The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.

Little Things Mean a Lot

Little things mean a lot, in the garden as well as in song. It’s the little things that explain why we gardeners are always looking and re-looking. Shall I move this plant, modify this combination, add or subtract?

This past week I’ve been changing some little things at the Skating Pond. After 12 years, a few boards on the boardwalk needed to be replaced. And changing some boards gave me the chance (the excuse?) to change a few more. Quite a few, as it turned out. Because what started as a tweak ended up changing the shape of the boardwalk, not entirely but significantly, at one end.

It’s instructive to look back. Here’s a photo of the Skating Pond in 2011. The boardwalk started abruptly, without feeling connected to its surroundings; it ended with a modest curve that led directly into the field and to a view, in the distance, of telephone poles, electric lines and a house.

 

It's hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster.'
It’s hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster.’

 

(I’d love to show you what that view looked like, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve taken more than 1600 photos of the Skating Pond; not one of them shows it. You’d almost think I didn’t like what I saw.)

That abrupt ending was hidden once the bank above the boardwalk was planted with ornamental grass, but problems with the view remained. And in the back of my mind, there was always a little itch of dissatisfaction.

 

We planted the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.
We planted the ornamental grasses on the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.

 

Now I’ve scratched it.

The boardwalk now starts (or ends, depending on which way you are walking) with a strong curve that leads up the bank.

 

I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.
I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.

 

The curve and the steps are pleasing from every angle.

 

The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The field will regrow next year to cover the dirt.
The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The bare ground at the bottom shows where the old path went.

 

Best of all, the view from the top of the steps is good in every direction.

 

The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.
The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.

 

Over the past month or so we’ve made two other changes, each of which has, or will, make a big difference. The opposite end of the boardwalk has presented problems for years. The ground was wet and regardless of what I planted, nothing grew well.

A year ago we dug out the dirt to expose more rock. The result wasn’t pretty. More problematic than aesthetics, though, were the practical issues. I knew the slope would shift and slide over the winter. Something more had to be done.

 

This photo is from October 2016.
This photo is from October 2016.

 

In early July we dug out more of the hillside to change the angle of the slope. We added rocks, good dirt and a few trial plants, including divisions of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that are now doing well. We’ll use more Calamagrostis to fill in the space, dividing some of the existing clumps to continue the line, and possibly adding another type of plant as well. So while there is more to be done, I feel that finally the area is coming together.

 

The Aralia will have to go -- the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.
The Aralia will have to go — the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.

 

Another section, closer to the new steps, is coming together as well. An underground spring runs alongside a section of the rocks here, creating a constant problem with slippage on the hillside. A few years ago we added a few large rocks to stabilize the ground but they have never felt completely natural.

 

A combination of rocks, ornamental grass and dirt.
Despite the fact that the two large rocks near the top of the slope are well grounded, they look as if they are perched on top of the rock rather than coming up out of it.

 

Adding a few more rocks seems to have solved the problem.

 

A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a rock seam.
A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a natural rock seam.

 

Still to come is the final ‘little thing’, a weeping willow that will go beside the new steps. The tree should create the impression of a gateway at the entry that will focus the view and make the Skating Pond feel even more secluded than it feels now.

Next year I may need to tweak other things at the Skating Pond. But for the moment at least, I’m satisfied. No, more than that, I’m happy.

 

  • Jane / MulchMaid

    The steps make all the difference in the approach from either direction. No wonder you’re happy with that change. I agree with you, that little things can feel “just wrong” although it may take us awhile to figure out why and what to do about them. Well done sussing out and tweaking several small but significant improvements.

    • siteandinsight

      Thanks, Jane. It took a long time to make the changes. I just hope there won’t be more next year… or not too many more.

  • Jenny Stocker

    Such pretty scenes. Rock water and grasses can’t be beaten.

    • siteandinsight

      I agree, Jenny.

  • I could sit under the willow tree all day and discuss it ……the willow brings me peace!

    • siteandinsight

      Yes, it does. There is so much life at a pond, endless things to observe and enjoy.

  • Yes, little things mean a lot. Excellent changes. I just love it when I get that Eureka moment.

    • siteandinsight

      Yes, that Eureka moment is something special. No, as much as I love Michiko’s garden, and as many inspirational things as I saw there, they didn’t influence these changes. Maybe others to come, though.

  • Coming back to my own garden after a month away is making me look at it with new eyes. Sometimes you have to do what I always credit Marjorie Harris as calling “creative staring.” Then things coalesce somehow. I like what you’ve done very much.

    • siteandinsight

      LOVE the term creative staring. It really describes what needs to happen. I hope you’ll write more about Ireland. I’ve never visited gardens there, and probably won’t, so I’m doubly interested in what you saw. Not to mention a bit of envy…

  • Jason

    I really like the steps and the expanded planting of ‘Karl Foerster’.

    • siteandinsight

      Thanks, Jason. Surprising the impact that small changes can have.