The hidden garden

Judith Siegel gave herself two presents when she turned the narrow yard behind her house into a hidden garden (above). One was an inviting outdoor room, cozy with color, fragrance, and the sound of water. The other was enough privacy to dine on the patio, or just relax with coffee and a newspaperfor a-while. Judith laughs. "I can’t stay there and read because I jump up and start gardening."

In the beginning, nine years ago, Judith had privacy and no reason to use it. "The backyard was an ugly, square patio, with a bent-grass lawn and a hedge on two sides." Why so spare? A previous owner was allergic to flowers. Judith wanted color, but nothing seemed to thrive at the foot of the hedge. She coped. "I grew lots of things in pots, and every year I took out a little more of the lawn."

Finally, Judith and her husband Howard agreed the yard need a big makeover. She had joined the Perennial Society of Northern Ohio and learned how perennial beds can offer color and fragrance from spring through fall. She hired David Bier, a landscape architect, and told him she wanted a place to live outdoors, complete with perennials, water, privacy, and a view of her Cleveland neighborhood.

To make room for plants and open the view, the hedge had to go. "That was a big step, taking out a mature hedge that some people would die for." Judith decided to leave the side of the hedge that ran along the property line, screening the neighbor’s house. David recommended making a mound of dirt, a berm, to replace the other side. "The berm clinched it," Judith says. Farewell, hedge. Now, a path from the sidewalk (above) leads across the yard and around the berm on its way to the hidden garden. small yard will look and feel roomier when it’s divided into several pieces, each with a different style and purpose. Judith’s hidden garden has three. The sweep of lawn in the center sets off the beds around it and lets Judith see the whole garden from inside the house. The path from the street flows into a patio that sits next to the house (bottom, far right). Across the lawn from the house, there’s a stone-paved alcove with a garden bench (right). All this in a yard that’s less than 30 feet wide and feels much bigger. In three words, the trick is: add by dividing.

The path and the lawn turn around the berm on the right to enter the hidden garden. On the left, a hedge of hemlocks, a perennial bed, and vine-covered arbors screen the neighbor’s house. A Mugho pine accents the end of the berm and pachysandra spreads a tidy, evergreen carpet beside the path. Mugho pine is slowgrowing and short, good for a tight spot.

A parade of arbors heightens the illusion of roominess. Built of pressure-treated posts topped with sturdy lath, they add a third dimension to the garden, rising high above the shrubs and perennials. (A small tree can also enliven a bed without crowding other plants.) On purpose, the tallest arbors are at the back of the yard. Judith says, "You look under the ones that are closer to the house and see the other ones going around the curve of the bed. That makes the yard feel wider."

Judith dedicated the bench to the memory of her mother. Placed in the shade and surrounded by bloom, the bench attracts visitors. "People like to sit in that enclosed little area."

Judith Siegel has discovered a way to help a clematis climb a post. The result is a beautiful column of leaves and flowers, wrapped neatly around the post from bottom to top.

A clematis needs help on a post because it dings and climbs in an unusual way. When the stem of a new leaf touches something, it curls, trying to wrap around it. (See illustration, above right). The stem is short, so it can’t grab anything thicker than about one-half inch, which rules out most lattices and all posts. In nature, clematis climbs on shrubs and trees.

Judith lees her vines climb on plastic bird netting. She fastens the netting around the post (right with a staple every foot or two and lets it stand away from the post so the leaves have room to wrap around the mesh. Judith’s trick will work in other places-on a tree trunk, a porch column, or a fence.

The pond nestles into the back of the berm. Pushed by a submerged pump, water circulates through a tube to the top of a broad, flat rock, then cascades into the pond, filling the garden with a pink-flowered variety.

Judith entertains on the patio (bottom left) hidden by the berm. For height, she grows a few big perennials, including Joe-Pye weed, which can reach 8 feet tall. "I can still see the neighborhood, but the patio is hidden from the street." The plan (below) shows how the lawn and the path climb the slope and broaden inside the hidden garden.

Clematis Jackmanii wraps o royal robe around the shoulders of an arbor. It’s a hardy, vigorous vine that comes back year oher year, blooming in late spring and early summer for almost two mons. Any garden has room for a clematis or two because the vine has a small footprint. It can fit between plants even in a crowded bed. And on eye catching exclamation point rising above the shorter plants makes any garden look more dramatic.

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