Plants That Feel Like Home

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Planting must harmonize with neighbor’s cars and backdrop shrubs, of course.

Comfort And Joy

Whenever we move to a new home, there’s always a period of adjustment as dreamy ideas start to mesh with reality. When I first realized that my “shade garden” was, yes, almost 60 feet long but dang! Only about 10 inches wide, I admit to being a bit dismayed. In my mind, it would accommodate ALL my favorite shade plants. In real life, not so much. After filling that narrow pocket with good soil and shoehorning in more plants than may have been quite wise, I find it charming. As high summer arrives (a bit late here in the PNW), I’m reveling in each little plant as I water and weed along the retaining wall that supports this tiny gardenette. However limited the space, it’s big enough for at least SOME dear favorites. Hardy cyclamen and compact hydrangeas, ferns and fritillaries, Elizabethan primulas and dwarf fuchsias nestle companionably with Podophyllum difforme, Solomon’s Seal and Disporum Green Giant. Wait, what? Some of those are far from small. Well, yes, but I NEED them anyway. That’s what containers are for, right?

Indoors, I never really feel at home until my books are on the shelves (MANY shelves and MANY books). Outside, I don’t feel rooted into any new place until I’m surrounded by plenty of plants. And not just any plants; for most of us life-long gardeners, certain plants just feel like home. They might not be the latest and coolest (though those certainly aren’t ruled out), but they are plants that make us smile and bend down for a closer look or sybaritic sniff. Such companionable creatures are what I call comfort plants, those that evoke past pleasures and offer daily delights. Mine include humble cottage garden wallflowers and poppies, golden feverfew and nigella, lilac and peonies, snowdrops and tiny species daffodils. Every garden I’ve ever made was fragrant with hardy herbs and roses, and this one will be no different, except that anything I plant has to remain compact and mannerly or get the boot. Sigh.

Favorite Fragrances And Flavors

We plant nerds struggle in small gardens, since we yearn for at least some of pretty much everything. However, both the miniature shade garden and our sunny front garden already happily house many irresistible companions and will be joined by still more as I develop each possible planting pocket. Growing food makes me happy, and since our new home faces southeast and gets plenty of light all day long, the little parking strip hosts large galvanized watering troughs packed with tomatoes and peppers, eggplants and squash, transitory delights that make summer meals memorable. Thanks to modern varieties that thrive in containers, we’re already harvesting enough to share with family and friends. This weekend, I built a little berm along my neighbor’s driveway as a dry bed for bulbs and eventually mats of hardy spreading herbs and though it’s already been driven over once, I have high hopes that a newly placed large rock will offer a stay-away hint. Onward!

Our brand new Big Bed ( a ridiculously tiny 7 x 20’) was finished a few days ago, after lengthy renovation to remove zillions of weeds as well as bamboo and questing passion vine shoots exploring from next door. I let the soil settle for a few days as I pondered over lists of must-have plants. I’ve left several pockets for fall planting of choice shrubs and possibly even a small tree, but already this enticing bed is cramscaped with especially favorite varieties of rosemary and lavender, oregano and thyme, all useful culinary plants that release lovely scents at the brush of a hand. These Mediterranean natives are drought tolerant, deer resistant and evergreen, holding their handsome good looks through the grey wet winter months when dormant borders lack appeal. So is Santolina rosmarinifolia, a Spanish native subshrub with fine textured, bright green foliage with a deliciously spicy scent, another plant that finds its way into most of my gardens. Annual light shearing keeps it shapely and removes the spent stalks after the pollinators have ravished the creamy button blossoms

Admiration For Annuals

As a student in Italy, I feel in love with Calendulas, which sold for pennies a bunch even in winter, when their citrus colored flowers shone like little suns on wet grey stone market plaza. This year I discovered the shaggy stars of Calendula Triangle Flashback, shading from pale gold to peach and apricot, pleasing cool season companions for all those evergreen herbs. My family summered on Cape Cod, where I was enchanted to see portulaca growing in what seemed like sifting sand, and I still find those jewel toned flowers adorable, so I’ve tucked some into cracks and crannies where I hope they’ll self seed as generously here as there. Marigolds also remind me of childhood gardens so I edge my vegetable bed with Lemon Gem, a tidy little creature with citrus scented foliage and lemony blossoms. And as I may have mentioned a time or six, I’m wild about zinnias, especially Queeny Lime Orange and Queen Lime Red, with subtly shaded blossoms that look handmade.

Since I want this garden to be a pollinator haven, I’m planting enticing annuals like Ammi majus Graceland, a tall and gracious version of Queen Anne’s Lace with airy umbles of tiny white flowers. Like all the carrot relatives, Ammis are beloved of bees and many other pollinators, including A. visagna Green Mist, with ice green flowerheds on looong stems that make great cuts. Cuter yet are true carrots with colorful flowerheads, such as Purple Kisses, ranging from burgundy to deep lavender, and Dara Dark Red Shades, which runs from merlot to raspberry and powderpuff pink. More compact, Blue Lace Flower (Didiscus caerulea) is a smaller version with powder blue florets on densely lacy umbels.

Are We There Yet?

After a long day of planting dozens of hopeful starts, I leaned back to admire my handiwork and was shocked to see nothing but tiny tufts of foliage scattered in the soil. While planting, my mind’s eye saw each careful grouping as a realized vignette, full and flourishing. Thump! Back to earth. Of course I know full well that gardens aren’t made in a minute. I also know that working with small starts rather than large, well grown plants is wise as well as cost-reducing, since youngsters often acclimate better to less than perfect conditions, including sudden slams of summer heat after a protracted cool start. Yes. But. After being without a garden of my own for several years, I’m as impatient as a toddler to see some ACTION out there. Oh well. At least I’m not prying buds open to see what color the blossoms will be…



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