Garden design is an art form that is as old as the idea of gardening. Tom Sullivan, owner of Pollinator’s Welcome, has recently been involved in the design and creation of new gardens on Fiske Avenue in Greenfield. The gardens are being sponsored by the Solar Store in Greenfield and the new wall/planter space was built by the City Department of Public Works.
The new and highly diverse gardens run the length of Fiske Avenue from Main Street to the end of the restaurant patio area for Mesa Verde. Sullivan, who has a master’s in Landscape Design from the Conway School of Landscape Design, offered a number of tips and ideas that most any gardener can apply.
“You want to look at structure, texture, color, and you can throw the pollinators in there somewhere,” said Sullivan. He added that all garden design is primarily about “pleasing people first. You want to look at having flowers bloom at staggered times, and to be sure to think about the texture of the leaf. Sometimes it throws in a nice surprise,” he said.
Sullivan suggests having a focus on planting perennials, with annuals interspersed for the sake of color and variety. “It’s the one thing you can always change every year (annuals). They tend to provide more color and if they reseed themselves — that’s a bonus,” he said.
Sullivan said, “First, you need a vision.” You want to decide location, shape, what you want to achieve, what plants are particularly appealing to you, and if you want a focus on pollinators, for example. Naturally, good soil and a water source are a must. The soil in the Fiske Avenue Garden was supplied by Martin’s Farm in Greenfield. Sullivan added that you may want to think about incorporating veggies into your garden for more color and texture. “Think about what you like to eat. If you like tomatoes, plant tomatoes. And you can’t beat kale for nutritional content,” he said.
The Fiske Avenue Garden is sectioned into quadrants with one section planted with a variety of vegetables, some of which Mesa Verde will get to use. Woven throughout the gardens are various herbs such as thyme, chives, and cilantro for additional use and texture. You need to consider how much sun the area receives and plan accordingly with appropriate varieties. “This (the Fiske Avenue Garden) is a heat island. There is only a small section that receives shade,” Sullivan said. He added that the original vision for the gardens was the sense of having “waves.”
You want to place tall plants in the back of the garden, though sometimes they can be placed in the middle if the garden bed is very deep, Sullivan said. Shrubs and trees help create a lot of the structure and should be set throughout the garden to draw the eye to a variety of levels he said. “They are like the sign posts in the garden. The eye follows pattern,” he said. In addition, taller plants and shrubs help to create a screen such as Sullivan created to create more of a sense of privacy by Mesa Verde’s patio.
Also, expect your gardens to fill out over the years. For example, Sullivan said low bush blueberries will slowly grow to fill out an area. Sullivan planted viburnum by the stairs that split the gardens for a sense of structure. Viburnum is mid-sized, has white to pink flowers, and blue/green foliage. You can plant in a staggered fashion, if you like, for a “see-through” feeling and to add levels of texture and color, Sullivan said. You can also put in a ground cover to fill in the spaces and help retain moisture in the soil. Sullivan suggests planting smaller, highly noticeable plants along the edges of your gardens to help people avoid stepping into the garden, for example, when it abuts a walkway.
Sullivan recommended the shrub Nine Bark for its array of color and use as a screen. “It has a deep color and is a dark backdrop that sets off the brighter plants in front of it,” he said. Nine Bark has a white flower in the spring with a bluish foliage and a fuzzy leaf. The foliage turns to reds and oranges in the fall, Sullivan said, making the plant highly versatile in the garden design.
“Texture is the variable. You don’t want to have everything all have the same texture,” said Sullivan. He suggests looking at leaf, branch and bark textures to create a greater sense of richness. “You can have fuzzy leaves, shiny leaves and various flowers to create the sense of texture,” he said. He added that plants like New Jersey Tea are good for bringing in a lighter color pallet.
People generally enjoy the scents of any number of flowers, but Sullivan said it is even more important to bees. “Bees have chemical receptors on their antennae, and they have 19 segments to their antennae that can turn every which way.” Sullivan said that bees must find gardens, essentially, by sniffing them out. He said it is best to time flowers to bloom throughout the season to attract the most pollinators and provide the most food for them.
One of the sections of the Fiske Avenue Garden has a desert theme as a nod to Mesa Verde. “The sedums, for example, look like cactus,” said Sullivan. In the back as a screen, he used plants such as Mexican Sunflower or Tithonia for brilliant orange flowers. Added to the screen is asters and goldenrod. There are some vegetables mixed in and a groundcover of stone crop blue spruce sedum, which blooms with a yellow flower. Mixed in is a Helenium Mariachi Bandera, which has bright variegated orange/red flowers.
“I also have a pea flower mixed in, for the bees,” said Sullivan, adding that the pea flower adds “architecture” to the garden as the pods grow out laterally and horizontally. They also remain in the winter. Some of the other plants in the “desert” portion of the garden include sun drops and Latania with bright yellow and red colors. One of the herbal plants is Mountain Mint for its soft greens and grays.
For more information on landscape design, Sullivan says he can be reached at 413-325-1769.
Cris Carl is an avid local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist who has written for the Recorder for many years. She can be reached at email@example.com.