McCreary: Appreciating the garden view

About this time last year, a visiting friend looked out a new bay window in our kitchen and somewhat wistfully said, "I wish we had a view like this."

Somewhat perplexed, I turned to look, then responded that we don't have a view. What was he seeing to make him say that?

The gardens outside this window have always seemed more a simple outdoor scene than a view, something I associate with visual distance and a certain drama. There's no doubt that we've always enjoyed the various plants he was looking at, but never with this unique perspective.

Over the years, our family has marveled at a group of bay trees close by as they broadened from a small clump into an imposing stand. We regularly note new growth on oak branches; reflect on which one held the tire swing that dropped to the ground to our astonishment only seconds after a 4-year old jumped off; and reminisce on the efforts it took to wedge a group of huge boulders into place. But none of us has ever considered any of these prominent features as "a view."

Our neighbors on all sides have views. They look out over the valley below or the rising hillside above or they can see across the ravine to undulating slopes there. We just have trees and gardens.

Yet, our friend persisted. "You don't call this a view? Well, you should. All we see at our house are more houses."

Since then, I've been more attentive to the visual impact of what lies outside this east-facing window. Taking it in all together, I've decided this really is a view and have made a point to pause and appreciate the plants, their placements, and most of all how they interface with the natural landscape beyond.

Now, at the end of January, creamy white, pendulous catkins on two silk tassel bushes (Garrya elliptica) cascade in their prime and promise to hold their color for a few more weeks.

Even after heavy rains, remnants of fall foliage still litter the ground under dark stems of a purple smoke bush (Cotinus). Their reddish purple tints melded last month with oranges and yellows in a fiery display visible now only in memory.

Most of the year, the smoke bush balances the bronzy red of a Crimson Pygmy barberry (Berberis) and a burgundy striped phormium, the latter two planted to balance the first and create a triad of color, a principle I learned from landscape designer and sculptor, Suzanne Biaggi. I'm reminded of her advice frequently, and always when I take in these three plants.

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