Friday, May 13, 2011

The Knot Garden

As you know from my last post I've been doing a bit of work on the bed I now call the knot garden.  This bed was already here when we purchased the property and was quite perplexing to me at first.  Initially it was so covered in weeds that I had a hard time just diciphering what shape it was.

It was hard to tell where the weeds ended and the flower began
After much walking about and scraping away at things I finally concluded the original shape of the bed looks like this.
The larger rectangle and green edging marks out the future boundaries of this area.
A long rectangle with triangle and diamond patterns made using brick and large pieces of wood.  Flower beds were created inside the triangles and diamonds and the spaces between were used as walkways, covered in smooth river stone.

Beneath the falling malva you can make out the stone path
Initially I found this area to be a conundrum.  Located midway between the house and the garage but closer to the road than anything else.  It is surrounded by nothing but lawn in a kind of a no-man's land.  I wasn't partial to the design of the bed or the location and for a while considered actually dismantling the entire bed and starting over.  This is one of the problems when you inherit a garden.  Sometimes ideas don't translate.   Do you keep the garden inherited or do you try to change it?

One of the issues that bugged me about this garden was the plants contained in it.  Large shrubs like spirea, potentilla, hydrangea and wygelia stood out sharply against the lawn.  Perennials like maltese cross and jacob's ladder seemed an odd mix with rock plants like candytuf and rock cress.  The plants lacked cohesion to each other and to my brain.  Nothing seemed to fit together and against the vastness of the lawn I was perplexed.


Candytuft is all but hidden by the weeds and dwarfed by the potentilla
Over the past year I've been letting this garden percolate in my mind.  If I remove the large shrubs and perennials the entire look would change.  The small rock plants would shine among the rocks and look like a rock garden?  That might be interesting.  It would also show off the intricate pattern of the bed.  It would certainly be a lot less work than trying to remove the bed entirely.  During my internet travels I came across the knot garden made by Frances @ FaireGarden.  Inspiration struck and the fuzzy outline of an idea began.  I searched more.  Proper knot gardens seem to be particularly fussy and not quite what I envision.  I saw the term italian garden and it rang some bells.  A search for herb gardens found less complex designs and appeared more accessible.  While I haven't solved the riddle of this garden bed I have noticed one particular item.  Many of the gardens I have been looking at have a frame and that is something my bed seems to be distinctly lacking.  This bed appears in the middle of nowhere with  nothing to introduce it and give you the sense that you are looking at a separate area.  If you look at the drawing above you will see that I have outlined the knot garden area in a very large rectangle and added green rows on either side.  Adding a border would create the necessary frame to make this garden it's own area and define it.  I think I'm on to something but obviously there is much more thinking to be done here.  All in good time.  I am in no hurry to tackle this area.  There are other areas that need my attention right now and I have years to define exactly what this area will become.  It's nice to dream though.


Do you have a knot garden?  Do you dream of one?  What does it look like?

32 comments:

  1. Do you have a local historical society? Maybe they can help. Archived photos at the Public Records and Archive Society on the island is an option also...there are a few locations. You might be surprised what you will find. Any chance there might have been a structure over the knot garden and bed which would have made it 'private'.

    Been thinking about that hose you found...represents getting water from here to there...so...might there be an old well around?

    Try to talk to the old folks around...surely some will remember the history of the garden, old photos from parties or get togethers on the land...see, there's my other hobby of family history popping up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Maruerite, I do have a herb garden or should I say I "had" a herb garden. When we moved in there was a circular bed at the back of the property that was intended to be a herb garden. In organizing his move, the previous homeowner had let it go completely to weeds. I cleared it out and redesigned it. I wanted to keep it as a herb garden, but the trees in that area of the yard have grown up so much that it is now too shady for herbs. I have many magazine herb/knot garden references. Let me know if you would like me to email you a few references.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A knot garden? What a name! :) I see a maze. A Maze Garden about to turn into an Amazing Garden in your hands.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Your thought process is amazing. This odd space is teaching you all the basic principles of garden design! You are absolutely right that it needs an introduction, something to lead into it. Your green lines make me think rows of unpruned boxwoods. The key is unpruned! Left to their own shapes boxwoods form gently undulating cloud effects and would give you the tension between formal and more relaxed that you want. Can't wait to read a post on what you do here.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Marguerite: I clicked on the "knot garden" link but it wasn't a workable link unfortunately (because I don't know what a knot garden is, but I will explore on google.
    You are one fearless gardener to take that area on!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I adore knot gardens and have often dreamed of having one. I hope you restore this one. I think your idea of framing it is a good one. Inside the knots you can plant herbs or other colorful plantings. I hope you get it all figured out in your mind (I understand that process) and that it becomes one of your most enjoyable areas.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The processes we go through to make a garden our own! I love the knot garden idea - very Renaissance, very castle! Then it requires a shaded area with a bench from which to view it, as you and your liege lord stroll the grounds!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The challenge in inheriting a garden is finding what belongs and what doesn't ---in your plan. With all the mature shrubs and vast plant material there must have been a plan at one time...one would think.
    My herb garden is on the deck in pots. I like having my herbs at my finger tips for cooking.
    Good luck with this one!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Bren - Interesting ideas on why that garden was placed where it was! I hadn't even thought a building might have been there but certainly a neighbour told us that originally there were barns on the property. I placed my vegetable garden in an area where the pig barn was as David told me the dirt would be well fertilized there. Perhaps another outbuilding was located in the area of the knot garden. and a well, of course there would have been one (again, why didn't I think of that?!) Not a clue where it would have been located but I will certainly check into this.

    Jennifer - thank you and yes I would love any references you have! you can send them to canoecorner AT hotmail. I saw a photo in one of your winter posts of what looked like a knot garden but wasn't sure if it was your back yard. I saved the photo to my desktop for reference as I loved the arbour. I think I'll be spending a lot of time in the future scoping ideas for this bed.

    One - it could be a maze couldn't it? There's a fascinating idea. Put in bigger plants and suddenly you have your own maze. This garden really could turn into anything!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Laurrie - I'm glad you liked hearing the process behind this venture. Sometimes I'm leery of posting my ideas because I know I'm apt to change them at a moments notice and do something completely different. I try not to confuse people too much! I'm loving peoples different takes on this space. My immediate thought was a row of boxwood on either side but I had thought it would be pruned. Your take on unpruned makes much more sense though to allow the space to flow into the more wild area beyond it. Now I'm going to look up photos of unpruned boxwood.

    Jane - thanks for letting me know! now fixed. When I typed knot garden into google images the photos that came up were incredible. Very very very fancy and very complicated. I fell in love a little but I definitely need something less complex.

    Holley - I saw a photo of one garden that was an intricate pattern of colourful rock plants. I was blown away. There are so many possibilities. It will take some time to come to terms with this project but it should be fun.

    Aagaard - LOL, you make me laugh. I agree though, a bench is definitely a requirement to view this area.

    Janet - herbs and vegetables close to the kitchen would be a dream. Oddly with so much space the areas around the house don't work well for this - parking, firewood, large trees and shade. There was definitely a plan for this bed but my tastes are different it seems so changes will be made.

    ReplyDelete
  11. you could echo the box in the knot garden as many have very low tightly clipped box borders around each bed, always tightly clipped and low so it neatens the edges and emphasises the design, not sure if these links will show but it gives a loose idea of what I'm talking about,
    http://oldfarmcottagegarden.com/page9.htm
    http://exteriorworlds.com/wpblog/tag/knot-garden/

    knot gardens were popular with those who could afford them in the 16th and 17th centuries, over here nearly every big manor house has one and embroidery books have been written using the knot garden as a design source,

    traditionally the area around the knot garden would be flat and wide to allow the knot garden to be seen alone, often they are placed at a distance from buildings that would give good views from upstairs windows, Frances

    ReplyDelete
  12. *Blogger lost this post and the comments with it. I managed to find a copy of my post and the initial comments which I am copying here*

    Gardeningbren - Do you have a local historical society? Maybe they can help. Archived photos at the Public Records and Archive Society on the island is an option also...there are a few locations. You might be surprised what you will find. Any chance there might have been a structure over the knot garden and bed which would have made it 'private'.

    Been thinking about that hose you found...represents getting water from here to there...so...might there be an old well around?

    Try to talk to the old folks around...surely some will remember the history of the garden, old photos from parties or get togethers on the land...see, there's my other hobby of family history popping up!

    Bren - Interesting ideas on why that garden was placed where it was! I hadn't even thought a building might have been there but certainly a neighbour told us that originally there were barns on the property. I placed my vegetable garden in an area where the pig barn was as David told me the dirt would be well fertilized there. Perhaps another outbuilding was located in the area of the knot garden. and a well, of course there would have been one (again, why didn't I think of that?!) Not a clue where it would have been located but I will certainly check into this.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Jennifer @ Three Dogs in a Garden - Hi Marguerite, I do have a herb garden or should I say I "had" a herb garden. When we moved in there was a circular bed at the back of the property that was intended to be a herb garden. In organizing his move, the previous homeowner had let it go completely to weeds. I cleared it out and redesigned it. I wanted to keep it as a herb garden, but the trees in that area of the yard have grown up so much that it is now too shady for herbs. I have many magazine herb/knot garden references. Let me know if you would like me to email you a few references.

    Jennifer - thank you and yes I would love any references you have! you can send them to canoecorner AT hotmail. I saw a photo in one of your winter posts of what looked like a knot garden but wasn't sure if it was your back yard. I saved the photo to my desktop for reference as I loved the arbour. I think I'll be spending a lot of time in the future scoping ideas for this bed.

    ReplyDelete
  14. One - A knot garden? What a name! :) I see a maze. A Maze Garden about to turn into an Amazing Garden in your hands.

    One - it could be a maze couldn't it? There's a fascinating idea. Put in bigger plants and suddenly you have your own maze. This garden really could turn into anything!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Laurrie - Your thought process is amazing. This odd space is teaching you all the basic principles of garden design! You are absolutely right that it needs an introduction, something to lead into it. Your green lines make me think rows of unpruned boxwoods. The key is unpruned! Left to their own shapes boxwoods form gently undulating cloud effects and would give you the tension between formal and more relaxed that you want. Can't wait to read a post on what you do here.

    Laurrie - I'm glad you liked hearing the process behind this venture. Sometimes I'm leery of posting my ideas because I know I'm apt to change them at a moments notice and do something completely different. I try not to confuse people too much! I'm loving peoples different takes on this space. My immediate thought was a row of boxwood on either side but I had thought it would be pruned. Your take on unpruned makes much more sense though to allow the space to flow into the more wild area beyond it. Now I'm going to look up photos of unpruned boxwood.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Jane - Hi Marguerite: I clicked on the "knot garden" link but it wasn't a workable link unfortunately (because I don't know what a knot garden is, but I will explore on google.
    You are one fearless gardener to take that area on!

    Jane - thanks for letting me know! now fixed. When I typed knot garden into google images the photos that came up were incredible. Very very very fancy and very complicated. I fell in love a little but I definitely need something less complex.

    ReplyDelete
  17. HolleyGarden - I adore knot gardens and have often dreamed of having one. I hope you restore this one. I think your idea of framing it is a good one. Inside the knots you can plant herbs or other colorful plantings. I hope you get it all figured out in your mind (I understand that process) and that it becomes one of your most enjoyable areas.

    Holley - I saw a photo of one garden that was an intricate pattern of colourful rock plants. I was blown away. There are so many possibilities. It will take some time to come to terms with this project but it should be fun.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Aagaard Farms - The processes we go through to make a garden our own! I love the knot garden idea - very Renaissance, very castle! Then it requires a shaded area with a bench from which to view it, as you and your liege lord stroll the grounds!

    Aagaard - LOL, you make me laugh. I agree though, a bench is definitely a requirement to view this area.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Janet, The Queen of Seaford - The challenge in inheriting a garden is finding what belongs and what doesn't ---in your plan. With all the mature shrubs and vast plant material there must have been a plan at one time...one would think.
    My herb garden is on the deck in pots. I like having my herbs at my finger tips for cooking.
    Good luck with this one!

    Janet - herbs and vegetables close to the kitchen would be a dream. Oddly with so much space the areas around the house don't work well for this - parking, firewood, large trees and shade. There was definitely a plan for this bed but my tastes are different it seems so changes will be made.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Island Threads - you could echo the box in the knot garden as many have very low tightly clipped box borders around each bed, always tightly clipped and low so it neatens the edges and emphasises the design, not sure if these links will show but it gives a loose idea of what I'm talking about,
    http://oldfarmcottagegarden.com/page9.htm
    http://exteriorworlds.com/wpblog/tag/knot-garden/

    knot gardens were popular with those who could afford them in the 16th and 17th centuries, over here nearly every big manor house has one and embroidery books have been written using the knot garden as a design source,

    traditionally the area around the knot garden would be flat and wide to allow the knot garden to be seen alone, often they are placed at a distance from buildings that would give good views from upstairs windows, Frances

    Frances - thanks for the wonderful links and the history. Makes sense that you wouldn't want large trees or shrubs hiding the view. Perhaps that was the thought when it was constructed? unfortunately the way it's positioned here I would have to hang my body sideways out an upper story window to get any kind of a view.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Marguerite, I'm thinking that inheriting a garden is kind of like pentimento in art, where a new painting has been painted over the old, but traces of what was there before still show through. When you're done with your knot garden, I think you'll have something beautiful that expresses your own aesthetic, but with some plants or elements of design that reference or honor the previous gardener. I think this is very much in the spirit of gardening, which is a dynamic process rather than a static product. It will be fun to see what you do with this as it develops. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
  22. I don't have a knot garden or any type of formal garden that requires a little hedge to keep it restrained, but I do create a boundary between my beds and the grass to define each space.
    Don't feel like you need to recreate the garden as it was. Our gardens meet our emotional needs and what you need to experience from your land may be different from the needs of the previous owner/gardener. Plant/design what makes you happy!

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  23. Marguerite, what a gem to find an already established garden... I know it is all well espablished in the weed department and all, but imagine what you could do with it. Not to mention the amount of work already gone in, just needs a little TLC. I too moved from a large City to PEI oh about 12 years ago, bought the same looking story and a half, then the following year found beds that had been grassed over for about 5 years, wonderful steps up to the house, oh it looked amazing when I dug it out and gave it more work.

    One thing I noticed, you have sun shining in your snapshots... what gives. I am over run with perennials and are giving some away, would love to meet you in my garden and share if there is anything you need for garden bed that is going to be increased.

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  24. Well I'm glad I finally got to read this! What a challenge you have. I've never wanted a traditional knot garden as I hate the idea of having to keep all that box neatly clipped. On the other hand, I have seen lovely mazes - or more accurately labyrinths - formed from e.g. lavendar and herbs and the paths made by stones. Its an idea that I keep coming back to. I think the challenge is to work out what you want that area to look and feel like, which rather depends on what your vision for the garden overall is. I think it is a mistake to try and work with something because it is there unless you find it somehow exciting, the extra work now getting rid of it allows you to make the garden truly your own. Just my two cents worth! Enjoy the planning and dreaming, I sometimes think it is the best bit.

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  25. Oh, how fun! I've always loved the idea of a knot garden but don't know if I'd like the upkeep. I'll be looking forward to reading about your progress on it, it promises to be an interesting project.

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  26. I'm quite intrigued by your knot garden, or rather, what will become of it. We won't be doing much gardening this year with some necessary reno work to be done on the house. I don't think our attached garage will survive another winter. It's a very depressing subject, really.

    I have a photo to find and send you of a garden fence that hubs made along the west side of our house. It's a bit of work to make but all materials are branches found in the woods. I'm thinking of that spot where your bleeding hearts reside.

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  27. Jean - the way you've expressed this, well I could not have said it any better. You've hit upon something that I haven't been able to put into words and gives me a perspective I hadn't considered previously. Thank you for such an insightful comment!

    TS - I think you have a very good idea creating boundaries between areas in your yard. One of the issues of having such a large yard here is defining each space without having everything look like it's just haphazardly thrown down here and there.

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  28. Cindy - easy explanation, those are last years photos! I did a bit of work in this part of the garden several weeks ago and haven't made it back since due to the weather and other chores. Thanks for the wonderful offer, will send you an email about meeting!

    Janet - I have the same inclination as you, knot gardens seem an excessive amount of work and I already have a lot on my plate. But I'm also loath to remove the garden. My hope is that I can find some sort of compromise. Maybe create an area for herbs within the confines of what is already there but not make it too extravagent.

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  29. Debbie - same here, lovely to look at but who wants to do all that clipping and fussing? The more I think on this the more I like the idea of herbs. Any pruning would be taken care of by the regular clipping of herbs for the kitchen. Two birds with one stone?

    Michelle - always looking for ideas, thank you! you can send photos to canoecorner AT hotmail. We really should be doing more work on our house but I'm afraid I neglect the house in favour of the garden more often than not. At the rate we go at it could be 20 years before the house is finally finished.

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  30. You asked about our controlled burns. Do any of the Canadian universities have agricultural departments where you can get information about meadows and open fields and such? Our climate is so different I don't know what to tell you. We burn to keep what is really pasture land with no cattle at present in its state as meadow rather than letting nature return it to woodland. Some of the native grasses here expect burning as do some mature trees. Mowing works.

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  31. Hmmn it sounds like a conundrum but interesting. In all 3 houses I've lived in there were no gardens to inherit. It might have been nice not to have to start from scratch every time.

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  32. NellJean - thanks for getting back to me on this. It seems to me that most areas want you to burn or mow in order to keep meadow areas from being invaded by trees. I've often wondered though if there is any other reason for it. Good tip on checking with the university, they definitely should have some information on this. Thank you.

    Melanie - In some ways I've resisted dealing with the previous garden because I wanted something that was my own so there's a benefit to starting from scratch. But it's also kind of fun to discover new flowers and try to work with what you've got.

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