Every summer, I ponder changes that I will make in fall. I consider what has worked, what has not worked, and what has just gotten too big for its britches or routinely flops rudely on its neighbor. This year, I see that my bog garden has become too strongly dominated by grass and grass like texture as the Carex and Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ have filled in over the past three years. I know that this would be balanced by replacing a mass of the Carex with a mass of Primula japonica. The Primula has such nice bold leaves, not to mention the fact that it is site appropriate both culturally and aesthetically. I casually mention this change to Adam, who looks at me, obviously concerned, and says, “I thought this area was done.” Ah, well, hmmmm – for those of you that garden, you know the answer. A garden is never truly done, which is the beauty of gardening. Perhaps a landscape can be if it consists of hardscape and a few well placed pots. However a garden is a mutable art, changing year to year, often depending on the weather and care – - and it is under the hand of a great editor that a garden will truly become special.
Summer is a fabulous time to both congratulate yourself (and Mother Nature) for the successes and also take notes on what to change when the cooler weather arrives. Unless something is positively driving you nuts (eg plant at front door splaying open at center and over path in most ungracious manner), wait until fall or next spring to make those changes. I keep a running list on the computer – a journal would work well too. Then, come fall, when things have changed in spades, I am not trying to recall what wasn’t quite right in June.
Remember – a planting that is not working is not a failure…it’s an opportunity. We all have learned from our mistakes and if you are willing to take risks with plant combinations, you will more likely get fabulous results than failures. If the issue is cultural, that is fairly straight forward. Make sure you really understand the conditions and select plants that will thrive in those available. Conditions also change over time – for instance, trees and shrubs grow and create new shady spots…it’s best to go with the flow rather than fight it. An opportunity to try that hosta you have been eyeing. If it’s an aesthetic issue, observe the planting over time – sometimes those awkward phases take care of themselves. If it does not resolve itself, but you can’t quite put your finger on what is wrong, step back and look closely at color, texture, form, layering etc to see what is not quite working. Consider whether the plants are just too different culturally to make sense…I am not one to always follow rules when it comes to plant combinations, but some things just look weird together like lavender with sun tolerant woodlanders. Don’t do it. I recently saw a municipal planting of lewisia, lavender and salal which made me shudder. I know why they did it – probably a specification that required drought tolerant plants and a certain percentage of natives in a sunny, exposed spot and voila – this palette was dreamed up. It’s akin to drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth…ewww. I also find many gardens have too much fine texture which gives a cluttered feeling, and can benefit from some bold leaves. You don’t need to gamble with marginally hardy tropicals to get this - there are some fantastic foliage plants such as ornamental rhubarb (Rheum) and the Heuchera x villosas that lend themselves well to many settings and provide bold foliage (‘Brownies’ is my favorite – takes sun in stride and prefers dryer conditions. New growth looks like cast bronze).
So get out there and enjoy the summer garden that you have earned, but quietly keep notes on your next garden adventure…
Heuchera x villosa 'Brownies' and echeveria
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