We have lost the idea of joint residency as we segregate in huge homes, gate off our communities and work at jobs that are increasingly specialized. We like to categorize, cube and divide. It is natural to bring this concept into our gardens as well, but I’d rather think of the garden as a place where we can bring back into practice the art of harmony.
This time of year we are all reading plant labels and now have a list of plants for the perfect garden. But your desired lovelies come from such varying cultures, will they ever get along? Fear not! With a little technique, many plants of opposite needs can be very happy living together.
The ideal garden would have a number of mini-environments and is not all that difficult to create. Once done, it should fill the needs of a diverse group of plants. A verbal illustration of such a garden built on a site with full sun, might look something like this.
Aligned each corner of the garden with a compass direction. Shade is created by building a garden wall on the SE and SW sides of the garden and by planting an Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) in the southern most corner. A little wet ditch runs inside the wall as it follows the garden perimeter. The mound on which the tree is planted is made of very lean soil and grit. The wall, tree, mound and ditch will provide moist shade, dry shade and wet shade. Voila! Bob’s your uncle and you can now plant your Touch-me-nots!
A fence could replace the wall, a large, shade loving shrub such as a Kesselring Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Kesselring’), could replace the tree and so forth. You get the idea.
A benched pergola anchoring the northern corner of the garden, serves as an entrance, a place for your Arctic Kiwi vines to flourish, a welcome resting place and a little filtered sun. Flank it on both sides by a hedge that runs to meet the garden wall in both directions. William Baffin Roses would work well for this. They will thrive in the heat, especially with the little ditch feeding them a constant supply of moisture. You have now completed the outline of the garden and have created filtered sun by the pergola, full sun in the garden center, wet partial sun/light shade along the rose hedge as morning and evening sun rotates, and moist sun along the inside of the ditch. A low, raised area somewhere in center of the garden made of lean soil will supply you with the one, remaining growing condition you lack; dry, hot sun. How hard was that? You’ve now got it all and can happily go bonkers planting a diverse and interesting haven.
A couple of things to remember before you get too crazy. The little ditch will need a liner, fairly deep down - around twelve inches - to keep the moisture in the general area you intend it to be. The dry areas work best if bordered by wet areas or well drained walk ways to collect the moisture that will naturally drain through the gritty, lean soil during times of precipitation. The overall amount of sun or shade in you garden is up to you. In following this plan, for example, the larger the garden area, the more full sun you would have within its center. And finally, while it is rare to see a wind warning on a plant label, it is helpful to know your wind direction as well as your compassing.
Planning and planting a diverse, mixed garden is a tremendously rewarding experience and can readily expand the horticultural gray matter. Up here the leaves aren’t even out yet! I’d say there’s still plenty of time to plot and scheme while we ponder that perfect plot.