Where In the World?

Virginia native Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

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Lesley Buck, in her beautiful new book, Cutting Back, describes her apprenticeship as a gardener in the gardens of Kyoto.  After studying the art of pruning and Bonsai for more than 7 years near her home in California, she took a leap of faith and moved to Japan in hopes of finding an apprenticeship.  Her memoir not only reflects on her experiences, but also shares some of her understanding of gardening with native plants.

Early in the book, Buck observes that Japanese gardens are composed almost entirely of native plants, many of them centuries old within the garden.  The gardener’s goal is to make the garden’s landscape look and feel as natural as possible.

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Her advice to gardeners in America interested in creating a Japanese garden?  Use plants native to the natural environment where you live, and use Japanese design principles in composing and caring for this garden of your own particular native plants.

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North American native Wisteria frutescens, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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I was surprised, and yet not surprised, to read this advice.  The ‘Japanese’ gardens I grew up visiting featured Japanese plants:  Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Iris, Japanese pines and of course, Japanese Maple trees.  Many of us favor Japanese or Chinese flowering woody plants for our gardens whether we style our gardens after Japanese principles, or not.  These are beautiful plants and we enjoy them.

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Acer palmatum

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And yet, how often have you noticed, when traveling from city to city, the same relatively small palette of plants used time and again in public and residential landscapes?  The nursery trade in our country traditionally has focused on certain popular and easy to grow and transport plants.

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English shrub roses, hybridized and cultivated over several centuries, make me feel at home. I plant them in every garden I make.

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Walk into any garden center in the eastern half of the United States right now, and you will find flat after flat of neon bright petunias and geraniums, won’t you?  There will be Knock-Out roses, a nice selection of box and at least a few pots of mophead Hydrangea.

And of course we’ll find the ubiquitous azaleas, Rhododendrons and Japanese maple trees.  We like what we like, don’t we?

When we rely on nursery stock to landscape our private and public spaces, we may create a familiar sense of beauty; or perhaps even a boring predictability from one area to another.   Do we want to encounter the same plants again and again as we travel, or do we want to find something unique to our destination?

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In this section of our fern garden an interesting mix of native ferns, hybrids and imported Hellebores grow elbow to elbow.

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Only recently have more and more nurseries chosen to propagate and sell a larger percentage of native plants.  And in recent years, a growing cohort of us have taken an interest in learning about, and  appreciating our native plants in our own home gardens.  It is these natives which give us our sense of place, which help us identify ‘home.’  Our native plants attract and support the birds, butterflies and small mammals of our native environment, too.

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Broad beech fern, Phegopteris hexagonoptera, is native in woodsy areas of coastal Virginia.  It grows here at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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We enjoy a wide choice of very beautiful native plants in coastal Virginia.  Our landscapes are filled with majestic trees , vigorous vines, wild fruits and interesting flowers.  Surrounding ourselves with familiar plants helps us feel more ‘at home,’ and gives us a sense of place that feels very personal.

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A native muscadine grape vine grows near our home. We expect to be picking grapes by mid-summer.

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Yet,  because we have over 400 years of history here, there are many other plants, brought to Virginia by the early colonists, which may feel like natives, because they have become a part of our culture and our historic heritage:  boxwood, tulips, peonies, roses, azaleas and bearded Iris come to mind.

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Peonies, much loved in our Virginia gardens, came to our country with the early colonists.

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Wandering the historic gardens in our area, one realizes that the colonists created beautiful formal, European style gardens in this new land of Virginia to make it feel like home to them.  Even as they send seeds and cuttings of Virginia’s trees back to Europe, they imported the herbs, flowers and shrubs they were accustomed to finding in their gardens ‘back home’.

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The fronds of native ferns emerge through the leaves of a daffodil.  Daffodils were highly valued in Colonial times and were among the beautiful European plants colonists brought with them to Virginia.

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The annual rhythm of growth and bloom, fruiting, seed and leaf fall bring us a sense of comfort and familiarity.  The familiar colors of the landscape help set the mood in daily life.

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Native dogwood is our state flower, and the Virginia Native Wildflower of the Year for 2018.

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These beautiful plants are like the well worn and much loved kitchen table in our childhood home.  They help create our sense of our own place in the world.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Native Hydrangea quercifolia

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  A Place In the World
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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

6 responses to “Where In the World?

  1. Loved the post, I resonate you here!! The green the freshness makes feel so fresh. 🙂

  2. Pingback: WPC: A Place In This World | Lillie-Put

  3. Pingback: Place in the World – Beach, Dunes and Sea | What's (in) the Picture?

  4. Interesting food for thought…makes sense!

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