Wouldn’t it be lovely, after an afternoon of vigorous garden chores, to slip away to a special corner of the garden, stretch out in the hammock and relax or snooze a bit? This shady retreat can be even more enticing when surrounded by fragrant plants, soft textures and calm, peaceful, white-flowering plants. Gardens and hammocks were made for each other, and with a little planning, your back yard can become a relaxing retreat.
The first necessity of a hammock garden is a mature shade tree in the back or side yard. Situate a freestanding hammock in the deepest shade of that tree, design a path that leads to it, and plant ferns to engulf the area around the hammock and suggest a soft nest in the dappled light. White flowers are excellent to dot the ground leading to the hammock because they show up cleanly against the leafy mulch on the surface.
Anyone who plants a hammock garden must tailor it to the site they have available, because plant possibilities are determined largely by the tree and the amount of shade it casts, as well as other factors, such as climate and soil type. Use the list of plants here as a suggestion or guideline, but assess the location you have, particularly the amount of sunlight it receives, and use plants that you know grow well in your area.
Try placing larger white-blooming shrubs, such as fragrant rose, gardenia and mock orange at the edges of the tree canopy, where they can receive more sunlight and have space for roots. If your yard is surrounded by a privacy fence, you can tuck your garden into the corner so the fence and shrubs around the outside envelope the space, holding in the delicate fragrances and contributing to the feel of a woodland nesting spot or hideaway. You could even plant sweet autumn clematis to climb the fence for a vertical element visible from the hammock, a green screen that flowers explosively in the fall.
If you design this white-flowering garden for napping, several plants would be a perfect fit: The little ray flowers of German chamomile with their gentle apple scent can calm your nerves; chamomile tea is used widely as a mild sleep aid. Plant them toward the edges or in pots, as they need good sun exposure to bloom well.
Sweet woodruff has been used since the Middle Ages to flavor white wine used to calm nerves and bring on sleep. With its green whorls of fragrant leaves and little white springtime flowers, it is a good plant for the deep shade and humus-y soil at the base of a tree.
Black cohosh, a graceful backdrop in any shade garden, also has a history of use as a relaxant; at one time cimicifugas (the genus that includes black cohosh) were dried and stuffed into pillows and mattresses to encourage relaxation and drive off bugs.
Given how many years it takes to grow a tree to maturity, be sure to safeguard the health of that tree as you plan what to plant around it to create your oasis. Here are some things to consider: Don’t change the height of the ground around the tree, such as by raising the bed. Don’t change the conditions in which the tree grows by trying to pamper water-loving plants under a drought-tolerant tree, or vice versa; rather, try to match the hammock garden plants to the growing conditions the tree needs or has adapted to. To avoid too much damage to tree roots, start with small plants or seedlings that don’t require large planting holes and can be tucked between tree roots and find their own spaces to expand.
If your hammock tree is deciduous, all the better; use those leaves to mulch and feed the garden plants beneath it. If you have a taste for kitsch, put tiny white lights on the lower tree branches to light up the area in the evening; to someone lying in the hammock, they will look like stars in a night sky.
And don’t forget the usefulness of containers in a shade garden like this. If you’re not sure that a plant will thrive in whatever degree of shade you have available, try it first in a container in that space, and then move it around until it’s growing comfortably. Or if you have plants you’d like to grow in the area around your hammock that have different watering requirements than the tree, a wooden half-barrel or other large container can fit naturally into this setting, provide a spot for pampered plants and spare the tree roots. You can use containers for plants that won’t last the winter outdoors in your climate, or for plants, such as spearmint, you may be reluctant to let loose in your garden because of their tendency to take over.
— Kathleen Halloran is technical editor for The Herb Companion and a freelance writer and editor, living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.
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