As alluded to in June, I’m keenly interested in the little vignettes that in concert compose my garden. I’ve long held that this approach, with a respect for the united work in toto, creates a greater tapestry of expression and interest while allowing the gardener to tastefully assemble a unique collection of assorted plants. While some might label this as “plant collector design” (a term which others still would call an oxymoron, suggesting that when one collects plants, one cannot also have any design sense), I prefer to think of it as a way in which gardeners can immitate nature without seeming formulaic. Themes in nature arise from patterns in ecology, geography, and the geology of sites where plants natively thrive. While the garden, in any way, will never replicate the ecology of native environments around the world, it does possess its own ecology capable of fostering interactions between and among plants, insects, animals, and birds.
So manifesto aside, that’s how I like to pursue gardening; one vignette at a time with an overall appreciation for the total environment I’m creating. Sure, some people think my garden is a plant zoo. Others see the beauty resulting from well-considered combos marrying with one another in a unified space. While all this is merry well and good, I couldn’t help critique myself today while puttering about the yard. Let’s face it, with good intentions come occasional failure. Without further adieu I present now a few combos for you to critique with me.
I call this combination groundcover mayhem. It inspired this whole diatribe. “Itsa no good!” If you can even make sense of the photo, this little spot grows poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) and yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon). Lesson learned here: two groundcovers don’t necessarily play nicely together. They’ve overrun each other, despite my best guess that they might layer within each other, highlighting their departing textures. Instead this less-than-dynamic duo looks like a Phil Specter bad hair day, the likes of which I never hope to see again. There’s even a little Thalictrum minus ‘Adiantifolium’ fighting for its life. Votes for transplanting to somewhere more hospitable?
Here’s “run together” for you. Lots of cool plants, but clearly overgrown and planted much too closely to be appreciated in the rock garden. Arguably, the geraniums fouled it all up. I collected seeds off of the petite cultivar ‘Dusky Crûg’ last fall and sowed among rocks. You can’t even see the rocks now! These kids outgrew their parents in one fell swoop! Perky and petite no more! They’re getting moved so I can evaluate them. After this dreadfully damp season, not a single one of them has any powdery mildew.
This next one is comical, perhaps. I love natives, and despite the fact that most would label my friend Oxalis corniculata (red form) a weed, I adore its serendipitous habit. I’ve fiercely guarded this “combo” all season. What do you think? Great textures, right?
This last one may just be a judgment call, a work in progress, something. I was cutting back my Solidago drummondii (the one I hacked back a few weeks back, remember?) this spring and accidentally ripped a stem out with roots attached. Not wanting to throw away a plant, I tucked this cascading goldenrod near the cornerstone of my rock garden dreaming of its pendulous waves of yellow and gold about mid-September, just like in the Ozarks. But in my fervor I forgot about another favorite rock garden plant, Saponaria lempergii ‘Max Frei’. This groundcovering character already had dibs on the wall edge and now happily engulfs the goldenrod. But it doesn’t look all that bad, does it? Just wait until that goldenrod hulks up in a couple of years. It’ll be an all-out war. We’ll see. Maybe the stress of being in hotter soil will limit the root growth of the goldenrod and keep it in check? Wishful thinking I bet, but that actually is exactly how it works in the wild.
What all this does, I hope, is encourage y’all to get out there and plant a few mistakes. Gardens are like little experiment stations for people who like to play God, so long as you can deal with the consequences. Go on now, be nature.