It’s the beginning of June, although my garden very much doubts the truth of those words. In the last week we swung from 48 degrees one night to 84 degrees the next day, and both my plants and I are feeling a little confused. Last fall I might have gone a little overboard with the tulip planting (it was brilliant this spring) and then this spring I was lazy about cleaning off the yellowing foliage, so now I have places in the garden where the bulb foliage smothered out the new perennials that were trying to push their way out. What to do? Hmm, perhaps shop you say? Well why not.
I’m actually spending quite a bit of time (and money) studying the writings and ramblings of a few of my favorite plant people and am thinking of doing mini homages to them in various places in the garden. I’m doing an Oehme van Sweden thing in the back forty using eryngium, stachys, Russian sage and grasses as well as a Joy Larkcom inspired planting of artichokes and fennel in my flower beds and roses among my tomato plants.
And where the tulips have rotted out my perennials, I’m pulling a Nancy Ondra and planting annuals. I actually adore annuals, for both their terrific foliage and their gushes of flowers all summer long — I would use masses of them every year, if I only had access to the next Powerball numbers in advance. Sigh. But this year, in the hopes of a few perennials still poking up their heads, I’m filling in the spaces with coleus, salvias, perillas and more. Oh my! For a dedicated perennial gardener, it feels very transgressive, but ever since we encountered downy mildew on impatiens last summer, I’ve been thinking about what I can put in the ground to replace it, and from there, the need to try other annuals in the garden instead of just pots has spiraled out of control. It’s sort of like the first few coleus I stuck in the ground were the gateway drug, and now I’m an addict.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always stuck a few annuals in the ground, the fill a spot where something died, or to have cosmos to cut, or to add a little more oomph to the bed closest to the kitchen porch so we can have a better chance at spotting the hummingbirds after work, but this year I’m shopping the annual tables with a more compulsive eye. Can I use calibrochoas? Sure. Would geraniums be insane? Perhaps. What about the chartreuse sweet potato vine? Brilliant! Actually, I saw this used as a ground cover three years ago at one of my client’s home. She said she put it in the ground because she didn’t know what to plant in the spot that year and she just didn’t want to see the dirt. Well let me tell you, it was fantastic. I’ve always used pineapple sage, but not as an herb. Rather it’s a tremendous way to get a big mass of electric yellow foliage into the yard. In fact, I’ve never once worked it into a recipe although I’ve heard it’s excellent on fruit salad, and I have a recipe for a pound cake that uses it and one with chicken and ginger.
Both Nancy and Joy have encouraged me to plant Swiss chard and kale for it’s foliage’s incredible ornamental uses — now I just have to figure out how to eat it, since I’m tucking it in everywhere.
I was always a fan of snapdragons, but this year, I’m investing in the more elegant and ornate form of the angelonia, in a pure white and I’m going to back it up with the taller ‘High Tide Blue’ Ageratum. The combination of blue and white, is a no brainer when it comes to gardening, but my decision this year to take home a tray of the double flowering white bacopa we have at Marders, to put in front of my perennial beds, is surely a sign of my having gone past the point of no return. Normally I use the hardy geranium to thread among plants and sew them together, this year I’m staring at a sea of 4” pots tucked scattered throughout my beds.
Lobularia ‘Snow princess’ is a no brainer in planter. Looking just like sweet alyssum, it billows and blooms all summer long in a cascade of white so amazing and lush it looks like I stuffed down pillows into my pot. Add to that the tricolored form of perilla and a few leonotis leonurus, also known as Lion's Tail with it’s electric orange tubular flowers that the hummingbirds adore and we’ve got something that’s starting to sing. I’m still looking for the celosia she featured called ‘Cramers’ Amazon’, which is a fantastic bubblegum pink and grows over 5’ tall, but will have to settle on one of the globe amaranth (gomphrena globosa) instead for an unusual flower form substitute until I find it.
Finally, this year I’m also bringing ponytail hair grass back into the garden. When this plant first came on the scene, we all thought it was a perennial and were totally disappointed as it failed in all our gardens. And although lots of the books say stipa tenuissima is hardy here, I’ve accepted it for what it is, a fabulous wisp of elegance that needs to be replanted every year, just like my dahlias, just like my garlic and just like my foxgloves. I don’t resent the repeated purchase of them each year, so why should I deny myself to pleasure that these new yearly investments will bring?
So lets mass some hebes and a tray or two of cuphea. It’s silly not to enjoy the pleasures of Verbena bonariensis. My columbines and delphinums don’t come back and I plant new ones every year. So why not try euphorbias and South African foxgloves. They’re just as pretty and just as satisfying.
And far less dangerous to my health then a few of the other possible addictions I could have.
You can read all about Nancy Ondra, one of my favorite garden authors and inspirations on her blog at http://hayefield.com where she writes about gardening in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in a zone quite like our own. She has amazing photos of all her annual combinations as well as photos of her gardens that will make you drool with pleasure but perhaps also want to throw in the towel or start all over again with your own gardens.
Paige Patterson is on the hunt for flats of pink and or purple cleome. If you see some email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.