Another horticultural experiment in our garden
|See list below for species|
I have several horticultural experiments brewing at my own home garden. Last year, my wife and I bought a small, mid-century Ranch house on a corner lot. The architecture is functional, but not terribly charming. We spent most of last year gutting and renovating the interior and still have big plans for the exterior. While most of our efforts have focused on making the house livable, we have started a few different garden experiments.
We’re keeping a small patch of lawn in front of the house, but the two side yard areas have been the focus of our efforts. We located gardens in the side yards mostly out of need for screening. Both spaces are close to streets, so gardens serve the dual function of screening and embellishing those spaces. Each of the gardens will be somewhat opposite in character, a sort of yin-yang of moods. On one side, we planted a sunny, exuberant border—what will be my mid-Atlantic version of the splendor of Great Dixter. That border will eventually be a raucous, over-the-top assembly of all kinds of plants—a hot mess of North American prairie natives, tropical bulbs, Mediterranean herbs, and lots of landscape annuals. So far, that experiment has not been terribly successful—mostly because it has been half-heartedly implemented—but more on that later.
The other garden is intended to be a more serene perennial meadow, focusing mostly on native plants. I want it to be restrained, yet lushly layered. My goal is to create a romantic garden, evocative of an opening in the woodland. Right now, the garden sits under cardboard and six inches of leaf mulch, smothering the lawn. So while the lawn dissolves, my wife (a brilliant plantsman herself) and I have designed . . . and redesigned (and redesigned again) this new garden space.
The space itself is nothing more than a narrow wedge of land between a lawn and a busy street. Two Catalpa trees (one of them rather majestic) sit in the space. The vision is that the entire ground plane will be covered in a native perennial meadow, a sort of edge-of-the-woods landscape.
|A plan showing one corner of the garden|
The experimental part of this garden will be how it is installed. Most landscapes I design are done with transplants. Plugs, quarts, or gallon-sized perennials and shrubs are planted on a cleared site and, VOILA, instant garden. But the problem with transplants is that gardens never have that looseness, that spontaneity of a wild, self-seeded landscape. When I decide where a plant goes, something inevitably goes wrong: the plant doesn’t like the soil moisture, the heat off the sidewalk, or its neighbors. So I’m eager to try seeding a perennial garden. But there are risks to seeding. Seeding can produce random, chaotic plantings. The outcome is more uncertain and the risk of creating a weedy mess is higher. While I’ve seeded meadows for large projects, but never used them in a small, garden setting.
So to mitigate these risks, I am planning a hybrid approach. First, plugs of grasses and perennials will be planted around the edges of beds. Next, I will seed a custom-designed mix of low perennials and grasses to fill the center. I will add a thick layer of sand mulch throughout the center, and roll seeds into the sand this fall. By using transplants around the edges, I can create a frame that gives the bed structure while allowing for more spontaneity in the middle.
The experiment is meant to be a low maintenance and cost effective solution for a garden space. That way, I can save my pennies for the rare, garish varieties of mail-order Dahlias I’m want for the border garden (see my previous post on Spring Fever). Moreover, the experiment is an attempt to answer some questions: Can hybridized garden perennials (mostly native cultivars) be mixed with straight species native grasses and wildflowers to create a beautiful garden space? Can seeding be used in a small garden scale? And will ceding control over the placement of plants result in a more evocative garden space? Or just create a weedy mess?
Stay tuned. I'll report on progress as it develops.
The Palette: Here are some of the plants I’m considering for one corner of the garden shown in the collage at the top of this post. From left to right. Top: Deschampsia flexuosa, Wavy Hair Grass; Hierochloe odorata, Sweet Grass; Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Blue Ice’; Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master; Bottom Row: Allium cernuum, Nodding Wild Onion; Camassia scilloides, Wild Hyacinth; Parthenium integrifolium, Wild Quinine; and Solidago speciosa, Showy Goldenrod
I am very interested to see how this works out. I like the idea of surrounding the seeded area with transplanted.ReplyDelete
Me, too! It's a relatively small area, so if it doesn't work, it wouldn't be too hard to plant it. But I've had the "seed" bug for a while now, so might as well experiment. Love your blog site by the way.Delete
..we have been experimenting with growing our own over the last couple of years..we sometimes wish things would fill-in faster but with perennials it really is a waiting game! We experiment all the time with our flowerbeds..sometimes good and sometimes bad but it is a very rewarding and eye-pleasing learning experiences for 2 novices! Interested to see how it all turns out!ReplyDelete
Ugh, you've named my biggest fear: waiting. I'm really not good at waiting . . .Delete
I have grown perennials from seed before in pots, and I know from experience that many species take 2-3 years before they bloom. Can I really wait that long? Or better yet, can my neighbors wait that long? They've put up with quite a bit of experimental (aka looks-like-hell-now-but-just-you-wait) gardening.
I love your attitude towards the garden! If only I could be that laid-back!
My experience has been that if you pick a limited palette (1-3) of easy annuals to form a canvas for the perennials, the waiting is easier.Delete
That's an interesting idea. I was thinking this would be a native garden, and since annuals are mostly tropical exotic plants, perhaps I could focus on early establishing pioneer species of native plants while the rest of the plants establish.Delete
Exactly. You need something to cover and outcompete weed seed. Native annuals, biennials, and tender perennials fit the bill. And I'm talking seed not flashy annual border plants in flats. I use alyssum and parsley quite a bit even though they aren't native. Here in L.A. alyssum is completely naturalized and not going anywhere. Plus those are both good with beneficials.Delete
I am growing my garden almost entirely from seed, but I'm going about it a bit differently. I'm starting seed in 2.25" plug pots and then moving through other container sizes as necessary. I have about 200 gal. Of ornamental grass ready to be planted this fall. Most of my herbs and even bulbs and succulents are being started from seed. I like the possibility of sports that occur with seed over division. Plus, I can procure ripe seed from the front yards of neighbors. I think they think I'm a little crazy.ReplyDelete
That's a fascinating experiment in itself? Why containers? Is it so you can control the placement of the plants. Let me know how your experiment goes . . .Delete
I'm in L.A., so it's mainly to maintain moisture in the summer so I have plants of a decent size to plant going into our wet winter season. They can become established then and not need as much care the next summer. We generally go 7-8 months without rain. I also sow seed directly, but I can only do that once a year. So if there is failure, I'm SOL.Delete
That makes perfect sense, thanks.Delete
Awesome thoughts. Have you given thoughts to seed yield and how/how much you're going to have to thin back what you grow from seed? That's something I definitely learned about in growing much of my current garden from seed.ReplyDelete
I didn't thin a monarda patch enough and got some beautiful plants all growing together in a twisted mess.
And of course, the alternative (for perennials) is spacing everything out ahead of time, having everything grow in just like you expected, and then having a wonderful, full garden . . . in 3-4 years time. Yay.....
One good choice I made was starting some plants I wanted in particular places in little peat pots and then placing them where I wanted them after they succeeded in starting in the pots. And if I didn't like that placement, I could change it until the plants grew through the pots. You could also probably use something like that to help give a particular plant extra sun/space/feeding/etc., then place it where you want in the garden - e.g., something that isn't a fan of competition from grasses but looks good with them.
On your specific choices - amsonia 'blue ice' is kind of short. I like amsonia illustris, which of course you can grow from seed... though it would take a few years to get what you really want, it might mix with taller grasses better?
Parthenium integrifolium - i'm seeing this stuff all over the place, and while it's got a kind of interesting coarse leaf and white flowers, on first glance it has always seemed kind of weedy to me.
And last, dude, where are you gonna get camassia scilloides? Can you take me to your dealer? I think it takes 10 million years to flower from seed, you need to mass it to make it look good, and they sure didn't seem cheap at the only place I saw online selling them as bareroots/bulbs.
As always, cool planting thoughts to consider. Thanks!
Great thoughts, Andy. Thanks for sharing your experience. I was wondering about placing plugs or starter plants randomly throughout the seeded zone and then only seeding accent perennials.Delete
I have a bunch of Amsonia 'Blue Ice' already that is in my border garden. It's a great plant, but is not showy enough for the border garden, so I'll transplant it over to this new garden in the spring. I really like its height as an edging plant. Very tidy. My thought is that if the frame is tidy, it permits you a bit more looseness in the middle. The Parthenium is definitely weedy, but I saw it on the Highline in the Chelsea grasslands, and it was just fabulous. It gave the mostly grassy landscape this looseness that no other plant could. It may be too weedy for my small plot, but I have an itch to try it.
Prairie Nursery has the Camassia in seed, though I was considering planting that as a bulb instead.
Just put in my camassia scilloides bulbs over the weekend. Did you end up getting some C. Scilloides bulbs?Delete
I would love to know more about these flashy dahlias. :) I eagerly clicked on the Spring Fever link in hopes of finding out more.ReplyDelete
Ha, I was just referencing my spring craze where I get obsessed with some plant and go to extraordinary lengths to get it. Next spring, I'll be sure to share the sources of whatever plant I'm obsessed with at the moment.Delete
Great blog post! I really learned a lot by reading this page. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Well these information's are amazing and prestigious to me. Thanks for such a nice and wonderful things.ReplyDelete
Strange parallels, we just bought a house on a corner lot. Although it is an old turn of the century Victorian. We are struggling with the existing landscape - no privacy, a steep grassy slope and some shady plants burning in the full sun and heat. My husband, Professor PhotoShop is making up a map of the yard and so we can figure out where to put all the things on our wish list; basically a bunch of edibles and screening plants.
I've been considering starting things from seed, because you can get more variety and at reasonable prices. I love the idea of just sprinkling it out there and seeing what you get. I would sprinkle the seeds in blocked out areas rather then all mixed randomly together because I'd be afraid one vigorous plant would take over.
And since plant people always have suggestions... have you considered white wild baptisia (Baptisia alba), bottle gentian (Gentian adrewsii)or Pale-spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata)?
I've been following your progress on your blog. Your Victorian is charming--I'm mighty jealous. I am definitely thinking about seeding in drifts so there's a bit more control over the layout, though I think I will do multiple species in each drift to see what does better.
And thank you for the suggestions. I have not really finalized the plant list, and I love several of the ones you mentioned. I was actually thinking about the Baptisia bracteata. Love the creaminess of the blooms and the fact that it is a bit more prostrate.
I will be interested to hear how this goes. You're very brave doing your experiments in full view of your neighbours! My own sunny and free-draining front garden in the UK started with a planted mix of a few low growing shrubs (Cistus, Lavender) and perennial sub-shrubs, grasses and perennials, but over the years it has become very dynamic with lots of self-seeding from Bronze Fennel, Knautia macedonica (lovely plant!), Verbena bonariensis, Alchemilla mollis, Stipa tenuissima, Anemanthele lessoniana and Euphorbia characias wulfeniia, as well as attempts at world domination from Geranium 'Biokovo' and a red Helianthemum. Other plants have gradually been out-competed. I do some editing, but it is definitely evolving, with only a semblance of control from the designer! The bees love it and the neighbours make lots of appreciative comments. Good luck with yours!ReplyDelete
Your garden sounds lovely. I wish half of your self-seeders would be so prolific here, but I'm afraid in the heat and humidity here, our list of self-seeders is smaller. But I too find myself more drawn to self-seeding plants if only for the spontanaeity it adds to the landscape. IT's hard (for me at least) to replicate it otherwise. Thanks for the vision of a mature, dynamic garden. It has me inspired.Delete
I can't wait to see the results. It seems you can rather easily control the plant locations and distribution just by removing seedlings, and the idea of framing the randomly broadcast seeded area with perennials and grasses is brilliant. Such a simple idea, but most people wouldn't think of it.ReplyDelete
That's a good point. It can be controlled through managment. Though I'm less worried about controlling the locations than I am about waiting. I really hate waiting and I know how long it takes to establish perennials from seed. I think I'm going to rely on some plugs and pioneer species until the more permanent mix gets established.Delete
Good luck with your experiments! For me, the biggest problem with seeds is that they require more patience than I have before you get the blooming plant you want. This is why I am always exceeding my garden budget. As to your question about can you mix cultivars with straight species natives - my experience has been yes. I've mixed cultivars of nepeta, yarrow, hardy geranium, and others - even oriental lilies - with prairie plants and almost everybody does fine. Those that don't are just as likely to be native species as cultivars.ReplyDelete
It is the patience part I'm going to have the hardest time with. Thanks for the suggestions.Delete
Thomas, This is an very interesting experiment. I am intrigued by the logic of your plan, and I love the color palette you have chosen. Some of the discussion answered some of my questions -- like how long will it take these plants to grow from seed and how will you control opportunistic seeding by plants that are not part of your plan (i.e., weeds)? -JeanReplyDelete
To be honest, Jean, I'm not sure how it all will work. I'm eager for an experiment. I learn so much from gardening that I use in my design work. Even the miserable failures are great learning opportunities.Delete
There's really only one way to safely deal with weeds in a "from seed" landscape. That's hand weeding. You can't lay down pre-emergent. Herbicide spray just makes brown spots. Smothering can help but new seed is dropping all the time. The best thing you can do is conduct a few grow/kill cycles with glyphosate to just even the odds a bit and then seed a lot heavier than you think you should. But in the end you need to learn which tiny little leaves are which. It's not that bad though, you have until the weeds go to seed to yank them.Delete
Thanks for the great insight! Well said and thoroughly explained..I would say I haven't tried this yet and would love to do this. It's a great gardening guide. Continue sharing wonderful insights.ReplyDelete
I'd like to offer a tip. Plant the grasses BEFORE you introduce the flowers. One - three seasons before.
I have designed and planted meadows for myself and clients, so have do some experience here. Natural meadows are usually composed of roughly 3/4 grass and 1/4 flowers. If you use too many flowers, when they go dormant in winter, you will have holes and lots of dead foliar matter… ugly. (I made this mistake on my first meadow in Wisconsin.) Then in the springtime, the annual weeds will immediately take over the holes left by the dormant flowers.
To remedy this, it's important to get the grass part of the meadow thick and dense first. When perennial and annual flowers grow, their leaf matter is usually larger than grass leaf matter. They shade out the grasses and cause failure. Most of my resources say grow the grass for 3 seasons, then carve out holes for planting flower plugs, or cast seeds in spring after you've mowed the meadow short.
Best of luck!
I'd like to second this - although it can seem like you end up with grass everywhere you don't want it, it's very easy to kill off when it's not established.Delete
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