Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Almost an Oops! In the Garden

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Here comes my annual salute to the real Parterre, the behind-the-scenes realities that few visitors think about. Given this provoctive, tell-all title, this is always a readers’ favorite (no surprise). But this year, I’m equivocating, calling it an “Oops, or an Opps;” not exactly an “oops,” but more of a “did I know?” Which, of course, in some cases, I didn’t.

This is also about fun at Parterre! One must always keep a sense of humor.

Few visitors to the garden can answer my question — what is this shape meant to be? (No, not a ginger jar.) Hint…this is a French garden (so it’s a brioche). Did I know? The box blight would rear its unfortunate head (although spraying has saved us so far.

Did I know? ‘Autumn clematis’ will envelope anything in its path (like the rose containers and holly hedging along the pergola where it is planted). The solution…turn that reality into a pretend bride’s train for a garden party. Coincidentally, ‘Autumn clematis’ is also known as bridal veil.

Did I know? Wrapping young growth (a deed carried out by moi, a young, novice gardener at the time) around wire will soon kill the expanding tendrils. We’re now doing it the proper way, training them along the top of the original cotoneaster’s deadwood branches.

Did I know? The trunk of a grafted cherry standard will increase in thickness with each pruning (this set of four was put in 20 years ago). But guests are intrigued with the trunks, now the size of an elephant’s leg.

Years ago, I fell in love with an image of ‘May apples,’ so unusual and they come up when the daffodils have passed and nothing else is yet in bloom. Did I know? They spread like wildfire in our moist woodland, and look a bit like a sci-fi scene. And that their lovely, little white flower is hidden under the oversized leaf, not to be seen.

Each year, we try to come up with an amusing vignette of succulents — here the well-named plant ‘fish hook’ cascading from an antique metal urn. Did I know? I would fall in love with one or two over the years, and then not be able to find them locally the next year. A one-off, as they say.

Did I know? When this holly hedge was put in with the original planting plan twenty-one years ago, what pruned shape I would ultimately decide upon. I finally took inspiration from the back design of the solarium bench, reversing the arc in the center.

It’s even more amusing in the winter…

Did I know? We would be proud grandparents of a pair of Great Horned Owlets in 2020. We’d barely ever heard an owl down at our end of the island, and this winsome pair were hatched a month ago in an old ginkgo tree on our front lawn. We’re certainly going to miss them; it’s difficult to believe that they will soon have a 4 1/2 foot wing span.

Be as wise as an owl and take care of yourself.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

22 thoughts on “Almost an Oops! In the Garden

  1. What a fun article to make me realize the hazards of garden life and being a “ city kid” isn’t so bad after all! LOVE the wise owls too, who know a good home when they see it.

    1. Happy to be able to give you that persepctive! And, yes, the owls have been the highlight of our 2020 spring, adding hope, new life and fortitude to these trying times. B

  2. Bettie… I loved this! All gardeners have these! Nice to know yours. And I love knowing how some of yours worked out. Often takes more creativity to figure these out than the original plan! I have wisteria “trained” over a pretty dead hedge and it looks quite good in my back garden that’s a little wild and woolly! Would love to come see yours! I’m in South Hampton! With Ted and family! But too busy being a nanny in quarantine to be free right now!

    Xo. Debby

    1. Oh Debby, do let me know when you break quarantine…and need a break in Newport!
      Though your son and family may be unwilling to part with this special nanny. xB

  3. Lovely ~ enjoyed all your “oops” as they say because we all have them but we still continue on to do our best and enjoy our lovely gardens~

    1. We have to keep a sense of humor…and remember that a garden is always a work in progress, with the inevitable “lessons” that come our way! Happy gardening, xB

  4. I just love this post so much, Bettie! Every photo is beautiful! I am going to be doing a garden design in the fabulous Carmel by the Sea and can’t wait to show this to my new client!
    All my best, Jeannette (Gigi) 😘💐

    1. Oh, Carmel by the Sea, how I love that spot! My uncle lived on the 17 Mile Drive.
      AND, as a garden designer, you will surely want to know about the Parterre Bench that I designed as a centerpiece for my garden. It’m now sharing it with fellow garden aficianados (see our page Privatenewport.com on the website devoted specifically to the Bench and ordering details). Happy almost summer, xB

  5. What a joy to read your posts and love to see the “Opps” that we all make in our gardens! I’m gardening now in Florida and miss the beautiful New England gardens like yours. Would you share the lovely green parterre bench paint color as I would love it for my new southern front door!
    Keep safe and enjoy the spring!
    Penny Lupton Love

    1. Hello down there in Florida…yes, a big contrast to New England, but offering a creative opportunity (speaking of “opps”).
      Our Parterre Green is a custom color but a close sister might be Pittsburgh Paint #1121-6. Happy almost summer! xB

  6. Do you recommend any particular mulch to use around my vegetable garden that would
    be appropriate and attractive? My garden is large, about 40′ x 40′ with a statue in the
    center, four interior squares and walking/access paths. I need a beautiful mulch because
    it will have big impact.

    1. We love “buckwheat” mulch, a dark 1/2″ diameter flat disc. It very much dresses up garden beds; the only drawback is that it can blow around in strong winds.
      Happy gardening! xB

  7. Loved your “oops” blog! So glad to know someone (you) who looks never to have a goof up actually does. My favorite of all is the picture of those beautiful owlets. Certainly not an “oops!”

    1. Oh we love those owls…what a bright and unexpected happening in a difficult spring. I’m experiencing separatin anxiety as it’s now time for them to be on their own…When are you coming this way? xoB

  8. Hi Betty, loved being in your beautiful house and garden when Highlands garden club came with Cecile As our intrepid leader to go to the flower show…I have looked at our garden centers here in Huntsville but none have that exquisites blue petunia plant they used that year…any idea of the specific name of it? Have a great summer n come to Highlands soon!

    1. Hello Jane, how great to be remembering old times! But I can’t remember (nor did I probably record) the name of that petunia. It was oso far back, that I’d be almost certain that the nurseries now have a better/more improved and prettier version. So sorry…Happy gardening, B.

  9. Oh, Bettie, how absolutely beautiful your spring/summer garden is during this pandemic. Such a stark contrast to the winter garden you so graciously shared with Gary L. and all the group! Oh, how I would love going back to Newport just to see it! Louisiana hard hit by Covid, but we are all staying safe and going into Phase 1. May God bless you!

    1. Oh Clarisse, so lovely to hear from you…and share Parterre’s spring garden. If you’re on Instagram I think you’d enjoy my posts under Privatenewport, All about gardens and architecture and style!
      Happy to hear that you all are moving into phase 1; what a surreal time this has benn…all the more reason for the beauty and solace of our gardens! Be safe, xB

  10. Bettie,
    Look forward to your blog/newsletter each month; share with my Atlanta garden club as it’s always beautiful and charming! Would be a dream to bring the club to Newport as I know there are spectacular views awaiting.
    Let’s continue to get Vitamin D from our gardens, which is needed to survive Covid!

    1. Hear! Hear! to Vitamin D and gardens!!! Let me know if you want to make a Newport trip; I have a special tour agency that I recommend as they have all the ins and outs of Newport garden tours ( a number of which I shared with them). Happy gardening, xB

  11. Bettie-

    Between the cascading clematics, the multiplying may apples and the adventurous animalia, it looks like you are running a fertility center more than a garden! So much life happening.

    1. I never thought of Parterre that way, but yes, you seem to be correct…of course, the owls are a first time (and I hope not the last).
      This was a special spring and a blissful antidote to all the pandemic news. Be safe, xB

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