Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gardens of Annuals Sown Directly

A pre-packaged mix of annuals, with a few additions. It's colorful but doesn't have much character.

I inadvertently overplanted the grass (How was I to know how much seed was too much?)but the Chinese Forget-me-not managed to nicely peak through.

I love this California Bluebell for its intense blue color, persistent bloom and tolerance of some very dry conditions.

I am interested in working more and more with plant systems in which natural forces and I work together to determine the nature of the garden. This desire of mine is exemplified by the perennials in what I call my meadow garden (see my 9/24/09 posting). Now I am intrigued by the idea of directly sowing annuals to achieve a naturalistic looking plant display that is also economical, has a minimal energy requirement, and represents this balance between natural forces and my will that I mentioned above. Perhaps I am revisiting the well known "meadow-in-a-can" phenomenon that made a splash about twenty years ago and is still available today, but I like to think I am looking at it a bit differently. The "meadow-in-a-can" provides something much like the top picture. It's a festival of color. There is no sense of composition or even a sense of the beauty of drifts and undulating masses we see in nature as plants distribute themselves. It's like the plants have been homogenized. Perhaps over time, if they continued to come back year after year, they would eventually make a more interesting distribution.

While waiting to see what that planting will evolve into (with some guidance by me) I am also experimenting with other plants and their combinations. The second picture down is of a grass, Ruby Silk,(Agrostis tef) and a non grass or, in prairie planting parlance, a forb, Chinese Forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile). Remembering how forbs so attractively peak through a backdrop of grasses, I tried a couple of other direct sow gardens with a mix of grasses and showy flowering plants. I vastly overestimated how much Agrostis tef I needed and vastly underestimated in the other garden how much Quaking Grass was needed. With the one garden the grass totally dominated the planting. The other one was sparse indeed although it did expose me to a very attractive and potentially useful annual pictured above, California Bluebell (Phacelia campanularia).

Obviously I have a lot to learn, but true to the lifestyle garden theme, its the process that's the most gratifying.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lessons of European Allotment Gardens

Little cities of tidy garden plots offer Germans an opportunity to enjoy the garden lifestyle.

A tiny vignette of a German Schrebergarten suggests the pleasures of times spent in their garden allotments.

This garden displays the mix of vegetables and ornamentals that tend to define these German allotment gardens.

My trip to Germany this summer renewed my fascination with what is typically called a Schrebergarten. Associations of tiny garden plots with their accompanying tiny buildings (Kleingartenvereine) offer Germans without land the opportunity to enjoy the garden lifestyle. Here in the U.S. where ample suburban lots offer millions of people the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of organizing recreational time around their garden it seems ironic that so relatively few take advantage of the opportunity. While in Germany where these opportunities are far rarer the enthusiasm for gardening seems far greater. One needs only to walk by these little cities of garden plots to see the enthusiasm for them. Apparently this phenomenon extends beyond Germany. An interesting article in issue 164 of the BBC publication, Gardens Illustrated , profiles the joys of one family and their allotment garden in Denmark under the title "A Taste of the Good Life." They begin the article with the following: "Do you want a refuge full of home-grown fruit, vegetables and drifts of bright flowers all summer? One Danish family show(s) that you can have all this in an allotment-sized space." Perhaps when something is rare or limited it is more cherished.