Amsonia hubricthii

Cutting a new garden instead of the lawn

In the April 2019 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine, Editor Steve Aitken shared his thoughts on the significant moments in time that shape our evolution as gardeners. I had to chuckle at his comment that a true gardener would explain to a non-gardener that “The lawn is just the place you stand when looking at your plants.”

As a passionate plant person, I am often tempted by plants at the nursery. I’ll see a new perennial, tree or shrub and think to myself, “I have to have one of those.” This addiction of sorts explains why I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Some of my friends think I’m crazed to add more beds to maintain in my 1.3 acre garden, but I find joy in the new plantings and feel the reward of the continually changing landscape is worth the effort.

To that end, this year I added a bed over 100 feet long which parallels a wall at the front of my property. On a slope, this new area has sections in shade, part shade and full sun and is well drained. The best part about developing this space into a garden is that I no longer have to mow on a hill, which was becoming harder and more dangerous the older I got. Sounds like a good reason to remove tons of sod, don’t you think?

Newly installed garden bed on a slope

My newly installed garden bed with many of the new plants in place.

I planted some favorites like Helleborus HONEYMOON® ‘New York Night’, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Amsonia hubrichtii and Lonicera pileata ‘Moss Green’. I also added some new plants including Penstemon ‘Black Beard’, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. I incorporated Pycnanthemum muticum, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  Aster ‘October Skies’ to attract pollinators and Molinia ‘Skyracer’ as a ‘see through’ plant. Some wonderful nursery friends gave me unique specimens including Indigofera kirilowii and Hypericum x Blue Velvet™ and I’m saving space for a Cercis ‘Flame Thrower®’ which I am hoping will be available in 2020. Is that enough Latin for you? Are your eyes glazing over yet?  How about if I stop my plant talk and share some photos of these beauties so you can see why I am so enthralled!

Agastache Blue Fortune

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ blooms from mid-summer into fall and attracts many pollinators

amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii was the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a favorite in my garden. The fall color can’t be beat.

Chinese Indigo

Indigofera kirilowii (Chinese Indigo) has Wisteria-like pink flowers in the summer and showy yellow leaves in the fall.

Diervilla Cool Splash

Diervilla Cool Splash adds nice contrast to the border.

Molinia Skyracer

Eventually the tall plumes of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ will steal the show when backlit by the sun.

Mountain Mint

I’m very excited about Pycnanthemum muticum and its ability to attract pollinators.

While the new bed is immature, I look forward to seeing the plants grow in the years to come. I promise to share my triumphs and my trials. After all, that’s what gardening is all about. We collaborate with Mother Nature and make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired aesthetic. Now like a true gardener, I will prepare the garden for winter and patiently wait for spring!

drift-2Bof-2Bconifers.JPG

A Garden Defined

During a recent vacation to Banff, Canada to do some hiking, I found myself awe-inspired by the views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and open meadows. The experience made me stop and think about gardens in a new way. I wondered whether Mother Nature’s masterpieces would be considered ‘gardens’ by modern definition.

According to dictionary.com, a garden is defined as

1.  a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables or herbs are cultivated.

2.  a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park or other public recreation area:  a public garden. 

3.  a fertile and delightful spot or region.

 I would put the Banff landscape in the category of ‘delightful spots’ for sure. In fact, I think Mother Nature did a great job with the native landscape in Canada. She evoked a positive response in me and enabled me to connect to each space I visited in a unique way. As I captured scene after scene with my camera, I realized that certain patterns were emerging. Natural patterns that were further explored in W. Gary Smith’s book ‘From Art to Landscape’. Gary believes we find patterns all around us in the native landscape that provide repetition of color, texture or form and help to unify a space. These different patterns include mosaics, naturalistic drifts and serpentines, among others. As I reviewed the images I captured on my camera, I realized my photos represented nearly all of these concepts and natural designs.

A drift near Lake Louise
A mosaic of wildflowers in Sunshine Meadows
A serpentine river at Bow Glacier

Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author has become popular world-wide due to his naturalistic approach to gardening. In his book ‘Designing with Plants’, Piet said, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it but to recreate the emotion. What I try to do is build an image of nature.” 

Piet observed that beauty can be seen in nature on every single day of the year. If Mother Nature can accomplish this, we can too. I believe we simply have to focus on naturally occurring patterns and the cycles of life. Piet points out that birth equals spring, life equals summer, and death equals fall/winter. By using these guidelines, we can effectively combine color, texture and form in a way that looks natural, inviting and interesting throughout the year.

Hydrangea in spring (birth)
Hydrangea in summer (life)
Hydrangea in winter (death)

The next time you visit a nursery, think about how the plant will look during each season and plan your gardens around these seasons of interest. The next time you travel, look at the naturally occurring patterns in Mother Nature’s ‘gardens’ and consider replicating their impression. By incorporating form and pattern, you can bring nature into your own landscape and build a closer relationship with wild spaces. And who doesn’t want that?