Nature’s way brings elements of the natural world together into relationship.
Rarely will you find just one of anything-
Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.
It is our human sensibility which wants to bring order from the “chaos” of nature by sorting, classifying, isolating, and perhaps eliminating elements of our environment.
Pickerel weed, cattails, and grasses growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.
Nature teaches the wisdom of strength through unity and relationship.
Gardens in medieval Europe were often composed primarily of lawns, shrubs, and trees.
A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.
This is still fashionable in American gardens today. But it is a high maintenance and sterile way to garden.
I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the arguments for and against lawns… but will only say that wildflowers of all sorts find a home in ours.
White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers and grasses on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.
And I’m not an advocate of allowing every wild plant to grow where it sprouts, either. There are some plants which definitely are not welcome in our garden, or are welcome in only certain zones of it.
Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek. Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing? Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.
But in general, I prefer allowing plants to grow together in communities, weaving together above and below the soil, and over the expanse of time throughout a gardening year.
Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses. Young ginger lily, white sage, dusty miller, Ageratum, and a Lavender, “Goodwin Creek” share the bed.
A simple example would be interplanting peonies with daffodils. As the daffodils fade, the peonies are taking center stage.
Another example is allowing Clematis vines to grow through roses; or to plant ivy beneath ferns.
Japanese Painted Fern emerges around spend daffodils. Columbine, Vinca, apple mint and German Iris complete the bed beneath some large shrubs.
Like little children hugging one another as they play, plants enjoy having company close by.
When you observe nature you will see related plants growing together in some sort of balance.
Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.
And you’ll find wild life of all descriptions interacting with the plants as part of the mix.
The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area. All provide shelter to birds. The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.
When planning your plantings, why not increase the diversity and the complexity of your pot or bed and see what beautiful associations develop?
Herbs filling in our new “stump garden.” Alyssum is the lowest growing flower. Tricolor Sage, Rose Scented Geranium, Violas, White Sage, Iris, and Catmint all blend in this densely planted garden.
Now please don’t think that Woodland Gnome is suggesting that you leave the poison ivy growing in your shrub border.
Although poison ivy is a beautiful vine and valuable to wildlife, our gardens are created for our own health and pleasure. So we will continue to snip these poisonous vines at the base whenever we find them.
Another view of the “stump garden” planting. Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot in front of Iris and Dusty Miller.
But what about honeysuckle? Is there a “wild” area where you can allow it to grow through some shrubs? Can you tolerate wild violets in the lawn?
Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.
The fairly well known planting scheme for pots of “thriller, filler, spiller” is based in the idea that plants growing together form a beautiful composition, a community which becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun. Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot. A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.
I like planting several plants in a relatively big pot; allowing room for all to grow, but for them to grow together.
Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot. This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted. It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.
This is a better way to keep the plants hydrated and the temperature of the soil moderated from extremes of hot and cold, anyway.
But this also works in beds.
Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb’s Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub. The Vinca is ubiquitous in our garden, and serves an important function as a ground cover which also blooms from time to time. The grasses growing along the edge get pulled every few weeks to keep them in control.
Choose a palette of plants, and then work out a scheme for combining a repetitive pattern of these six or ten plants over and again as you plant the bed. Include plants of different heights, growth habits, seasons of bloom, colors and textures.
So long as you choose plants with similiar needs for light, moisture, and food this can work in countless variations.
A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek. Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree. Trees are nature’s trellis. Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone. Beautiful yellow Iris, Staghorn Sumac, pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.
This is Nature’s way, and it can add a new depth of beauty to your garden.
It can also make your gardening easier and more productive.
It is important to observe as the plants grow.
If one is getting too aggressive and its neighbors are suffering, then you must separate, prune, or sacrifice one or another of them.
Planting flowers near vegetables brings more pollinating insects, increasing yields.
Planting garlic or onions among flowers has proven effective in keeping deer and rabbits away from my tasty flowering plants.
Planting deep rooted herbs such as Comfrey, Angelica, and Parsley near other plants brings minerals from deep in the soil to the surface for use by other plants.
Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.
Use the leaves from these plants in mulch or compost to get the full benefit.
Planting peas and members of the pea family in flower or vegetable beds increases the nitrogen content of the soil where they grow, because their roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.
Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.
Planting Clematis vines among perennials or roses helps the Clematis grow by shading and cooling their roots.
The Clematis will bloom and add interest when the roses or perennials are “taking a rest” later in the season.
Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, “Empress Wu” in the Wubbel’s garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.
Just as our human relationships are often based in helping one another, so plants form these relationships, too.
The more you understand how plants interact with one another, the more productive your garden can become.
It is Nature’s way…
A “volunteer” Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Forest Lane Botanicals display garden.