Carolyn Singer: Creating an artistic garden |

Carolyn Singer: Creating an artistic garden

Carolyn Singer likes to add a bit of whimsy to her garden with gnomes and other decorative elements.
Photo by Carolyn Singer

Despite my rather large garden, or collection of small garden spaces, I do believe that some of the most satisfying gardens may be quite small. Certainly, the more contained they are, the easier to manage.

Personalizing your garden space is a creative process. The area just outside my living room windows is my most important garden space, viewed from the inside window seat and enjoyed from outside. This winter I put concerted effort into improving it.

Gardens are seldom “finished.” A wise local gardener, Harry Stowe, once told me as he was visiting my garden shortly before his death, “if you are finished, it’s because you are leaving.”

Garden art

The artistic elements that define a pleasing garden space are many. My special area is defined by a flagstone path on the eastern border, leading to the front entry. On the western edge, a “new” bark path leads to my bedroom. Long overgrown by spangle grass (Chasmanthium latifolium), it’s pleasing to have this landscape element definitive again.

I’ve left the large stand of Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana) intact. On some winter mornings, frost coats the interesting brown seed heads. When snow falls, they catch as many snowflakes as they can hold.

A compact form of snow-in-summer (Cerastium Bierbersteinii) has spread over the years, providing a light silvery contrast to the bulbs that bring spring beauty within it and nearby. A bit of the snow-in-summer spills over the low rock wall along the northern edge.

Gnomes dwell between the rock wall and the house itself, a bit of magic for adults and children, but primarily visible from inside, relaxing on the window seat.

Movement was added in two ways. Choosing plants for their form and potential movement with the slightest breeze, I kept a single cluster of spangle grass. Now I’ll just need to make sure that its progeny does not eat up every square inch of bed and the path beyond.

More motion was encouraged with the addition of three bird feeders. As I drink my morning coffee, the garden viewed from the living room windows is alive with birds. Occasionally an unexpected visitor shows up. Last week’s newcomer was a fox sparrow.

Keeping with the elements

Weather and season are both at play in the garden spaces we enjoy. Connecting with seasonal changes and dramatic weather definitely adds to my enjoyment of both the smaller and the larger garden spaces.

On a sunny day, morning light is strong in the border I am renewing. Evening light is more filtered as the sun lowers behind Sonntag Hill.

The spangle grass is one of the few plants that pick up light in the leaves as long as the sun shines a bit. Dormant in winter, it is now emerging and will grow quickly. I look forward to the glow it adds for months. Not all ornamental grasses move with the slightest breeze, but spangle grass does, especially in fall and winter when graceful arching inflorescences (blooms) are in the height of their seasonal beauty.

Once you have selected appropriate and pleasing plants, the addition of favorite sculptures or objects may add the perfect touch. For my garden space, the bird bath is essential. Sometimes there seems to be a waiting line to use it, even on a chilly morning. In winter, a couple of interesting containers pleased me. They may be moved in the summer months when plant growth is at its peak.

At the end of the path, closest to the house, a bistro table and two chairs now reside. I should have done that years ago! I can sit and admire the work I have done this winter and plan my next move. Once I sit quietly, the birds renew their activity.

Gardens are personal, reflecting the gardener’s choices. Hopefully they are, as mine is, a place of beauty and peace, and even a bit of exercise.

My garden is certainly unfinished as I enjoy the time spent outside making changes, much as Harry Stowe did so many years ago. I’m not leaving yet.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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