One of the things I love about formal gardens is the outdoor “rooms” they create from their inherent structure. I can remember as a child, tagging along behind by father, an enthusiastic horticulturist and talented amateur landscape designer, on garden tours, along brick paths, through boxwood mazes, under rose arbors, across pond bridges. In my memories, it was always a warm, muggy June day in Washington, D.C., where in my long-ago childhood, there were many elegant homes with beautiful gardens. The stone paths were hot under my flimsy sandals, and once a bee got underneath my little dress and stung my tummy. But it was an adventure and a privilege to be allowed to walk those secret gardens.
The gardens of my current life might seem like the antithesis to those beautifully coiffed architectural gems. But they are still outdoor rooms, with their own personalities, their own feng shui, and always, their unique interplay of man-made structures and natural plantings.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as our new back field has begun to take shape. The quarter-acre (above, and photo second from top) is much more like a traditional farm field than our original market garden (top photo). It has long parallel rows, each being planted with one crop as we move down the line. But once Roy got the fencing finshed, the field enclosed, and the gate up (a tri-fold of old chicken pen panels big enough to get the tractor through), it became an enclosed space. There’s a grassy strip left open, where we think we might put a table and chairs. The well pump will get a little structure over it. And we’ll be planting at least one row of flowers down here, too, in addition to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans, potatoes, and greens.
So as the summer progresses, the field will develop its own personality. But it already feels like a destination to me, since we’ve been working in it a lot, and I’m fond of wheeling my little cart down there with buckets to harvest the arugula and kale under the row cover. I like opening those big gates and feeling like I’m stepping onto another plane. (We’re often working in the field in the evening, too, so the light is nice.)
It’s a much different space than our original market garden, which has its own quirky personality, with lots of smaller beds, some raised, some trellised, some staked. The market garden has flowers and herbs scattered about, and a nice swatch of perennial flowers flanking the gate. The market garden sits up high, the field down low. And the field is next to the chicken pens.
But like the hoop house, the farm stand, the potting area, the old stone foundation where the piggery went, and the old chicken coop that’s now a tool shed, the field is yet another distinct space that we’ve created or re-created while making up this small farm. A small farm, it turns out, is a fascinating collection of outdoor rooms. Not fancy, but certainly alluring and comforting, in the way only an outdoor space can be.