Thursday, April 2, 2015

Perspectives on Ways to Garden

I think that gardeners who are paying attention are becoming less certain of what a “proper" garden (as an English friend used to say) actually is. I have been reading a fairly new book that Noel Kingsbury wrote with Piet Oudolf called Planting, A New Perspective. It is a provocative book on the topic of plantings that emulate, in many respects, natural plant communities except they are aesthetically designed and they utilize ornamental plants which do not necessarily share common ecosystems. I have experimented with this type of planting and remain mystified by how to sustain them. I also recently read a book called Bringing Nature Home by Rick Darke and Douglas Tallamy. Their brilliantly instructively illustrated book emphasizes gardening predominantly with native plants in stable associations. It was very convincing. I see similarities between the two in style but not in substance. Those two approaches remind me of the multiplicity of approaches to gardening and all the associated consequences beyond the desired appearance. 

In this image below of Kingwood Center in Mansfield Ohio the calendar is dictating the end date of a garden still in full bloom. It seems ridiculous at first blush, but if there is to be a spring display the summer crop must come out in time to plant the bulbs.

The next image of a seasonal planting in Connecticut is a classic, but today’s sustainable gardeners might say it’s a rich man’s conceit, a display of resources at his command. And they would be right, but does that make it a bad garden?

Below is a rose garden on June 23rd  at the Columbus (Ohio) Park of Roses. Here is an entire garden dedicated to plants that probably need more care and attention than any other plant a gardener is likely to choose, yet here it sits out of bloom and contributing almost nothing at a time when most gardens are in their glory. But who would dare disparage a rose garden?  
On the other side of the gardening pendulum we see in the image below what seems to be a beautiful informal, sort of wild looking planting at the Berlin Botanical Garden. Look closer. I took this picture largely because it includes, Equisetum (horsetail) which is about the most obdurate weed I know. It will be a permanent and aggressive fixture in that garden until everything is removed and all traces of the Equisetum are destroyed. I have had similar experiences repeatedly with Agropyron repens (quackgrass), which is probably easier to control than Equisetum. It is this sort of experience that mystified me about the Kingsbury/Oudolf approach. Removal of the horsetail would be about a draconian two year project with no guarantee of success.

Below is a lovely looking scene at my home of blooming Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy). Unfortunately it represents the failure of an attempt to create a beautiful and stable community of native and floriferous garden plants. One species is taking over and driving all the other species out in the process. Nevertheless I see the Stylophorum diphyllum as a valuable tool in a Darke/Tallamy type gardening where it could be confined by bordering shrubs.

Then we come to this proud community of cultivated plants that seem to be stable, growing in a Berlin park. (The first six or seven feet of perennials up to the shrubs) If they are indeed a compatible community, it represents the work of a very knowledgeable gardener. But what has been achieved aesthetically compared to a more conventional garden? Was I evaluating this garden at the wrong time (July 9th) or is it kind of nondescript? 


My conclusion is that there is room for all of the above. There is no such thing as a “proper” garden. We work in a multitude of circumstances with many ambitions and goals. While I certainly have my preferences I applaud the achievement of all of the gardening goals represented in the pictures above and the skills required to achieve them.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Most Recent Favorite Plant

Pseudofumaria alba on 11 September 2013
Pseudofumaria alba seedlings from the above plant on 2 May 2014
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I am fascinated by my two growing seasons experience with Corydalis ochroleuca, or apparently more correctly Pseudofumaria alba, or I could improvise a common name like White Rock Fumewort. Anyway, as my common name suggests, they are known for growing on cliffs and rock outcroppings, but now are also known in Europe as an escapee of cultivation on walls. I am advised by the literature to regularly deadhead my plants in order to extend the bloom time through the spring and into the summer. They are said to be hardy to -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

None of that corresponds with my experience. I bought the three plants in the spring of 2013 from Digging Dog Nursery and planted them in a slightly raised bed near but not in a rockery. They grew well and bloomed abundantly from late July through September and probably until they were frozen in October. In the spring of 2014 following a winter with minimum temperatures that may have approached -13 degrees Fahrenheit, the three original plants were dead. As the spring progressed I noticed seedlings that looked like they were from my Fumewort, so I moved some around and protected the others. By the end of the summer they were gorgeous full-grown plants. As I write this on 22 October they are still in full bloom, and they have been blooming since about the end of August, as I vaguely recall. I didn't get around to photographing them until 10 September.

Now I have three locations, all close-by each other where I am growing the plant. One of the spots is a heavy clay overlain with an inch or so of rotted organic matter. The other two are in rich, fairly well drained garden soil. None has found its way to the rockery all around them.

So I await the results of their second winter and spring. Perhaps these will perform every year as non-hardy self sowing perennials. If so, that is fine with me because they quickly grow from seed into wonderful garden plants in one summer. When I have a successful experience with a plant that is so contrary to what I am led to expect from my readings I am always fascinated, and when the results are so gratifying I am especially so.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Money Well Spent in Lexington, Kentucky

I had the opportunity to see several private gardens in various tours of this year's Perennial Plant Association annual meeting. There was plenty of beauty and livable garden space to go around, but one struck me for making so much from such a conventional setting. Louis and Betsy Hillenmeyer live in a typical, albeit up-scale, subdivision. Modest lots of, I would guess about a quarter of an acre looked to be standard. The Hillenmeyers made the most of theirs. Arriving at the house one was taken with the elegant walls, full but uncluttered front garden and the manicured Boston ivy enveloping the house.

A beautifully constructed stone wall with clean and simple ground cover and a row of small trees gave the yard a gardened look without being busy or difficult to maintain.

The carefully crafted Boston ivy looks nice but the owner admitted to biweekly pruning. Unless that pruning gives him pleasure, I think that's too much of a commitment to repetitive handiwork.
Walking around the back yard one discovers a far greater investment in elegance, comfort, livability, and artistic flare than expected. The space between the lot line and the side of the house was small enough that the neighbor's front porch was cheek and jowl with the Hillenmeyer's side yard. To both neighbor's credit each of their side yards complemented the other making a lovely enclosure, especially for the deep low front porch of the neighbor. 
The Hillenmeyers, however were far from lacking in elegant outdoor living space.

Off the back porch of the house a nice sense of enclosure was created by the walled-in garage and driveway areas while open views of the garden-encircled back yard also offered a nice sense of openness.
A private and intimate enclosure around an outdoor fireplace offered amazing privacy for the relative density of the housing development.  

And this little courtyard by the fireplace is divided to offer almost a forecourt for the trip into the sanctuary. The garden was full of what I would call condensed journeys.
And finally this transition from the driveway into the aforementioned private space is typical of the heavy investment in creating not only lovely enclosures but also the satisfaction of moving gloriously from one space into another.