Raising the Walls

– Posted in: Garden Design

Walled garden at Carthage Nov 14 07

Many years ago, when I worked as an editor at Rodale Press Garden Books, part of my job was looking at pretty pictures of gardens. Lots of pictures. Many thousands of pictures. You see, each of us worked on the photo selections for the books we were individually responsible for, and we often pitched in to help each other on the biggest books. Our ever-patient photo editor presented us with towering stacks of folders and envelopes full of slide sheets, and we spent many hours leaning over a light table, peering at tiny transparencies in the hunt for the perfect pictures. Part of the task was selecting the types of images that suited the particular book project, whether that was close-up shots for plant IDs, combination shots, or wider-focus garden shots. But that was just the first step; then we had to winnow out those that were out of focus, misidentified, poorly lit, or otherwise unattractive or unacceptable.

Besides looking for visible plant labels, chewed leaves, obvious staking, and other no-no’s, one guideline we followed was to avoid choosing photos that looked “too British.” I think we each had our own ideas about what that meant, but for me, at least, one feature I always associated with British gardens was tall stone or brick walls. Not being a traveler, I’d never actually seen a British garden in person, so I can only attribute my bias to seeing other pictures of such gardens in the books and magazines I was reading at the time.

Now, many years later, I still have a mental association between British gardens and tall walls. I often wondered what it would be like to actually be inside of a walled garden, but I figured I’d never actually find out. However, thanks to one of my neighbors, I now know what it feels like, and it’s definitely as cool as I thought it would be. (Yeah, I know, other people get stuck with annoying neighbors with really ugly landscaping, and I get one that builds a walled garden. That kind of luck simply can’t be explained.)

Before walled garden at Carthage Nov 13 06

The project started in late fall of 2006. The photo above shows the future site of the walled garden, with some remnants of the previous vegetable beds. Below is another view of the site, with the stakes marking the 60-foot-by-60-foot square for the foundation.

Walled garden site staked out at Carthage Nov 13 06

The cinder-block walls went up quickly, and by mid-January, they were textured to give the impression of real stone, and then covered with stucco. The photo below was taken from almost the same site as the one above; you can sort of tell that from the bit of tree on the left edge.

Walled garden in progress at Carthage January 19 07

Progress slowed a bit after that, but by mid-spring, metal screens were being set into gaps left in the south wall to allow for ventilation, and three months later, the raised beds on the side side were framed in and already planted with vegetables and flowers, as shown in the April and July shots below.

Walled garden south side at Carthage April 10 07

Walled garden south side at Carthage July 4 07

On the north side of the walled garden, the fish pond was built by mid-spring, and a few months later, the beds were framed in and planted with cover crops. Below are April, July, and October shots of the north side.

Walled garden fish pond at Carthage April 10 07

Walled garden fish pond at Carthage July 4 07

Walled garden north side at Carthage Oct 2 07

There’s still a good bit of work to be done here, I’m told. My neighbor plans to install trelliage along this half of the interior, to give the north side more of a room-like feeling, and I’m sure he has countless other bits of detail to follow up on before he considers this area to be finished (as much as any garden can be finished). I look forward to seeing how this space evolves over the next few years, but even now, the ultimate sense of enclosure makes it feels like a truly special “secret garden,” right here in the Pennsylvania countryside.

I’ll finish this up with a reminder that this month’s topic for the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop is fences and walls, so if any of you have comments or posts about either fences or walls in your own gardens or gardens you like to visit, feel free to leave a comment below or on the original post. We’d love to hear your stories too.

And now, a completely gratutious picture of silly alpacas, in honor of the season. Happy holidays, everyone!

Merry Christmas from Duncan and Daniel!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Lisa at Greenbow December 24, 2007, 6:12 am

I like to see how gardens evolve. This one is quite the project with that big wall and raised beds. Whew… It will be fun to see how it comes along with the trellises in place etc.

As to those silly alpacas. They are really cute. The one with the hat on looks like it is smiling. Both look like they are having a good time.

Happy Holidays to you too…

Hi Lisa! Yes, it makes my small-scale garden projects look somewhat pitiful. But it’s really neat to see how someone else approaches the process of creating a garden! Plus, I get to enjoy it without actually doing the work.

Frances December 24, 2007, 6:37 am

Oh, you just want to give those alpacas a hug, they are so sweet. Having a walled all around garden sounds like a dream come true. Those raised beds inside are wonderful. This is one great neighbor!

They do look very huggable, don’t they? Unfortunately, they really prefer not to be fussed with. But sometimes I do hug them anyway, and they just have to deal with it, poor boys.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens December 24, 2007, 8:20 am

So these are photos of your neighbor’s garden inside the walls? How did building the wall affect your garden?

Yep, all of the garden photos are from my neighbor’s place. I guess I should have explained that it’s actually about a half-mile away from me “as the crow flies,” or nearly a mile if you go by the road. But around here, pretty much anyone within a mile counts as a neighbor!

Angela (Cottage Magpie) December 24, 2007, 8:07 pm

There must be something to that, because I’ve never seen a British garden in person (like you, not being a traveler), but I definitely associate walled gardens with English gardens. I’ve always wanted a place to build one of my own, so it’s fun to see your neighbors!
~Angela 🙂

Yep, I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how his garden develops. The space certainly isn’t lacking in brightness, but the gates and openings seem to prevent it from getting as hot as I thought it might. Best of all, I’m pretty sure he won’t have any deer problems in there, as long as the gates stay closed!

Elly Phillips December 26, 2007, 8:27 am

Gack! The slides! The light tables! I’d ALMOST managed to forget them! But good for you for documenting the garden’s evolution–I’m sure your neighbor will appreciate it! And of course, Duncan and Daniel look even more adorable than usual (though the Santa hat looks in imminent danger of becoming a Christmas snack). A VERY merry holiday season to you all, as well!–Elly

Heh. I was *almost* going to mention a certain editor’s refusal to select photos of flowers or leaves with dew on them, but somehow, I couldn’t work it in…

Phillip December 26, 2007, 1:54 pm

That sounds like a fun job but I’m sure it could be tedious. I would like to learn how to go about selling my own photos as something to fall back on when I retire but I know I have a lot to learn.

As for walls, I love them. I built a wall in my garden a few years ago to create a garden room on one side. It made such a huge difference in my garden. We can learn a lot from British gardens.

Thanks for the comment, Phillip. If you have any photos of your wall on your blog, feel free to leave a link here so we can admire it!

Layanee December 26, 2007, 7:58 pm

If I lived in a suburb with close neighbors, I would definitely want a privacy wall. Where I live, a wall like this would feel like a fortress…but then again I am at war with the deer! Nice progressive shots. It is a very white wall!

Yes, it is quite white, isn’t it? By itself, it could look a little glaring, but it actually fits the site quite nicely, because both the house and garage are white stucco. The only disadvantage is that it makes a difficult background for photography!

Christine December 26, 2007, 9:33 pm

I have a couple of books you probably helped with! How interesting! The walls are nice, I can’t wait to see what they look like in a year.

Hi Christine! Hey, if you stop by again and read this: Would you consider allowing comments by non-Blogger/Google visitors on your blog? I see you’re having fun with your new camera!

Benjamin December 27, 2007, 5:44 pm

I don’t like anything anyone does–that’s my preface and lie. Still, those walls might be ok if they had some structural cohesion, some art to them, some sense of cultural-ness to them (I’m thinking they are spanish-med-prison influenced).

I once studied abroad in England at a country manor with a walled garden. The garden was in the midst of being fixed back up to its old grandor, but those walls were brick with some nice detail work, and at least 8′ tall and not blocky and stale like the above. I’ve got pics somewhere in my house….

Thanks for sharing your opinion, Benjamin. If this garden appears to lack cohesion or attractiveness, it’s my fault as the photographer, not a reflection on the designer.

Phillip December 28, 2007, 2:53 pm

You can see a photo of my wall here – http://www.phillipoliver.net/0406scene2.jpg

This photograph was taken last spring.

Wow, Phillip, I think it’s amazing. If you ever feel like writing about it on your blog, I’d love you know how you built it and how you finished it!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 28, 2007, 4:18 pm

I wish I had a wall. There’s something about them that is just so much better than a mere fence. That said, I must admit that not all walls are equal. I’d like to see more photos from your neighbor’s yard as the garden matures. Until then, I reserve judgment.

Fair enough. I think I’ll stick to posting pictures from my own garden from now on, though.

John January 6, 2008, 10:08 am

Looks great, and a nice change from the ubiquitous open-lawn properties here in the US, where the norm is an uninterrupted flat plane of grass right down to the edge of a road with cars screaming by.

On a trip to Ireland I observed a lot of front/courtyard gardens, often with tall walls, especially around Dublin. This wasn’t limited to avid gardeners, either. People were making the most of their outdoor spaces in a way they don’t seem to do here, but easily could.

One of my laments about landscaping in the US has been the under-use of walls and hedges. Nice to see this.

I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts, John. Thanks for stopping by!

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