Last year, my wife and I began smothering large sections of lawn in the house we moved into. We decided to create two very different garden zones on each side of the house. On one side, we’d have a traditional perennial border—an area we could constantly fuss and change. On the other side of the house, we are planning a native garden inspired by a woodland opening. The two gardens will be a kind of yin/yang—one fussy, self-conscious, and highly maintained; the other simple and evocative of particular moment in nature.
So while the future native garden is being smothered, we are busily adjusting the border. For perennial borders, my formula for creating them has gotten simpler over the years. First, I start with a handful of simple base plants (typically filler plants like grasses and reliable perennials) and then add accents plants with annuals, bulbs, and ephemerals. What I like about this formula is that I don’t have to replace the entire border to do something new. But with annuals and bulbs, I can change enough of the accents so that the border looks entirely different from year to year.
This year, I’m adding a mix of annuals and perennials to punch up color and texture (two areas it was decidedly weak last year). I’m inspired to be more romantic: Old fashioned Bearded Irises, umbels like Bronze Fennel and Bishop’s Weed, and striking foliage plants like Eucomis and Orach. I’m going with a mauve/pink/burgundy theme that works with some of the base plants like Shenandoah Switchgrass, Persicaria ‘Firetail’, and some dark Penstemons that are already in the border. Here’s what I’m adding this spring. Almost all of the additions are from seeds or bulbs.
1. Iris ‘Persian Berry’, Bearded Iris: After seeing Andy Sturgeon’s striking Bearded Irises in is Best in Shown 2010 Chelsea garden, I can’t get them out of my head. After about 80 hours of surfing on Iris Farms’ website, I settled on a couple of pinky-mauve Irises. Image above from Senor Ambrosia, Flicker.
2. Atriplex hortensis var. rubra, Red Orach: This plant has been on my list for years. Nancy Ondra has used Red Orach to great effect in her garden, and I’ve seen many British gardeners use it well. I also love the fact that Orach is quite edible. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had it in his garden in Monticello. Available from Annie's Annuals.
3. Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Pineapple Lily: One of my big horticultural crushes this year is the design firm Mosaic Gardens in Eugene, Oregon. I love their collage-like arrangements of foliage and texture. It’s so different from the way I design, yet so appealing. I’ve spent hours scrutinizing their brilliant designs. One of the mainstays of their gardens is this striking vertical burgundy plant, that I assumed was Phormium (which is not hardy in the mid-Atlantic). Until I read on their blog that the plant I’ve lusted over for years is actually a Pineapple Lily. Which is hardy here! I about popped a vein I was so excited. So I’ve ordered a bunch from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Image courtesy of Mosaic Gardens.
4. Ammi majus, Bishop’s Flower: I’ve already documented that I’m rather umbel-crazy lately and Ammi majus is one of the classic lacy annual umbels for the garden. It’s remarkably similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, though a bit shorter and perhaps more floriferous. Available from Swallowtail Garden.
5. Iris ‘Fashionably Late’, Bearded Iris: The color on this Iris is so spectacular; I get chest pains just thinking about it. Mine is just about to bloom and I think I may take off work and sleep outside in the border for the entire time it blooms. Image above from http://www.cubits.org/
6. Trifolium rubens, Ornamental Clover: Oudolf has turned me on to using clovers mixed in low ornamental grasses. Gorgeous and nitrifying (hmm, that would be a great pick up line—ha!). I’m adding this clover around a mass of Nasella tenuissima I have in the garden.
7. Dierama pulcherrimum, Dark Cerise: I’ve seen Noel Kingsbury and other Brits use Cerise to great effect. I have no clue how it will do in the mid-Atlantic, but I’m giving it a shot. Seeds are available from Swallowtail Gardens. Image courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds.
8. Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, Bronze Fennel: Another umbel I’m crazy about, less for its flower than its foliage. Bronze Fennel is the ideal filler plant around pinks and purples. It reminds me of the Smoke Monster in the ABC show Lost. But in a pretty way.
9. Pennisetum glaucum, Ornamental Millet: This plant always makes its appearance in the fall harvest season along with pumpkins and gourds. But I’m trying it mixed in tall perennials this summer. Hopefully balanced with a lot of other pinks and mauves, it won’t read too autumnal, but it may. I’ll let you know how it goes. Image courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds where the seed is available.
Note: I received no compensation to list the nurseries I've list above. I just like their products and thought I'd share.
Gorgeous! I love that palette. I can't imagine all those plants are accents into an already established border. Seems like they could be a border in and of themselves.ReplyDelete
Don't do it! Bishop's weed is a very invasive groundcover and will quickly take over your garden. I've heard the variegated variety is a little less aggressive, but i still think you will regret planting it. I had some come over from a neighbor's beds and it took several years of hard work to get rid of it.ReplyDelete
It's not that Bishop's Weed. Aegopodium podagraria, which you reference, is indeed highly invasive. Ammi majus, Bishop's Flower, which I incorrectly called Bishop's Weed is not invasive at all. It may on rare occasion re-seed, but usually it doesn't at all.ReplyDelete
I have numerous bronze fennel volunteers coming up in the garden beds this spring. If your in Kansas stop by and I'll give you many. lol.ReplyDelete
Interesting combo of the clover and feather grass. Ironically I planted a native clover(Dalea purperea) with the Nasella this last fall. Should be interesting to see the results.
Looks like a plan.
I'd love to see the Dalea/Nasella combo! I've done Dalea/Sporobolus, but the Nasella may be more interesting.Delete
Wow... Sounds sublime. I love the rich tapestry you've evoked.ReplyDelete
It's all a bit over the top and gaudy, but I love having one part of the garden that can absorb my frenetic fussiness and experimentation, while the other is more timeless and evocative.Delete
I bought a garden book in Spoleto about ten years ago. It was in Italian, so I couldn't read it with ease, but that book had a garden using the colors you're describing. I've never forgotten the photos of that garden. Now I wonder what box I have that book hidden in.Delete
Beautiful plant palette, Thomas! While I love the texture of bronze fennel I've stopped using it in my designs. It borders on being invasive in my zone 5 garden.ReplyDelete
Good to know, Adam. The one other time I used it, it self-seeded some but nothing that was difficult to control. I like a bit of self seeding and aggressive plants in general. A bit of spontaneity is welcome.Delete
Looks gorgeous. That bearded iris in the center is amazing -- almost looks like Virginia Tech colors, but in a good way.ReplyDelete
Are you going to post pictures of your new gardens this summer? There are some of us out here who have a special interest in how it turns out because of last spring's planting design assignment. :o)
Hi Thomas, enjoyed your post; I have to note the predominance of purples. I have decided upon using the purple/orange combo popular in recent fashion for clothing and interiors as a simple guide for plant choice myself. These are all worthy options, I especially like the Pineapple Lillies!ReplyDelete
I think the garden will be ready to photograph in about 15 years ;) Grids of beautiful plant images are way more beautiful than the actual garden now, so I can distract you with the garden in my head instead of the garden in reality.
Typically, my experiments with annuals and mail-order-must-haves net me about 10-15% plants I would use again the next year. So if even 2 or 3 of those plants turn out to be keepers, I'll be happy.
I need to show you and image of the path I put through the "border side". It was heavily influenced by your design!
Thomas glad to hear you are adding natives...I am moving much of my garden to these beautiful plants (flowers, trees, bushes etc) especially the wildflowers...I have the old fashioned plants as well and love them too...getting rid of any invasives planted by error is a big part of my garden this year...I have the ornamental clover and it is gorgeous...I do have to say it will seed itself so be cautious...have not found it invasive!ReplyDelete
Definitely! The idea to separate a border garden (which is over 50% natives anyways) from a native gardens gives me a small space to indulge in many of my non-native plant obsessions. The native garden is 3 times larger than the border garden. And I can't wait to start it, but have to wait till the lawn gets smothered.
Thanks for the heads up about the clover.
Oranges and purples, so fun. At lunch today I walked past a clothing store that had nothing but oranges, purples, and pinks. It would be a fun border palette as well. Hmm, next year?
I should have consulted with you first to see what the hot colors are this spring!
What a beautiful combination of plants. I find it hard to resist irises at this time of year. The bearded irises just started blooming in Gettysburg about a week ago, and the succession of different irises in gardens along my route now keep me smiling all the way to work in the morning. -JeanReplyDelete
This color palette is absolutely one of my faves, all those rich, sultry colors work so well together. I usually will try to work at least one orange thing into my (mostly cool-colored) borders...but just 1...a little orange goes a LONG way ;-)ReplyDelete
I love these plants! I may try a couple - definitely the burgundy pineapple lily! I planted some regular green ones this spring - but these are so much better. I have a similar plant palette but also have cherry red, hot pink and chartreuse (and you think yours is gaudy?). Things that have THRIVED in my garden in Virginia that might look good in yours - Night Ruler Iris, Pink Lemonade honeysuckle, and Dragon's blood sedum (black scallop and chocolate chip ajuga but I think you are not a fan of aggressive ground covers). This year I added a bunch of Blackbird Euphorbia, and Postman's Pride Sedum (it's really purple!), and am trying Astrantia Moulin Rouge but it hasn't come up yet?:( - wish me luck! My best discovery of last year for a neutral green filler - mosscurled parsley! It is gorgeous, lasted through the winter, and is still going strong. Good luck with your garden. -Donna D.
Interesting choices, but I think that some may be a bot soft for our harsh hot summersReplyDelete
Interesting choices! A few questions:ReplyDelete
1. Are you sure Pineapple Lily is really hardy in DC? NC State lists it as only being hardy to zone 9/10. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/bulbs-summer/eucomis.html
2. I hope you have better luck with Red Orach than I had! I tried growing it from seed in Middle TN as a vegetable garden plant. Eventually I got enough for a few small side dishes, but I found the taste inferior to spinach and the plant seemed incredibly finicky. http://www.gardenofaaron.com/2012/05/harvest-3-orach-peas-and-herbs.html
3. I thought about trying ornamental clover too, but ultimately decided against it. Do you know if it is as invasive as dutch white clover? I thought I would use some dutch white clover to thicken up the lawn, but it ended up outcompeting the grass and trying to invade the garden beds. Turned into a bit of a nightmare to be honest.
4. Hope you post some pictures of the ornamental millet in your garden. Would love to know how it works out for you!