Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others? What drives your selections?
My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season. Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.
Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.
We garden to fill a need. Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food. Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.
Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.
Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.
And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.
But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract than by their usefulness as cut flowers.
Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.
Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers. We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.
Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.
Our gardening focus is shifting here. It began our first month on the property. I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.
I planned to replace them with something more interesting… to me, that is.
And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.
The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.
And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.
This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.
Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.
After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.
A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears. Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.
What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.
And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.
The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.
Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage
Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.
Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves. The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.
If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.
There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.
Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.
And leaves are far more durable than flowers. While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many months.
We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.
“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.
While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course – they do become food now and again.
These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….
It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.
Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.
Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.
Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.
Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.
We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful varieties of annuals each spring and fall.
The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.
Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.
It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.
As I hope we are, as well.
Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014