Sometimes it's what you don't want that organizes a garden. Heide Seeman doesn't like the sound of lawn mowers. "This is why I don't have a lawn," she says emphatically. But what she does have is startling to find in suburbia — a natural garden setting that makes the most of her large backyard. Hers is a garden where serendipity has married good planning to create a remarkable number of garden settings. A pond, tiny woodland and border plantings with colorful specimens blend into a harmonious whole. There's even a vegetable garden.
Heide started gardening as a child, following in her father's footsteps. "We called him the 'garden architect' because he always had something designed for the kids to do." She gardened for most of her life, usually in the country, where she had acreage and quiet. So when she moved to east Medford in 1996, she knew a water garden was a must.
A natural garden is an easier-care garden. Heide Seeman calls her garden "a pruner's paradise." "There's always something you can prune." she says. "But on the other hand, you don't have to do a thing. You can let it go for three months and everything is going to be fine. Then if you want to putz, you can putz."
Irish moss looks delicate, but it is a tough plant, and she encourages visitors to walk on it. Certainly her dogs do, often playing on it. It does show some signs of wear, but "you can't be too particular," she says. She doesn't want to be a slave to her garden. "I want to enjoy it as well."
She doesn't use any poison, so it's "pretty much an organic garden." Chicken manure and rotted sawdust are her soil amendments. A summer challenge is to keep the soil wet, a common problem exacerbated by black sticky clay. She's brought in a "huge truck" of rotted sawdust to incorporate, but the challenge continues. So she concentrates her flowering plants in containers on the deck, where she has more control over moisture.
"A pond really muffles all the other sounds," she says.
Her soil is east Medford's infamous "black sticky," a dark clay that sticks to the bottom of your shoes if you walk on it while it's wet, building up in ever increasing layers. When she moved to the house, the yard was a blank slate, and her plan included a pond with a dry creek bed, big rocks and trees. She laid out the shape of the first pond with a garden hose. The landscaper left a few berms after placing large rocks, and she liked them so much that the berms became an integral part of her landscape plan. The curving paths were also serendipitous, arising from the shape of the bulldozed land and the paths taken by her dogs. "There's nothing more boring than a straight path," Heide says.
The lovely pond with its dry creek is next to the patio, which holds a dining area and a casual seating area. Irish moss (Sagina subulata) is a favorite plant, and it blankets the transition from the patio to the garden. "You don't have to mow it," she says. "It's calm. It gives your eye a resting place."
The original pond was remodeled by Andreatta Waterscapes in 2003. A fish house helps keep raccoons from nabbing her goldfish and koi. She has no pots for wildlife to topple, since all her water plants are planted in the soil under the gravel. She has iris, obedient plant and crocosmia blooming at the pond's side. Water lilies provide at least two blooms a day in summer, but the pond, which is visible from the home's interior, looks great in all seasons.
Birds love the water, and a shallow rock gives them the safe access they need. One bird she doesn't want visiting, is the heron, which she once watched eating her largest goldfish. Perched on her neighbor's rooftop, the heron tossed the fish into the air, caught and swallowed it. Now, netting comes out to cover the pond every time she sees the heron visiting. When the bird stops coming, she removes the net.
Walking from the sunny pond area into the "woods" brings an immediate change in atmosphere. The air is cooler, and still. The sound of the dreaded lawn- mower even more distant. Several paths traverse the pine and evergreen garden, and Heide has placed seating within this softer setting. It's a place that beckons in summer heat.
She is not a fan of fencing, so her neighbor's fences are hidden behind border plantings of shrubs and vines. Standard plants in the garden include easy-care kinnik-kinnik, barberry ("for color") evergreens, rosemary and photinia.
"Photinia is great, as long as you don't cut it like a ball or box." Left to grow naturally, she enjoys its blooms and the fresh spring red of its new growth. "Allow them to be the bush they want to be," she says. "The bark is attractive. Thin the plant out, so it isn't helter-skelter in there. The birds like being in them and eating their berries."
Another favorite for year-round interest is the locally popular nandina, or heavenly bamboo. She abhors shearing this plant too, instead pruning hers yearly by cutting about half the stalks to about 6 inches high.
Like most gardeners, Heide has gone through different phases. "Right now, I love heather," she says. "You prune it a little bit every year, and that's all. You get beautiful colors."
Beauty seems the natural outcome of her open approach to garden design. Heide's garden brings another meaning to organically grown.