All agree that no garden is complete without still or moving water, but lack there still will be without a forest no matter how bijou. Call it copse or spinney or bosque, just so long as it is definitely a wood. The reasons are many and obvious. No gazebo or ramada nor certainly an umbrella is ever equal to its shade, which is always moving. None of them can equal the coolness they present nor the odors of a patch of woods, nor the quickness of squirrels, chipmunks, birds in general and mourning doves and woodpeckers in particular. As calm as a fine garden is, a little wood is ultimate refuge.
How shall we make our wood, our bosque, our minute emblematic forest, our simulacrum of America’s not-so-past past, with its legends of monsters and misfortunes, all of which seem to flee with daylight? European in origin, added to by Iroquois and Algonquin theology, a wood teems with mystery and legend the way a meadow and a pasture do not. A wood is where the bad hide and where the good are without immediate resource. A wood is the echo of a black-and-white world, simpler times of refuge and doubt, comfort and deprivation and lies, lies, lies (“. . . the better to hear you, my dear”). Our small wood, however, has all of the bad planted out.
We will make our wood with a stand of tall fastigiates, like ginkgoes, or oaks, or cryptomeria, or beech and, if the latter, then I would suggest the marvelous structure of a fastigiate weeping one. Close planting will make them more obedient with less side issue as they compete with one another for sunlight. The taller they go, the more space understory for additional planting, and here one may stretch one’s green vocabulary to employ only the most satisfying performers.
Say what is called the handkerchief and should be called the Dove Tree joined with a Franklinia. And a Chinese dogwood. An oriental tree lilac. A Seven Brother’s Tree, which will give the most engaging peeling, stripping bark. Choose a lowish magnolia if you wish. All of these should leave room for a third story, for mountain laurel and Pieris japonica, for ground cover of the littlest spring bulbs mixed with partridge berry and winter green. A nice three-inch mulch of shredded cedar bark. And no bench or seat, please. The earth will do and the trunk of a tree. And you might think of getting a fox grape to romp on one or two of the trees.
And there you would have it. A refuge within a refuge, with sweeter, more silent shadows than anywhere else in the garden. A kind of darkness one might wrap oneself in. A place to hide in full sight.
Twenty by twenty feet should so it.
Start now or never.
The little forest may not be for you.