I have to admit that I can be fickle when it comes to new plant introductions. Every year, every season and sometimes every month, I have my favorite plants. I keep an ever-expanding list of plants I long to own in the back of my garden journal. The actual journal of garden events, monthly tasks and plants in bloom begins at the front. For no other reason than “it works for me,” I start my plant list from the very last page, working my way from the back to the front.
This list includes a short description of each plant’s key features and a few notes on the plant’s growing needs, such as the amount of sunlight and water the plant needs for best growth. These are plants that I have seen in other gardens or that have been recommended to me by fellow gardeners. One shrub I often recommend is the multi-season Spirea Magic Carpet, whose emerging spring leaves have all the color of fall foliage.
High on my list of special plants is Rosa pteracantha, more for its mahogany red thorns than for its flowers. When the sun lights the translucent thorns from behind, the result adds a special highlight to my summer garden. In addition, the fall leaf color and distinct red or purple-brown winter hips make the plant even more worthy. I also like cornus kousa Wolf Eyes, with its brash slashes of white across each wavering green leaf. Pieris andromeda Spring Snow is another new favorite of mine.
As I locate and purchase the plants from my wish list, I check them off in my journal. I make a note of where I bought them, as well as the price I paid for them. I add the location in the garden where I intend to plant. Later, I find that I often have to go back and change that location. I make a note of why I am moving a plant, even if it’s just to get two complimentary colors together in a bed or border. I write, “It wasn’t sunny enough for the Viburnum carlesii to flower well, and this shrub is all about flower scent.” “The pulmonarias needed more shade and wetter feet.”
Transplanting or moving plants from one location to another is just another aspect of gardening. Move any misplaced or overgrown ornamental grasses further back in the border, as far west or south as possible. The setting sun will light the stems from behind and add the important dimensions of depth and texture to the garden. I never chastise myself for moving plants. Change means that I am learning and growing along with my garden. Some of the best gardens I have seen have evolved along with the ideas of the gardener. The poet Rilke said, “The natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly to other insights.”
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Create a focal point in one of your main garden beds. This can be as easy as placing a large container, an obelisk, a trellis or a sculptural object somewhere within the boundary of the planting area. This simple addition can mark the garden with your personality.
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The main reason we prune roses is to encourage the shrub to make more flowers. Roses, like every other plant in the garden, are here to reproduce. Once any plant flowers, its next purpose is to set seed. When you cut a flower head off before the flower goes to seed, as you do when you prune a rose, the plant produces another flower in an effort to propagate. Prune regularly throughout the season and you will keep flowers coming and vases filled.
Most bulbs flower only once and then set seed. Certain perennial plants, such as Oriental poppies, have one flush of flower production each year. After flowering, the plant itself dies down and becomes dormant. Since their seed pods are attractive, or at least interesting, you can leave them on the plant. They do, however, look best if spent foliage is cut back to the crown of the plant. You can plant perennials that mature later in the season nearby to fill seasonal gaps.
All plants look better through the summer months if you take the time to cut back tattered foliage. Many will benefit if you cut all foliage back to within a few inches of the ground. The majority of early-flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and hellebore will not produce any more flowers. They will grow new, fresh leaves that improve the overall appearance of the garden. Cut weather-damaged or snail-riddled leaves on shade-loving hostas down to the ground. These hardy perennials will reward you with glorious, unblemished new foliage.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.