After more than a decade of trying to fill the garden, I find myself editing plants to get a more unified look. Some perennials are muscling in on their neighbors; unbehaved plants are running through others. Now it is easy to see which plants need to be dug up and divided, or moved out of the garden all together. Already I am potting up plants for next year’s plant swap and giving away plants at work, where they always find a new home. Plain old green hostas, once lovingly adopted from other gardeners, are now getting the heave-ho in favor of more fancy varieties. Toad lilies, prized because of their many fall blooms, are dug up because, well, I no longer fancy them. Ferns running through other plants in their quest for a new spot are pulled out quite unceremoniously, while I dig up the rest. And then there are always some plants which sulk where they are planted, but refuse to die. I harden my heart against them, dig them up and into the compost bin they go.
This past week I had the opportunity to visit a jewel of a garden, David Culp’s Brandywine Cottage garden in Southern PA. Together with a busload of fellow gardeners we made a day trip to his and another garden, with a quick lunch in Doylestown, PA. David Culp published a book on this garden, called “The Layered Garden”, which shows exactly that; layer upon layer of garden surrounding a humble stone cottage. Even in mid-July with the spring blooms gone, his garden was amazing. Nevertheless, I will have to go back there sometime in spring, if only to see the spring splendor of a hillside of hellebores and over 100 varieties of snowdrops in full bloom, not to mention everything else. We marveled over the many containers in the garden as well; many different varieties of fancy-leafed begonias (just like me!); containers with agaves (just like me, but his were much bigger!). There were plants I was not familiar with, or different varieties of those I am familiar with. His “Jack in the Pulpit” had leaves twice the size of mine, but since the plants had already bloomed and were now setting seed, I couldn’t tell if it was the same variety as mine or not. Then there was the large chicken coop tucked away on the side of the house while one of the bulldog puppies followed us around in the hope it would get its belly scratched.
At one of my Rutgers’ garden design classes our instructor, a landscape architect, told us to “stand on the shoulder of giants”. Why reinvent the wheel, when you can improve it? This applies to gardening just as much as to any other discipline. While keeping in mind your zone, exposure (sun, shade, part shade), other requirements (wet, dry, average water requirements) and soil (clay, sand, mixture, or loamy soil) there is nothing against copying a successful garden design you like and then put your own touches on it. You need to know plants and their requirements, but if you see a garden you like or a picture of it in a book or magazine, you can certainly try to recreate it in your garden. Subtract plants which don’t work in your zone and replace them with varieties which are hardy. Make sure you meet the requirements of the plants such as, sun lovers in the sun, shade lovers in the shade and not vice versa, and you may very well be on your way to a delightful garden design.
I greatly admire David Culp’s garden, but my garden will never look like his, although I grow his Brandywine Hellebores™. David selected plants from the best Hellebore breeders around the world. He hybridized them in his garden over more than a decade and the resulting seedlings produced the Brandywine Hellebores™ of which I picked up a few pots at a local nursery years ago. Now they have grown into large clumps which flower abundantly for months in early spring and I appreciate all the work he put into hybridizing these plants.
As gardens grow, they evolve and my garden is evolving right before my eyes through editing; moving and removing plants. Is it time for your garden to evolve yet?