Article submitted by Shirley M. Martin, Master Gardener
What could be more instantly relaxing than walking into a garden at the end of a busy day? The surprising appearance of a new flower, the scent of fresh foliage and blooms, the sounds of birds singing happily, the various textures and soft shapes surround you and draw you in. The subtle and alluring attraction of nature, a quiet place to sit and enjoy a cool drink, invites you to stay awhile. Call it a stress-buster, a respite, or just breathing space. I call it a romantic garden.
Just as the Romantic Era of the 18th century affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination over standard custom, the romantic gardener chooses concern with nature and natural surroundings over convention. Walk into any garden and see the pleasant surroundings, but walk into a romantic garden and your whole mood can be changed. In a romantic garden, you feel welcomed by the softly colored, fragrant blossoms and a path which beckons you to come further into the garden to find your special place. Whether you are a new or experienced gardener, you too can add romantic ambience to your garden.
Metaphors are important in the romantic garden. They are the illusions, the subtle reminders of other places and things that draw us out of the ordinary. For instance, in a Japanese garden, a drift of stones represents a dry stream, and a large rock is a mountain. The sounds of water flowing from a small fountain tucked between shrubs or flowers mimic the sound of a flowing river. A pond edged with ivy, irises, and low, cascading grasses connects us with nature and soothes our spirit.
The romantic garden relies on imagination and intuition which can be achieved by using spontaneity rather than strict form and convention. Here are a few ideas to start you thinking about creating a romantic garden.
What does a romantic perennial look like? Romantic flowers are usually found in soft shades of pink, lavender, yellow, and white. They come in all shapes and sizes, often projecting a feminine lacy look or a smooth, rounded appearance. For example, old-fashioned bleeding hearts, with their heart-shaped flowers, together with the frilly white bells of Lilies of the Valley (pictured here) are delightful spring blooming perennials for the romantic garden. The large, flouncy blossoms of hardy hibiscus announce their presence later in the summer, followed by the soft, rounded mounds of hardy garden mums which bloom well into fall.
For an especially romantic feel, try hanging glistening tear drop crystal ornaments from silk strings on the branches of a small tree above a bed of silvery lamium. If your garden area is mostly in the shade, consider using broad-foliage hostas like 'Summer Music' and 'Old Glory' combined with the finer textures of ferns and Corydalis. Picture these contrasted against the dark purple foliage of Cimicifuga 'Hillside Black Beauty' for a striking effect.
Try softening the edges of pathways with romantic perennials. Include some interesting plants with rounded leaves or petals such as coral bells or lady's mantle whose fuzzy leaves collect the glistening dew drops. Then lift your eyes to enjoy long-blooming and airy perennials such as gaura which has long stems lined with small flowers that mimic butterflies waving in the breeze. Impress viewers with the magnificent sprays of meadow rue's flowers on towering stems that can reach heights of six to eight feet.
Take a moment to browse through the Perennial Encyclopedia to discover a myriad of romantic perennials you can use to add some ambiance to your garden.
When stepping into a garden, the intuitive eye is guided from a closer to a more distant place. The position of plantings or a stream of flowers may lead the way to a garden bench, a quiet repose where one can escape from reality and enjoy the beauty of the garden. The design of the bench itself may be enough to achieve the affect you want or you can add to the illusion of romance by simply placing a straw garden hat and a teacup there. Consider placing a circular area of stones in front of the bench to represent a whirlpool into which thoughts can flow. You could try planting some fragrant creeping thyme between the stones for added interest and stimulation for the senses.
Check your garden for areas open to moonlight. White flowers and silver foliage glow under the silvery light of the moon. Plant them where they can be seen from the house to extend your view of the garden into the evening hours. 'White Profusion' butterfly bush, silver-leaved Brunnera 'Looking Glass', and shasta daisies are all perfect candidates for your romantic moonlit garden.
A Garden Room
Imagine how a meandering path of stone or mulch can beckon a viewer towards the obscured view of a garden "room". A background of trees and shrubs forms the "walls" while a vine-covered lattice becomes the "wallpaper" and the grass acts as a cool "carpeting" under bare feet. This is the perfect place for a small table and chairs to enjoy morning coffee or a cool drink at the end of the day. Add some instant romantic appeal by laying a lace scarf across the table top, then adding a pitcher of lemonade and a vase of sweet smelling lavender. Place a candle lamp near the table where it can be seen from the doorway to draw your guests out to the garden.
A pergola or gazebo can add an intimate feeling to your patio or seating area. It provides a private place to think, to listen, to dream. 'Fragrant Bouquet' and 'Guacamole' hostas add fragrance to the ambience. Soften the structure's edges with climbing vines such as virginia creeper, which has brilliant red fall color, or variegated porcelain vine, which produces multicolored berries in unique shades of blue and purple. Flowering vines add to the romantic appeal. Clematis 'Helios' has pale yellow, lantern-shaped blossoms with a coconut scent while sweet autumn clematis produces a cloud of fragrant, white, star-shaped flowers in the fall. An array of containers filled with annuals and perennials placed in and around the structure will help it blend in with its surroundings and complete the look.
Do you have a favorite collectible or attic treasure? Include it as a meaningful accent or conversation piece in your romantic garden. Shop at flea markets and artist fairs or in thrift or antique shops for unusual containers, old architectural pieces, and artifacts that evoke a sense of nostalgia and add charm to your garden. A piece of fencing or a gate on which to grow a climbing vine, a weathered birdhouse, or a memento from a travel experience can become a focal point for your dreamy garden. Keep an open mind as you explore new places and search for an inspiration piece for your romantic garden. Once you begin to look for recycled treasures, you may unexpectedly find pieces that will feed your imagination.
Embellish your romantic garden with containers filled with perennials. Containers can provide an instant garden, accessorizing with color and style wherever they are placed. They can add interest to an otherwise barren spot in a garden and can even be moved to the perfect location based upon the current light and weather conditions. Here is the perfect opportunity to use your creative and artistic touches in combining annuals and perennials in a smaller space and experiment with the look of the surrounding area. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Whether you are an experienced gardener or a just a beginner, we all respond commonly to a lovely view. By following the tips above, anyone can create a romantic garden. It's certainly worth your time and effort to create a place where you can relax, reflect on a less stressful time, and renew your spiritual connection to nature. Your romantic garden can also enlarge your living space and improve your entertainment area.
In the end, you will define your romantic garden using your own methods and ideas, your own skills and budget, and your own imagination to create a unique garden that reflects your personal style. You have the ability to create a serene and private place that offers a view beyond, a retreat into feeling and being, where time is marked only by seasons. Enhance your life by creating the ambience of a romantic garden.