It’s hard to believe I haven’t already waxed on about Boltonia asteroides ‘Nally’s Lime Dots’ (or is it ‘Dot’ singular?) but a quick search of this blog found only two measly mentions. (I found several on Bwold’s blog along with a myriad of my own photos in google images, some totally unrelated. Weird.) Anyhoo, I love this plant and it loves me. By which I mean, it loves my garden.
I love it for its chartreuse petal-less polka-dots. I enjoy the way those buttons catch the long late-summer light in halos (it’s not fall yet) and how it’s the only thing, so far, in my garden that refuses to be overwhelmed by Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’. In fact, they’re a pretty pair, thick as thieves. And I’m gratified by its generosity. No matter how much I edit out, it rebounds to grace the neediest spaces. And as Kathy from Avant Gardens says, “it should be a nominee for best supporting actor…whether in the garden or in a vase”. I’m never inclined to bring flowers inside until old Nally’s dots bloom.
Suncatcher – Boltonia ‘Nally’s Lime Dots’
Lespedeza ‘Gibraltar’ and Boltonia ‘Nally’s Lime Dots’
Squeezins posy, heavy on Boltonia ‘Nally’s Lime Dots’
The only thing I don’t love is that the flowers are unattractive. I’ve never seen a bee, wasp, moth, or butterfly visit the buttons. There’s nothing for the hummingbirds there. Too bad it’s so boring! If not for its evident sterility, it might be a contender for my favorite plant ever.
FINE PRINT: perennial, zones 5-8. Full sun to maybe partial shade; average to crappy soil, and drought resistant. Grows 4-to 6-feet and leans like a drunk. May be given the Chelsea chop to encourage sturdiness but, in my experience, still becomes tall and tipsy.
What’s catching the long light in your garden? Anything vase-worthy?
(Originally published on May 27, 2015 in East Bay / South Coast Life newspapers.)
My garden is as full of mistakes as it is of plants. When I’m feeling extra critical or envious of picture-perfect gardens in magazines I see all of the stupid ideas, misplaced plants, egregious wonkiness, and weeds. And then I pick at every error I’ve made through the years like a scab.
My first mistake was to start planting immediately. Every gardener (including me) will tell you to wait at least one year before adding anything or making major changes to a new property. We all agree it’s important to learn the lay of the land; where the sun shines as it arcs through the seasons, where the rain collects and doesn’t. Could I wait a single minute after signing the papers for this patch of earth? Nope. We gardeners are a patient bunch—we love to watch things grow—but I can’t imagine any of us being able to resist the urge to plant as soon as we have the chance. Because they also say it takes at least twelve years for a garden to come into its own. (“They” being those gardeners who have tended the same plot for twenty years or more.) Please. My garden is almost two-thirds of the way through its twelve year sentence and I still can’t wait that long.
But now, long since making the mistake of haste, I can see the virtue in thinking before digging. Not only do I wish I had spent more time planning my garden before filling it to the gills but sometimes I kick myself for not springing for a consultation with a professional designer. Someone with an eye for gracious spaces who might have preempted my inclinations for tall plants near entries, and narrow pathways.
Sticking to a plant list matching my garden’s specific cultural conditions and space considerations would have been a good idea too. My biggest challenge lies in falling in love with almost every plant that passes in front of my eyes or nose, and in being incapable of refusing friends’ generosity. Without a proper plan and list, it has been impossible not to break the cardinal rule of gardening: Plant the Right Plant in the Right Place. I have planted a lot of those gifts—right plants every one—in wrong places. Not a big deal when it comes to perennials that manage to survive long enough for me to replant them as appropriate spots become available, but more of a problem with trees and shrubs. Far too many of those have either outgrown their wrong place and clogged the path or failed to thrive in conditions not conducive to health and happiness.
As my garden grows, I’m getting better at saying, “No, thank you” to offers of plants I didn’t know I wanted. That said, every impulsively placed plant has taught me something new about my garden; every edit, transplant, eviction, and untimely death has shown me where there’s room for improvement. Mistakes are great that way. I pick at their scabs not because I want to beat myself up for being a lousy designer, but because it’s the mistakes, more than the successes, that make the garden interesting, and keep it changing and coming into its own, week to week and year by year.
Stay tuned. Z and I just removed a stupidly sited flowering raspberry (Rubus odorous — the leafy green bramble on the right in the above pic). Not only did it crowd the path and bug Z every time he tried to mow (Literally. He kept being stung by its bees.) but it occupied the perfect location for a gifted Hinoki cypress we need move to make way for a house project. Incidentally, I transplanted a few of the raspberry’s suckers into the back border where another gifted evergreen, a cryptomeria this time, suddenly recently failed to thrive.
What do you learn from your mistakes? Or do you get it right the first time?
(Originally published April 15, 2015 in East Bay / South Coast Life newspapers.)
I have a lot of plants in my garden. (One might even describe it as “Plantiful.”) In fact, I have so many plants that on any given May through October day when the lion’s share are blooming or being otherwise interesting I don’t really miss all of the species that I’m lacking. At least not until I visit a nursery or someone else’s garden. Right now though it’s painfully obvious; I’m low on spring bulbs.
I always mean to plant some but by the time the catalogs arrive in July, I’m overwhelmed by the fecundity of my garden and can’t imagine ever being able to squeeze another thing in. And then in November, when I realize that I’ve blown it again and race out to the nearest nursery, they have inevitably sold out of anything I might want to see blooming right this minute.
Such as Iris reticulata. These iris, which only stand knee-high to a grasshopper, are among the earliest spring bulbs to bloom and some of the bluest, with upright petals, known as standards, in a range of indigos, and falls (the lower three petals) stitched with gold and white landing strips that help winter-weary bees find their way in. ‘Pixie’ is the blue-purple of a night sky, while ‘Cantab’ matches my favorite pair of faded jeans. Cousin I. histriodes ‘Katherine Hodgkins’ is so pale it’s practically threadbare but has wider, showier falls and landing strips than the others. Reticulate iris are happy in full spring sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. They only bloom for a week—or two at the most—if temperatures stay cool, the rain is gentle, and the wind never blows. But for that short time it’s as if shards of sky fell on the garden.
Crocus don’t stick around for long either but anyone who has some knows that there’s no such thing as too many. A few years ago I had the forethought to plant a dozen or two in my lawn and driveway garden. They’ve increased ranks since then and might one day become as dense as the clusters I admire along sidewalks around town. Until then, I need more, more, more and so do the bees. Lucky for me (and you) they’re a bargain. Mail order from sources like John Scheepers or Brent and Becky’s, a little over thirty dollars buys a hundred Crocus vernus ‘King of the Striped’. With prices like that there’s no excuse not to plant more, more, more.
Don’t tell my employer but I’ve never been wild about daffodils. As soon as I’ve seen one large, yellow ‘King Alfred’ I feel like I’ve seen them all. However, this year (every year?) I’m desperate for the daffodils’ blare, and besides, there’s nothing like standing in the middle of tens of thousands of them trumpeting in concert. And, when one pays attention, one notices crazy variety within the horn section. What I’d really like for my own garden are a few clusters with orange, pink, and green trumpets. The weirder the better. For starters, I’ll be adding green-cupped Narcissus ‘Sinopel’, orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’, pink seductress ‘Salome’, and split-personality ‘Rainbow of Colors’ to my wish list.
You are my witness to this list and I’ll be yours. Look around in the next few weeks and make note of what’s missing. Sock away part of your garden budget for spring bulbs. And no matter how saturated you are by the season, or how “plantiful” your garden is come July when the catalogs start to arrive, don’t even think of second guessing or shortening your wish list.
(Originally published on September 17, 2014 in East Bay RI/South Coast Life.)
I think I have it a bit backwards. Isn’t spring supposed to be the time for cleaning and clearing the clutter? I’m on a tear to create some space now. Within reason, of course. I have no intention of tidying up my desk, and I’m certainly not ready to put the garden “to bed.” There are miles of summer and fall left to go and I prefer to leave seedheads standing through the winter anyway. But right now my garden is at its fullest. It’s tall and it’s buzzingly busy with activity. It’s so full, in fact, that the wildlife and I can afford to let a few plants go here and there. This is a great time to think about changes to make next year and try them on for size.
Against my better judgment, last year I plunked a fountain grass, Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ into one of my foundation beds alongside a tiny hydrangea cutting and a precious little daphne. This spring I threw a few dahlias and nicotiana into the mix. Even at her best, Karley Rose has a late-summer habit that Great Dixter’s Christopher Lloyd might describe as sleazy. She grew at a prodigious rate, especially considering the lousy soil I planted her in, and has lately taken to lounging around, plumes and foliage flopped all over her more interesting bedfellows. Before I evict this plant for good (anyone have just the spot?) I’m going to whack it back by at least half to give those other plants some breathing room again and make extra-sure I’ll prefer the bed without it.
There are still swallowtail butterflies in the garden thanks to a healthy crop of fennel (plants in the parsley family are swallowtail caterpillar hosts) growing in the bed closest to my driveway, but I wanted to see what life might be like if we could actually walk down the path to the plantry door, and edited out a good two-thirds. It’s as if that bed’s edges have been sharpened. And the holes I created were just right for tucking in some last-minute color: bright orange zinnias and a companionable blue brachyscome daisy. I know without even looking that I want more of those colors in my garden next year.
I’m in love with the rice paper plant (Tetrapanax paperifer ‘Steroidal Giant’) planted in my backyard border. Its 18-inch wide matte-green pinwheel leaves change the scale of the garden and make me smile. But they also provide a little too much shade for all of the regular-sized plants tucked in nearby. This season, the rice paper plant’s third in my garden, it finally sent out a few suckers that filled some gaps along the back of the border and grew to shade out a bit more of the front. The other day I removed a couple of offshoots to let the daylight back into the bed (they’re shallow-rooted and easy to pull) and just like when my handsome husband finally shaved off his hilarious mustache, I wished them back again as soon as they were out. But I’m learning to enjoy the look of my garden’s upper lip without them.
I’ll start on container plants next. The more I consign to the compost now (such as the enormous angel’s trumpet that never bloomed), the fewer will crowd my plantry, living room and cellar this winter. She says.
I’m itching to move some shrubs around, if not out, and a few perennials too. But we’d all be wise to wait for a good soaking rain before rearranging the furniture. In the meantime we can do some spring cleaning to clear the clutter and create some space to play with ideas for next year’s garden.
What kinds of changes are you thinking of making? Are you trying them on for size now too?
(Originally published July 9, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life.)
As soon as summer’s heat hits, I spend more time critiquing my garden than tending it. If only I were better about making notes, I might have remembered that every year right around now, I become bothered by what’s missing, particularly from the backyard border I can see from my desk.
College level color theory didn’t adequately prepare me to choose from the smorgasbord available at every nursery and offered by friends. I want it all and can’t imagine excluding any one color from my garden. I might be able to live without pink but crave the scent of cerise-pink beach roses (Rosa rugosa), the gaudiness of rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and the whimsy of pink peony poppies. I think a little red goes a long way but want to honor the hummingbirds’ addiction to plants like Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ and Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’. Yellow was never once, even in my fickle youth, a favorite but I’m willing to tolerate black and brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) because goldfinch (whenever I spot one I change my mind about yellow) love their seedheads. But rather than wince at the clash I try to include a couple of colors that, to my eye, help sew the garden’s crazy quilt together.
The 1970s almost ruined orange forever but for the past few years it has ranked high on my list of must haves in the garden (and out of it). The ultimate clasher bounces so cheerfully off of every other color it actually manages to enhance otherwise wonky combinations. I think everyone needs a few clumps of bright-orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) to feed monarch butterfly caterpillars (though, truth be told, they prefer swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which has either creamy-white or baby-pink flowers). If you have to work up to orange, the hummingbird magnet, Agastache ‘Acapulco Orange’ is a more of a soft apricot.
To really work its magic, orange needs its opposite: blue. I’ll take anything from cerulean sky, indigo, French-purplish, and cobalt, to midnight. In fact, I believe there’s no such thing as too much blue no matter where it falls on the spectrum. Not only does it calm the crazy, cool the hot, and recede to add depth to small spaces (I remember a few things from color theory class) blue flowers also tend to be especially nectar-rich and attractive to bees.
Surprising then that blue is woefully underrepresented in my garden right now. You’re probably missing it too if your hydrangeas look anything like mine — winter nipped and nearly bloom-free. By the time you read this though, sea holly (Eryngium planum) stems and thimble flowers should be suffused in cobalt and buzzed by every pollinator in the neighborhood. I need more. And just as the catmint (Nepeta spp.) fades, lavender should take over the show. Both are more purple than blue but do the trick anyway. I’m sure I should have countless spires of anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) because it self-sows generously, but then so does the cultivar ‘Golden Jubilee’ that I bought instead for its chartreuse foliage.
When the forget-me-nots and woodland phlox go by, my partially-shady backyard border becomes a blue-free zone all the way until August or September when plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginiodes) finally blooms. I planted a few Geranium ‘Rozanne’ some years ago to help fill the void but they have all but disappeared.
I thought I was done planting but the more I stare at the backyard clash the more determined I become to try the geranium again or look for some last minute flats of blue lobelia and browallia, each of which can take some shade. And maybe, as a stopgap and reminder for next year in case I forget to read this note, I’ll spray paint the birdbath blue too.
Confession: I didn’t paint the birdbath blue. I painted my awesome wire bucket chairs instead.
Do your eyes need to see orange and blue in the garden too?