I Want The Wow
Ok, I admit it, we gardeners can be a competitive bunch. We're like proud parents, itching to show off our creations. Nothing eggs us on like having people ogle the plant no one else has, or the snappy looking combinations we've poured our hearts into.
I used to think making my garden a wow was all about socking in the newest and snazziest plants I could lay my hands on, but as I've killed more than my fair share, I've learned not to pin all my hopes on them.
It's easy to forget about some of the tried and true varieties we've had around forever because we get hung up on the latest rock stars. Take these for example - as single specimens, I might yawn, but put them together in a group and you've got a wow. Here's a combination of Sedum 'Purple Emperor', Nepeta 'Blue Wonder', Eryngium maritima and Alium sphaerocephalon in my garden. These bulletproof perennials perform in conditions that are less than stellar - dry sandy soil, punishing western sun and head on exposure to the north winds that whip across Lake Ontario.
Got dry shade? It's survival of the fittest when you're planting underneath trees - masses of roots and precious little soil thwart most of my attempts. I paired up these two tough guys; Asarum europaeum and Carex hachijoensis 'Ice Cream' under the mulberry tree in my backyard. The variegated foliage dances through the shiny dark green leaves and adds a little zip to what used to be a really boring area.
Along these lines, some of the plant marriages my gardening friends have come up with inspire me. My jaw dropped when I saw this flashy mix of blue and yellow in my friend Karen Bussolini's (http://www.karenbussolini.com) garden last fall - Rudbeckia submentosa 'Henry Eilers and Aster obligonfolius 'October Skies'. 'Henry Eilers' is so tall and gangly - I had it in my garden and could never figure out what to pair it up with. 'October Skies' is a perfect mate because it's shorter and has a more compact growth habit. Pair them up in the back of a border and you've got something pretty special. What more could you ask for, especially at the end of the growing season?
I thought echinaceas and ornamental grasses were kind of ordinary until I saw this little vignette in a garden that Ana Hajduk https://singingbrookgardens.com designed. She grouped three perennials that will grow just about anywhere; Sesleria autumnalis and Echinacea purpurea and tenneseensis 'Rocky Top'. Sesleria autumnalis doesn't flower, but its soft wispy foliage really makes those echinaceas pop - love the textures, and it's perfect for a hot sunny spot!
This stunning combo drew me in from afar when I was walking across the lawn at Wave Hill (http://www.wavehill.org) in Bronx, NY. When I got closer, I realized it was just a long line of ordinary mop head hydrangeas - Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' underplanted with Hosta x 'Sum and Substance'. Genius idea, and it really stands out from a distance.
My friend Nellie Gardner, (https://www.flower-fields.com/index.php/about-nellie-gardner-flower-fields-spencerport) hates to weed, and came up with this idea to keep them at bay. I love the way these two perennials work together - Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire' and Knautia macedonica. The perovskia blooms after the knautia and the foliage covers up the spent flowers. I'm sold on this idea - non stop color and no weeds.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for experimenting with new stuff. At this time of year I'm eying the up and comers in the plant catalogues just like everyone else, but the bottom line is - they have to live. After battling last summer's drought, I'm investing in the toughest specimens I can find, and as you can see, it's what we do with the plants we choose that counts!