Planting combinations can yield pleasant surprises

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist

Published:

 

Dear garden friend,

I got an early start in the garden today. It's one of those perfect, October mornings. The sun is low in the sky, backlighting the emerging colors of the ornamental grasses. This is one of those special times of the day that I'd like to share with a fellow gardener. By that, I mean more than planting, hoeing, digging and maintenance — someone who understands how I feel about gardening. I always think of you when the seasons change.

Actually, you crossed my mind when I stopped to admire a large, robin's egg-blue ceramic planter on the front deck. I know you appreciate good planting combinations, and I have to say this one has come together nicely. The large glazed pot itself is more than two feet wide at the opening, so it is perfect for the small Japanese maple called Ukigumo. The English translation of that short, Japanese phrase is floating clouds".

Acer palmatum Ukigumo has become one of my favorite small trees. When it's fully grown, it might only reach ten feet tall. In a large planter, it will stay even smaller. The petite, variegated foliage is mottled green and cream with hints of pink on the end and along the sides of each leaf. The autumn foliage is pink, turning red before leaf fall. Its horizontal branching habit gives it such a sweet, elegant structure when it goes dormant in winter.

Every plant in this planting combination has been changed two or three times except the maple tree. It's the only one from the original plan that ended up in the final arrangement. Oh well, that's gardening for you. You start with a plan and by the time you're finished, all you have left is a hint of your original idea. All I can do when people tell me that I have a "Great eye for color and detail" is smile with the faintest hint of guilty pleasure.

The mums in my garden have been a lot of fun to watch this year. Years ago, a gardening friend advised me to pinch back any buds until late July or even early August. By forcing the plants to wait until mid-August before they were allowed to bloom, I have an abundance of great flower color all the way into late fall. The colors of these flower blossoms are brighter, more vibrant versions of the deep hues of changing autumn leaves on shrubs and trees.

There are fall-blooming mums in an ever changing kaleidoscope of colors. Melba is a unique, peachy-orange. Helen is the color of brick dust with a striking yellow eye. So many of the longtime hardy garden mums have typical girl's names: Mary, Nicole, Sarah, Monique. My goal this year is to talk one of my nieces or nephews into naming their next daughter Chrysanthemum. What's good for the garden … .

I had some fun experimenting with mixed planters this summer. I have a tendency to fall for plants on the edge of hardiness, and since so much of my garden is already established, I decided to try some brave new combinations. Most of these were done in pots and planters so they wouldn't leave a hole in the garden if the experiment failed. I love the voluptuous canna lilies with hot stripes of vibrant red, gold and orange in the leaves. The ever-growing family of sun-loving coleus lights up a deck or patio.

As always, plants came and went with the seasons. Some died. Some clashed. But somehow, in the end, it all came together. I didn't always get exactly what I wanted. but I did end up happy with what I got. The Northwest is a wonderful place to garden, isn't it? We had so many days of summer sun this year, but within a few weeks the rain will wash away all but the memory of sunshine. As the days get shorter, I know I'll begin to question my ability to keep up with the garden. Then, finally, winter will come and put it all to rest.

I'll close for now. We've had some wind and rain, so we'll soon be busy raking up leaves. It was just so perfect today; I wanted to reconnect with you. If there is one thing I've learned from the garden, it's that all the wonder is multiplied with every friend who passes through the front garden gate. My eyes see double, my mind opens twice as wide and my heart expands as we make room to share what the garden so generously gives.

Until we meet again, I remain …

— Your gardening friend