How to make a garden intimate

Published 9:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

Sometimes it takes a bit of imagination to make a garden more intimate when you have very tall trees within the space, but layering is the key to achieving this. My front gardens have three pine trees within them and the white pine stands about 40 feet tall, so when I renovated the garden last spring my goal was to make this space more intimate by bringing the height down to the ground. This garden is enclosed with a three rail split-rail fence that surrounds the garden on two sides, making the space seem more cozy and intimate. What I needed to do was find a way to bring in different layers so the trees didn’t jump out at you because of their height.

Different layers in the garden bring the height down of the tall pine trees that dominate this garden area. – Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

Different layers in the garden bring the height down of the tall pine trees that dominate this garden area. – Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

The windmill in the back of the garden is the first layer and growing on it are morning glories, but as you can see in the photo it is way to the back of the garden and so it gets lost by itself. Adding a tall shepherd’s hook with plants that can hang on it is a bit shorter than the windmill, but moves the height closer to the front of the garden. With the addition of the small birdhouse perched on a metal pole we have added the height closer to the front of the garden. It still didn’t seem to ground the tall tree so again I added another taller metal tuteur slightly to the side of the birdhouse and a few feet closer to the front of the garden.

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In the very back corner of the garden where the two fences meet is a Miss Kim lilac that stands between 5 and 6 feet tall when it blooms, grounding that corner area. From the back of the fence, all the way forward to the birdhouse, lilies of various types bloom — some of them standing 6 feet tall. This adds height at another lower level while on the shepherd’s hook a fuchsia blooms, adding even more definition to this transition area.

Standing under the white pine is a cobalt blue gazing ball as well as a garden flag, lowering the sight line because underneath all of this are planted hosta, tiarella, phlox, rudbeckia and other lower growing perennials. If just the perennials had been planted under the tall tree it would have looked out of proportion going from the taller branches to the ground hugging plants.

The next layer has a small area with a bird bath that has been elevated that sits in the center of landscape blocks to give more definition to this transition area. The height of the plants is getting lower with each layer here. The sedum, salvia and containers still are not at ground level and you can see the blue browallia is also not planted in the ground, but rather is sitting on a landscape block elevating it ever so slightly. In front of the sedum is a lovely rock, bringing your eyes right down to ground level.

Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang

To the left side of this photo and not in sight is a dwarf Alberta spruce that makes the transition from the tall birdhouse down to a shorter level, and in front of that are containers with plantings. As your eyes travel, to the right of this garden stand two more pines that are about 20 feet tall, so the sight line in that part of the garden has been lowered. Standing in between the two shorter pines is my outhouse, a chair as well as a birdbath that gradually take your eyes down to the bench area along with dwarf hydrangeas that sit in the very front of the garden. All of these layers are meant to make this a cozy and intimate space, even though the tall trees are within this space.  Again, more of the large rocks help to ground this space.

Down the line a sitting area with a bench, more shrubs and perennials planted along the fence and containers help to make this a cohesive and cozy area of the yard. The three tall pines don’t seem to dominate the area. So my best advice, if you have an area like this is, is to layer it.


Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears weekly. Email her at