Helen Yoest is a garden writer and coach through her business Gardening With Confidence. Read her blog at www.gardeningwithconficence.com/blog and follow her on Twitter @HelenYoest.

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Movement in the Garden
by Helen Yoest       #Design   #Misc   #Ornamentals

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) bending hello, entering the driveway.

Wind blowing, water flowing, grasses swaying and children playing – movement brings a garden to life.

It seems unimaginable for a garden to be still. Do you often find yourself looking at something moving from the corner of your eye, or do you look to a sound made by the moving wind? Movement engages you in the garden. Movement can be introduced with plants or personality; look around your garden to see how you can add more movement in your garden.

Leaves Rustling
Certain trees hold their leaves throughout the winter. White oak trees will hold on to their leaves, turning brown and dry, until new spring growth pushes out the old. As the wind rises, their leaves rustle. This sound draws the eye to the leaves of the oak tree, shimmering like the grass skirt of a hula dancer.

Certain shrubs, such as the spice bush (Lindera glauca), also hold their leaves when dormant. The dried, spice-colored leaves provide a rattle in the wind during the winter months.

‘Karl Foerster’ grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora in motion.

Grasses Swaying
Grasses are valued for their form, texture and three solid seasons of visual interest. Their flexibility during each of these seasons also provides movement in the garden. Swaying in the wind, they bend in the breeze like an anemometer for speed – the more the wind, the more the bend. During the winter months, watching the hay colored grasses is mesmerizing, taking the mind to summer days gone by.

A good one to try is the perennial Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, which stands upright and erect until the breeze begins, creating movement in the garden.

Muhlenbergia capillaris colors up pink in the fall, then turns tan for the winter months. Left uncut, the grasses add interest in the winter garden as they move in motion to the seasonal winds.

Native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, can grow 4 feet tall with nice red tones in the summer, growing darker burgundy as the fall progresses. In the winter ‘Shenandoah’ is blond and bold, ready to bend in the slightest breeze.


Left: While the fountain itself doesn’t move, the water swirling and falling in various directions in this pool creates both movement and sound in the garden. Right: Moving water from the fountain can be heard through the garden.

Water Flowing
Where water flows, wildlife flocks. Seen and heard from afar, the wildlife are attracted to moving water. From four-tiered fountains or recirculating ponds to a gurgling urn with only enough flow to continually coat the sides, moving water will entice birds and other wildlife to sip or dip. This brings a lot of movement to the garden, as birds scurry for seeds and squirrels dig for acorns.

The sound of the water itself is also a benefit. It buffers ambient noise, creating a focal point to be enjoyed in our Carolina gardens throughout the year.

If you have water in your garden you likely also have fish, another good source of movement. Fish move left, move right and circle around. They wiggle and wag looking for little bites to eat and making sure all is well in their water world. Watching fish move through the water is calming and cathartic. During feeding times the fish are fun to watch as the scurry for position, breaking the water to grab little nibbles.

Birds Feeding
Birds actively come and go from the garden creating commotion in their motion. Keeping stalks and seed heads through the season is a good way to invite birds to alight in your garden. And you can’t beat the delightful experience as the seed heads rustle and move in the breeze.

Watching birds feed on the seeds is entertaining from the motion they cause when loosing balance to the stalks moving in the wind. Finches alight on verbena-on-a-stick (Verbena bonarienis), purple coneflowers (Echineaca purpurea) and phlox, resulting in wobbling, in-the-air antics.

A hummingbird hovers contently while sipping from bee balm.

You can also attract birds with man-made feeders. Certain feeders will allow multiple birds to alight at once. It is not unusual to see a mix of bird species feeding on the same feed. Black-oil sunflower seeds will attract the greatest variety of birds to your feeder, including cardinals, nuthatches and finches. For brown thrashers use a ground-level, tray-type feeder.

Put out peanuts and wait for the woodpeckers you probably didn’t even know you had come to feed. Taking seeds, filling their bellies and coming and going from the feeders, brings hours of pleasure watching the birds as they move about.

Hummingbirds are also fun. Catch them during the spring, summer and fall before they migrate south. They will stop in mid-air to sip from nectar rich flowers. Adding nectar feeders filled with clear sugar water will invite hummingbirds to your garden. Use 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Cannas, Turk’s cap lilies (Malvavisus drummondii), bee balm (Monarda), salvias and many other trumpet shaped flowers will bring hummingbirds to your garden.


Left: The pink-spotted hawkmoth moves at night. Right: Butterflies move in the garden from flower to flower.

Insects Inspecting
Growing plants to attract butterflies will lead to butterfly arrival – flirting, floating and flying from flower to flower. The garden moves with life day and night with moths, bees, wasps, praying mantises and beetles. Zinnias, lantana, Joe-Pye weed and other umbel-shaped flower heads act as a landing pad for the butterflies to alight.

Basils, if left to flower, will also bring in bees, as will salvias, lavender, rosemary, crossvine and many more pollen-producing flower heads.

The American flag ready for a breeze.

Whirligigs, Flags and Wind Chimes
Accents that go round and round, wave in the wind and chime with the breeze all add movement in your garden.

Whirligigs will add motion to your garden, and a lot of charm to boot. Found in as many shapes as there is imagination, whirligigs make the most of the wind.

The American flag is the flag icon for movement and glory in the garden. Hanging on the front porch column, surrounded by germaniums and shrubs, it proudly waves in the wind.

Don’t forget wind chimes. From tiny ones that sound like Tinkerbell’s wand to large ones that chime with deep tones in major winds, chimes are sure to charm.

Invite kids to the garden to add movement.

Children Playing
Backyard play is the American way. Whether in your own yard, a park, at grandma’s house, or a neighbor’s yard, a space to run and be free is what a kid needs.

When kicking a ball, playing tag and chasing fireflies, children’s precious movements bring life to the garden. Give kids a little freedom in your garden and they’ll delight in their ability to roam freely in outdoor spaces.

Locate your movement makers where they can be observed. Place a fountain where it can be seen from the front window. Plant nectar-rich plants near the back porch where you can see the movement they bring while sipping an iced tea. Add grasses along the driveway to bend hello as you come home.

If none of these suit you, just add a whirligig at the front door where you will be sure to readily witness wind in motion.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest, Troy B. Marden, Frank Leung, and istockphoto.com/BirdImages.


Posted: 02/28/18   RSS | Print


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