-2006

May 24, 2006: Before the boxwoods have filled in

The four-square garden was gloriously romantic in its heyday. In spring, clumps of tulips and daffodils and Euphorbia polychroma would start the show.

Mystery peony

My favorite peony with allium 'Purple Sensation' (alas, I have lost the peony cultivar name)

The early bloomers were followed by peonies, which bloomed at same time as my favorite ‘Purple Sensation’ alliums.

We also planted Siberian iris and used English lavender, plus catmint and ladies mantle as edgers. Clematis vines scrambled over two tuteurs painted muscari blue. (My husband took actual muscari flowers to the paint store to get them color-matched.)

four-square June 2006

June 2006: The long grass in the back is the neighborhing tree farm. The grass is cut in early summer, and it never looks as romantic afterwards

In mid- to late-summer, the palette turned from pastels to warmer colors with ‘Zagreb’ threadleaf coreopsis and Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and purple coneflower.

Unlike other parts of our garden which are dominated by ornamental grasses, here, I used them sparingly as accent plants: a Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ in each of the front two squares.

However, the inner corner of each square featured a tall moor grass (Molinia arundinacea ‘Skyracer’), which was stunning in fall as its arching flower stems embraced the limestone sundial, which my husband John carved as a garden focal point.

The sundial base is a replica from English design of 1670, and it took him three years to learn the carving techniques to create and finish it. (The making of the sundial base will be the subject of another upcoming post.)

Fall 2009

Fall 2009: Tall moor grasses embracing my husband's sundial

So why did all that have to go? Well, no garden stands still, plants grow and some get out of control. Some of the perennials and the moor grass were self-seeding excessively. The Goldstrum rudbeckias proved too vigorous for the space. Nasty crown vetch weed had invaded one square and had imbedded itself around peony roots.

Weeding the garden

The summer student weeding team, hard at work in the four-square garden.

Previous attempts to tame the garden – we removed the worst self-seeders, plants like catmint and Knautia macedonica – helped, but the changes weren’t enough to tame the workload. The four-square garden had become the most labor-intensive of all my planted areas

The paths in particular required regular attention: every manner of weed and perennial seemed to germinate enthusiastically in the gravel. For several years, I hemmed and hawed about doing anything drastic.

Renovating the garden to radically simplify it would be a herculean job. Every bulb and perennial would have to be dug out – a job that I, now a decade older and plagued with repetitive strain injuries, could never imagine doing myself.

four square august 2009

Aug. 2009: Goldsturm rudbeckia in bloom, 'Limelight' hydrangea shrubs (background)

Click here for Four-square evolution: Part 3, in which we bite the bullet, and renovate, with some outside help, which made all the difference. (Read Part 1 here.)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam/Digging January 24, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Stunning images, Yvonne, especially the Fall 2009 golden garden with Skyracer grasses. Wow! So interesting to hear how it all evolved, and the maintenance issues involved in attaining that beauty. I look forward to part 3.


Salix February 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Oh, that garden was glorious!


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