Skating In The Garden

Yes, it’s possible! But no — there is no need to lace-up! That’s because the skills and knowledge of the sport can offer great insight to a well-thought-out garden design, whether you participate yourself on the ice or are a world-class observer on your couch. You may be surprised at how similar the two are. My garden is filled with concepts I learned during many of my skating lessons and it’s time for me to come out of retirement and show them off.

Winning both regional & sectionals champions for two consecutive years, I know how to focus on every last detail and push my body and mind to do some of the most unnatural things on the ice all while landing on an edge. Now that I’m a little bit wiser, older, and less likely to attempt something foolish, I take comfort in knowing my garden offers me many outlets to express the expertise I picked up during my skating career. I do understand the irony of how skating once dominated my life when I was younger and now I am just as focused on gardening!

Just like in any well choreographed artistic sport, a garden design requires the attention to details to get the highest scores from the judges. Although lots of people will look, you only have one true judge in the world of gardening — Mother Nature — so shoot for that 6.0. I’m going to use my gold medal experiences to create analogies and concepts that are both entertaining and fun.

The Figure 8
Compulsory “figures” were formally an aspect of the sport, from which it derives its original name: “figure skating.” The figure-eight represents symmetry and balance, thus perfect for a well-appointed garden. Just as two circles of equal size make up the 8, in the garden the balance of pairs of items create order. See? Two really are better than one. Two stone dogs at your front door, two planters on the patio or two boxwoods flanking a walkway. Two is never too much. The figure-eight concept is a basic one that can be used to create order and focus in an area that otherwise would be less interesting. Balance on each side that matches is what it’s all about.

The Single Jump
Major elements of completive skating are the jumps, around which the rest of the program is constructed. No, you don’t want your plants leaping about, but you do need to plan your garden around what you choose as your major elements. Let’s start by planning around one major thing. What will you plant, and where? It is important to know what you like and what works in your area. One single over-the-top plant, specimen tree, garden fountain or a special structure can make a visible impact around which to anchor the rest of the garden. Treat yourself to a least one thing that says who you are. Mine? My garden studio.

The Double Jump
A double jump requires more confidence and skill-set; you are combining techniques and jumps to create something special. When it comes to your combining elements in your garden, the experience and the confidence required is the same. My garden is filled with “doubles” — combinations of plantings. This allows me to focus on two seasons in one area. For example, my New Dawn roses offer me a burst of color and fragrance that captures my attention each and every late spring/early summer. My clematis “The President” is intertwined with the rose to provide a deep purple burst of color in the summer when the roses are at rest, making this arbor a double pleasure, for double enjoyment. It’s just like my philosophy when I was competing: Why do a single when you can get more credit for the double?

The Big Triple
Not every skater can get to this point in their career because it takes time to master and coordinate, when it happens you can score some big points! It similar in the gardening world, so if you do it you’re in an elite group. My Amethyst Falls wisteria blooms multiple times within the growing season, starting with early spring; come summer my two clematis kick in and bloom back to back, intertwined on the pergola. As my coach used to say, “The power of three will set you free” — free to wow people, as this triple combination is a breathtaking feast for the eyes. This is hard to coordinate, timing wise, but when you do you’ll get a standing ovation.

You have to love when a skater executes a perfectly centered spin with various positions. Second to jumps, those get the most attention and the highest scores. A spin on the ice is a great way to break up periods of movement and act as punctuation points in a routine, allowing everyone to easily focus on the skater. Spins in your garden come in the form of circular accents that break-up lines, offering smoother edges and variations. A bird bath, a sundial, a round low planter, or even an armillary of sorts captures the elements of the circular motion.

The Layback Spin
A layback is when a skater’s form is upright then the skater drops his or her head and shoulders back and down towards the ice. Yikes, right? Hard for a skater, easy for a gardener. As a male skater, I was persecuted for even attempting to add this spin in my program. When I finally did, I scored big points for it. Today, men are doing them more and more and I like to think I pioneered the way. To do a layback in your garden is much simpler, however, you will still need to put your head — but this time but more in a lounging position. Get a hammock! Find a place where you can sleep outdoors, under your favorite tree, perhaps. A happy, fully relaxed gardener will always awake to embrace mother earth and ready to work. I know I do.

Fancy Footwork
Footwork (also know in the skating world as “moves in the fields”) provide a skater the chance to show-off complicated transition moves: forward to backward, inside to outside edges, all while utilizing the entire skating rink. Your gardening footwork offers you the same chance to show-off over a surface, too: Your lawn. Whether you choose to hire a professional or do it yourself, a green lush lawn that transitions from walkways to gardens can become a valuable part of the overall design to the perfect garden. This can be the one job your husband, child or partner can be responsible for. (Welcome to the wonderful world of pair skating.) Set your expectations and make sure you lay out the ground rules. No pun intended.

There may be more tricks to apply to the garden (I’m sure there is a connection between Zamboni machines and roto-tillers!), but, just like skating, gardening skills develop over time, so here you now have the basics. At one time, skating offered me a place to recharge, get some great exercise, and pick up chicks (literally, as I did skate pairs for several seasons!) Whether you go at it alone, partner with an adjacent neighbor, or make it a family project, loving your garden and applying some basic rules will score you years of enjoyment.

Today my garden offers me many of the same rewards as my skating once did. It’s on exhibition many times throughout the year, performed in front of hundreds, and inspires all who come to watch the magnificent show. The lovely and talented Jo Jo Starbuck once told me during an interview that the iconic Dick Buttons himself has an amazing garden in New York. Truth be told, somehow I’m convinced his garden is gold medal worthy, too.

And there you have it.