An Artist's Garden

Local Boise artist, and all around classy lady, Ardith Tate, approached me last fall for ideas on how to convert a small common area into a sitting garden. Primarily turf, with a small foundation planting against her house and dominated by an adjoining parking area of concrete and asphalt, Ardith nevertheless enjoyed setting up her bright lime green garden chairs in the grass to commune with the outdoors and neighbors alike.

A stroll through her house to see her artwork and design sensibilities revealed that this was someone who’d be open to the unconventional. I didn't think a deck was a good option, I explained, because you’d feel perched above the parking lot and lose a certain degree of connection to the surrounding landscape (detached, raised pagodas and decks are often better for giving political speeches or hosting weddings).

Tossing the deck idea on its head, I suggested that we sink a patio area into the ground, taking a literal approach to being “in the garden.”  And since ruin gardens are cool again, I proposed a crumbling section of the surrounding retaining wall, à la Angkor Wat.

Concept Sketches

Measurement, excavation and construction (um, you called the utility locators, right?)

Retaining wall and patio construction (who needs laser measurement when you've got spare poly pipe?)

With the completion of the stone patio/walkway, and a little colony of Elfin thyme planted with a blessing to go forth and multiply over the garden ruin, we turned our attention to the planting scheme. Ardith had hoped that the new garden area would be a bit more waterwise; an easy task given that virtually anything (aside from domesticated rice?) would be an improvement over the turf grass we removed.

Dry woodland garden perennials aren't the obvious choice for a waterwise garden, but given their low water requirements relative to turf and the decreased footprint of the irrigation thanks to the hardscape,we were able to significantly reduce the irrigation needs of this small area. 

I dunno, Ardith, I'm kind of thinking the old lime green chairs would have been just fine...