Garden Muse

On the way to a short vacation in Ashland in mid-September, the Village Green Resort ( ) was a great place to stop for lunch and to stroll around the gardens that flow through the site. Right off Interstate 5 at Cottage Grove, it's easy to get to, with a peaceful atmosphere that's welcome after hours of traveling beside rumbling trucks.

I could barely sit still at lunch, anticipating a wander through the borders. I'd already caught a glimpse of a charming garden room with a bubbling fountain, and a golden 'Tiger Eyes' sumac was winking to me in the distance.

Theme gardens

It had been several years since I'd last visited the series of theme gardens brilliantly designed by Cindee Eichengreen. Each garden is announced by a colorful mailbox mounted on a post: The Autumn Garden, The Golden Garden, The Bird Habitat, and more.

Luscious 'Summer Chocolate' silk tree made a riveting focal point at one end of The Autumn Garden, with fern-like leaves dark as bittersweet chocolate. Bronze sedges and the russet bark of a paperbark maple echoed the tints of the silk tree - I could imagine how this vignette would become even more exciting when the maple turned red with autumn tints.

I thought about the young 'Summer Chocolate' that I'd planted last spring in an island bed at home, hoping to see it grow into a prima donna like this one at the Village Green.

Fall's treasures bloom in a concentrated blast of color and texture in the autumn Garden. Ornamental grasses topped by silky tan plumes and masses of 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) were in their peak on that September day when I visited. Bees and skipper butterflies flitted through the big domes of pink and russet autumn-flowering sedums, gathering nectar.

Black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia) were ablaze with mustard yellow flowers, while Haloragis 'Wellington Bronze' made a charming dark accent at their feet. A low-growing perennial with toasty brown leaves and red stems, Haloragis has become a favorite in my own garden for its rich foliage color, resilience in heat, an uncanny ability to sow itself just where it's needed - at the front of border, between larger shrubs, or to fill a gap. If you don't want it to travel, just cut off the small flowers before they go to seed.

The Golden Garden was another memorable place, where many bright-leaved trees gleamed in the autumn light - golden larch, golden deodar cedar, and Robinia 'Frisia' were just a few of the treats. 'Baggeson's Gold' shrub honeysuckles, bronze whipcord hebes and golden creeping Jenny illuminated the middle and front of the border. Although I didn't take time to sit, a chartreuse bench with a vine-covered canopy made an inviting place to linger. I might have to copy the whimsical Bell Tree, a large tulip tree (Liriodendron) hung with wind chimes and bells that make a soothing sound when the breeze blows.

Fragrance, color and quirky touches

I stopped here and there to enjoy more autumn pleasures - the sweet scent of harlequin glory bower tree's (Clerodendron) white flowers, the beautiful burgundy and pink tints of 'Ruby Glow' barberries, the pattern of a variegated Alaskan cedar flecked with cream. Seven sons (Heptacodium), a shrub grown to tree size, with exfoliating bark, was loaded with white flowers, while companionable purple monkshoods bloomed beside it.

I love Heptacodium for its hardiness, late flowers, red calyces after the flowers drop, plus its ability to tolerate extremes of both wet and dry.

All the little cottages at the Village Green are landscaped for beauty, both at their front entries and around the back patios. When I stayed there years ago, I stepped out on the patio early in the morning to listen to the birds greet the day. On this briefer fall visit, I especially enjoyed one entry garden where 'Tiger Eyes' sumac made a dazzling focal point beside a contrasting red door.

Another charming sight was a bungalow out in the strolling gardens, painted teal, with orange trim. It was great reminder that any outlying hut or shed is an opportunity to introduce colors that are rarely found in flowers.

A small lawn surrounded this little house, with two arches framing the entry from opposite sides, like mirror images. Both were made of live golden-barked willows planted in the ground, then bent and trained into arbors. It would take regular maintenance to strip off unwanted branches, so only try this if you're willing to keep trimming.

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