Where Now? The Plant Collector's Dilemma
Rosalie M. Nachman
Trying to fit a plant collector into an organized garden situation can be difficult. A true plant lover cannot be restrained by "beds." He plants until there's no space left - but that doesn't stop him or slow him down.
We know azaleas and rhododendrons are the most desirable plants for our garden. Our need is to fit them into a comfortable situation, rather than as rowed out soldiers. Perfectly rectangular or round beds and borders make me nervous. Drifts of plants that look as if they were born there, that curve gently - no ruffles, please - are more natural.
Wildflowers that nestle between the larger plants and tend to show off before or after the azaleas add a spot of color. My favorites are bloodroot, trillium, the small iris, especially Iris cristata, Solomon's Seal (variegated, too). Rue, thyme and lots of other herbs are desirable companions.
Don't ignore the ferns. There are dozens of hardy ones - Hart's-tongue (looks like bird's nest), Maidenhairs (several kinds), Christmas and Japanese Painted ferns are some I can't live without. It's exciting to watch baby ferns develop from spores in mossy areas.
Hosta is a huge family - so many new ones - yellow dwarfs and blue giants. Liriope is now turning heads with some of its new looks, from all the variegated ones to the beautiful black ones with great texture. Hellebores, daylilies, primroses, scilla, grape hyacinth, tulips and daffodils, arums, forget-me-nots, equisetum, selaginella - all do their thing to create a natural effect. But do put bulbs and small plants in groups - no singles - and be sure to try the miniature bulbs.
Another "can't do without" is Pieris japonica. It's almost as wonderful as kalmia (Mountain Laurel). Have you seen the new looks for them? The wonderment of it all is there's always a new variety to try. Sciadopitys verticillata or Japanese Umbrella Pine is another favorite, hardy with unusual texture and foliage color.
Of course I can't say enough about camellias. They suffered a few years ago, but they've grown up again and look terrific. My 'Paulette Goddard' never lost a leaf in those bad winters and 'Gov. Mouton' almost held up as well. Very few varieties died, and almost all bloomed this year.
It's been a good year here in Richmond - enough rain and not too hot or too cold. Lots of the azaleas have overgrown their allotment of space. As they finish their bloom I try to give each a good haircut, keeping in mind how many months of the year each plant is truly attractive. I must check and be sure not to have too many of the same variety.
Do try some of the azaleas and rhododendrons that rate high for foliage texture. Polly Hill's introductions are hardy with tiny ground-hugging habits. Some Satsukis - 'Rukizon', 'Yachiyo Red' and the new (to us) curled 'Gyokurei' and variegated foliaged 'Uke Funei'. The Girards are crisp and the Linwoods soft. The Glenn Dales do it all, and the Robin Hills are lovely medium growers.
The Rhododendron kiusianum 'Komo Kulshan' is outstanding, as are all R. yakushimanum. They all like to cuddle up to a big rock under a tall pine, a dogwood tree, or a lace leaf maple.
After 35 years of serious gardening, my most valuable thinking is: move it! Admit your mistakes and try something new. If, after three years of trying a plant, you find it either sits and does nothing or grows and isn't the thing you hoped it would be, or even if it grows so much it swallows an area, move it or kill it. Don't take up valuable space with marginal plants.
Traditional ideas of design need not be yours, for your interpretation of nature is purely your own. A garden should contain a sense of wonderment - of excitement - what's in the next turn of the path? It is a big experiment, and the pleasure comes from trying different combinations of plant material, large rocks (two-man) and weathered wood. The satisfaction of a garden is truly not in the finished product but in the doing.
More than anything else, your garden is yours - do it your way. If you like blue iris next to your pink azalea, do it. If you want six different hostas grouped together and one red dwarf maple, try it. If it doesn't look so great, it's not in cement: move it!
Rosalie Nachman's garden will be featured on one of the garden tours during the ARS Annual Meeting at Williamsburg, Virginia, May 11-15, 1988. Her previous articles in the ARS Journal include "Designing Shady Gardens" Vol. 39:1 (Winter 1985) and "Move It!" Vol. 39:4 (Fall 1985).