My professional need to know plants is how I ended up with The Garden of Lost Plants. My personal gardens looked more designed when I was an amateur.
I am not a plantaholic, although to look at my home garden, you would think I was. My planting design knowledge of plant needs, form, structure and maintenance comes from personal experience. As a landscape designer, I learned early on that specifying plants for a specific site without having firsthand knowledge of them can lead to garden disaster in a season or two. I just can’t design a great garden from pictures and descriptions in a book or a catalog…I have to know the plant. Obviously I can’t grow everything so that’s where garden visits come in.
A woodland native I’m trying this year–Silene virginica
photo via Northcreek Nursery
I have one of many plants–with few multiples–I watch each grow, observe how big it really gets, what texture the foliage creates, if the bloom color and time is what I expect, and if the way I neglect them allows them to survive. I am always experimenting and have found winners and losers through this hodgepodge, totally unscientific process. My garden is not fenced or sprayed–I barely have time to pull the weeds. It is in a sub-urban environment with deer, rabbits, chipmunks, moles and a dog who has no respect for my efforts. Add kids and this is a similar environment to many of the landscape design projects I work on.
Another new one for ’09 although I can’t believe I haven’t grown it before–Asarum canadensis
photo via Rush Creek Growers
I try to make The Garden of Lost Plants look as if they’ve seen a designer’s hand, but it’s a challenge with one of each. I group plants together using basic design principles–contrast of foliage texture and color, diagonal repetition of color, shape and structure that helps to create a visual pull through the space. I make sure plants are peaking out from around corners to beg further inspection. Those that I suspect will be showstoppers get the ‘look at me I’m a star’ placement.
I rotate plants in and out of empty spaces that are still in containers until they go to a new home and I’ve been known to dig something up and take it to a client–leaving a hole until a new orphan or test case takes its place. Some plants are so successful that I have too many–bearded Iris for one, Leucanthemum superbum ‘Becky’ is another. A couple of years ago I added some woodies for trial and structure. That has helped with design cohesion a bit.
Plants move in and out of my garden constantly. It is pretty and somewhat over the top and yes, there are things that stay for years. Sometimes they even survive the lawn guy’s string trimmer.