Mix It Up

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

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Yesterday evening I eavesdropped on a conversation in another garden blogger’s comments about the use of annuals and hanging baskets.

I was interested to hear the reasons why some gardeners don’t want to grow flowery annuals.  Most cited the time consuming commitment to water, deadhead, fertilize and prune the plants.

The term ‘color bombs’ was used by one observant gardener.

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Petunias

Petunias

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Another cited the resources wasted to cultivate annuals, and the expense of replacing them each season.

Everything they observed is true. 

And yes, many commercially available annual hanging baskets are sometimes constructed with little attention to color scheme.  They are mass produced for a particular market.

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June 24, 2015 garden 022

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But I still like many annuals.  Several springs ago, I was given one of these ‘color bomb’ annual combinations as a birthday gift.

Keeping my nose in check, I accepted it with the love with which it was given, and transferred the plants out of their plastic nursery pot and into a 12″ hanging basket.  I hung it out on our  deck among our other baskets and waited to see what would happen.

Well, from a meager beginning, those plants took off and bloomed their hearts out all summer.  They got lots of traffic from our bees, too.  I was actually a little sad when frost crushed most of the flowers.  A Verbena like vining plant, with lovely lavender flowers, actually survived nearly until winter.

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Ajuga and Sedum, perennials, with tender perennial scented Pelargonium.

Ajuga and Sedum, perennials, with tender perennial scented Pelargonium.

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I never begrudge a little sprinkle of Osmocote or sip of fish emulsion during the growing season.  A small price to pay for lovely flowers.  We’re blessed to live in an area without water shortages and abundant summer rains.  Summer flowers remain an affordable luxury.

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Rose scented Pelargonium.

Rose scented Pelargonium.

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Beyond the economics and the aesthetics, though, I sense a more subtle issue.

At some point many of us gardeners want something different.  We want to branch out beyond the commonplace/easy to find and grow plants, to something a bit more unusual and, maybe, a bit more esoteric.

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Native pitcher plants

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I find myself walking past rows of flats, nose somewhat elevated maybe, searching for that one particular genus or cultivar.

A quick, dismissive glance at the orange and brown Marigolds or the red Vinca and I’m moving on, in search of something else.  I ignore perfectly pretty pots of yellow daylily plants in pursuit of that special Coleus or particular fern.

But it’s not that Marigolds themselves are a problem.  When creamy white ones finally showed up at the garden center, I bought half a dozen.   I’ve added a few soft lavender Vinca plants amongst some herbs.

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Coleus

Coleus

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I’ll buy purple Basil or Thai Basil, but rarely the standard green cultivars.  I search out unusual leaves, odd flowers, and glorious texture, when collecting plants for our garden.  I enjoy variegated foliage and sumptuously scented flowers.

We can weave beautiful living tapestries of color and form in our gardens.  But this often means seeking out a broader palette of plants than the common summer annuals offered each spring.

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June 20, 2015 garden 081

Purple Opal Basil

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The individual plants may not even be that spectacular.  It is the effect they create as they grow together with their companions in the pot or bed.

It is the wonderful effect perennials create as they establish and spread; eating up garden space in their exuberance.  One mass against another, with subtle contrasts of color and shape create the garden magic.  I believe this was the point of this “Wednesday Vignettes” post, and I heartily agree.

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June 24, 2015 garden 008~

Beauty is where we choose to notice it.  Each of us has a unique aesthetic.  Our ideal of what is beautiful may contrast sharply with another’s, and that is just fine.  We plant our gardens for our own purposes and for our own pleasure.

While some of my friends enjoy their lawn and shrubs in shades of green, I plant outrageously bright Cannas and Hibiscus.  Some may walk past my garden and shudder to themselves at the exuberance.

Clouds of cat mint billow from my beds this week, punctuated with bright Gladiolius blossoms, a living gift from a dear friend.

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July 1, 2015 garden at dusk 023

Colocasia with Cannas

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And, on the back deck, visible only to those friends invited inside; grow my hanging baskets of annual Petunia and Geraniums.  There are Fuschias, too; and a vivid red flowered Begonia I was given at Mother’s Day.

Color bombs all, we stand and admire them every single day. 

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My Mother's Day Begonia

My Mother’s Day Begonia

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Our little hummers dart from one to the next sipping their warm nectar.  Butterflies stop by the potted Basil, we listen for the tell-tale hum of visiting bees.

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July 2, 2015 garden 002

Catmint in the stump garden attracts these beautiful bees.

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I still mix it up, when planting for the season.  I’m in pursuit of that magical combination of beauty and form, fragrance, utility and magnetic attraction to every butterfly and hummingbird in the county.

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July 2, 2015 garden 007~

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Autumn 'Brilliance' fern with Hellebores

Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern with Hellebores

 

 

 

 

Always Evolving

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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" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

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.

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.

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.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

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.

“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....

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.

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.

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 groudcover in pots and beds.

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.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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