A wheel has been incorporated into this attractive garden gate. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A display of wheels sits in a garden center waiting for purchase. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Combined with other suitable objects, a wheel can be used in a effective composition in a spot where plants are almost impossible to grow. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Mid-May is probably the most exciting time for gardeners as we go about creating our outdoor gardens. Of course, we have done lots of planning, indoor planting, and dreaming in previous weeks, but now comes the time when we put all of the elements of the garden together, along with all of those tender plants that now can go safely into the outdoor garden.
One of the tasks we undertake during this creative process is to place the non-plant decorative objects so that they complement our plantings and put the gardener’s personal stamp on the garden. Some of these objects are fixed in place and stay in the same spot year after year.
Others, however, are moved around the garden to suit the whims of the gardener and to create a whole new look to the garden every year.
One decorative object that gives a garden a lot of pizzazz, even though it is a quite common thing, is the wheel.
Wheels can be intriguing in the garden as they can perform many functions. A wheel might form a backdrop for a clump of plants, another might act as a focal point on its own, still another might separate one garden room from another, and an old agricultural wheel might prompt a nostalgic look back at the history of the gardener and add to an agrarian theme.
A wheel looks great when it is incorporated into a bed or border, where plants are allowed to grow around and through the wheel. A climbing plant such as a thunbergia or a piece of Virginia creeper can be planted at the base or along the side of the wheel where it will climb up through the spokes of the wheel, making the wheel appear like it really belongs in that spot.
One of the tricks to using wheels in the garden — or any other artefact for that matter — is that they have to look like they belong in the garden, so the style and size of any wheel used must conform to the size and style of the garden.
A small wheel will get lost if placed in a large mixed border that contains many large plants, while an old wagon wheel, rusted and worn from wear, will not fit into a garden with a modernistic or formal style.
A wheel is a very useful object to fill a spot where we have tried in vain to grow anything — many of us have those spots — whether they are bare spots beneath large spruce trees or spaces that are in deep shade between buildings or along fences. A good treatment for such a difficult spot is to put down a mulch of bark chips or decorative stone and place a few decorative objects on it, including a wheel.
Wheels usually are displayed in an upright position and this takes some preplanning, especially if the wheel is quite large. A larger wheel can be dug into the ground sufficiently so that the wheel is self-supporting.
A smaller wheel, however, would all but disappear if a significant portion of it is dug down into the ground. The best solution is to drive a stake firmly into the ground behind the wheel’s rim where it will hardy be noticed and then to tie the wheel securely to this anchor — stakes on both sides of a larger wheel will ensure that it is solidly supported.
There are many different kinds of wheels, ranging from wooden wagon wheels to rusty wheels from old farm rakes or other machines. Garden centres have become cognizant of their popularity and sell a variety of wheels, many made to mimic old style wheels.
As when using other decorative objects in the garden, the rule "less is more" is a good one to follow. Adding a couple of wheels to the garden will create stunning effects; adding a half dozen will be overkill and is apt to make the garden appear cluttered and look like a collection of wheels instead of a garden!
Though not technically a wheel, some gardeners create a particular flower bed or herb garden in the shape of a wheel (round) and have bricks or rows of certain plants like dwarf marigolds or ageratum act as the spokes. This type of bed is most effective if it is placed on its own so that nearby plants do not detract from its form.
Lean a wheel up against a fence, put a matching pair of wheels on either side of the entrance to a farm laneway, or make a garden gate incorporating a wheel into the construction.
Possible uses of wheels in our gardens are limited only by our imaginations, so go for it!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 17, 2012