Bzzzz July 15th, 2013

I will admit to my fair share of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants garden design. Just give me a cart at a garden center and I’ll emerge with enough plants to fill an SUV, a happy smile and not the vaguest idea of what I’m going to do with them. But (and here’s an ugly truth) I have also had a fair number of those plants languish in pots while I wandered around wringing my hands and wondering what should go where.

When I decided to add a new garden bed last year, I decided to take a different approach.

Planning! What a concept!

Gladiolus callianthus 'Murielae' and castor bean2

The new bed is 4′ x 40′ and extends along the north side of the potager. Last fall I ordered up a truckload of leaf mulch that we layered over newspaper. Nature did a good bit of work over the winter breaking down the newspaper, smothering out the grass (and weeds) and improving the hard, clay soil underneath.

In the meantime, I went shopping—this time by catalog and with graph paper and pencil. I selected plants I liked, printed them out on a color printer with their vital stats (height/bloom dates, requirements) and created a collage on a pin board.

A butterfly bush anchors one end of the bed. I added a pieris ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ in more-or-less the middle and a fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ at the other end. Tall plants I started from seed included castor bean (ricinus communis) and Mexican sunflowers (tithonia rotundiflora) purchased from Botanical Interests. I wanted colors we could enjoy at night, so I added a generous number of white gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ and white physosegia ‘Miss Manners’ purchased from Brent and Becky’s.

coreopsis and tickseed in July2

Accent colors are reds and yellows from Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Tradescantia ‘Blue & Gold’ and assorted butterfly weeds and coreopsis that I allowed myself to pick up at the garden center on a whim.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’

Not everything came out according to plan. For example, the gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ were advertised as reaching 12″ to 24″. They are easily more than 36″ tall and continue to grow and push out more and more white flowers on long, sturdy stems, so I’m not complaining. But they are in front of the ‘Hot Lips’, so placement could be better. And although I like the Mexican sunflowers well enough, they are mostly foliage topped by small orangish flowers. Mammoth sunflowers would have given me more bang for the buck.

But hey, there’s always next year.

And speaking of next year, I have a whole new border to plan over the coming winter. The graph paper and pencil approach worked well enough that I’ll do it again. It also gave me a gardening project for those long, cold winter days.


Posted In: Gardening

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Bzzzz February 14th, 2008

For me, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing to learn about plants.

That’s one of the reasons I make visiting botanical gardens, parks and flower shows a high priority when it comes to travel and my free time. Aside from the enjoyment of being outdoors or seeing all the wonderful new combinations, I can see the three-dimensional version of the plants in a natural setting. I can see their real size and color. I can smell, touch and feel the plant.

When I look at the flowers and plants in magazines and catalogs all seem to run together after a while. The photographers make them all just lovely. And how can you really judge color or size in print? Forget about smell.

When I’m visiting a park or garden I will sometimes photograph a particularly striking arrangement with the plan for making a similar arrangement at home or just to add to my photographic idea book.

Here’s an example. On the left is a container arrangement I saw at the Dixon House and Gardens in Memphis last May. I was particularly taken by the holly, primroses and parsley packed into the beautiful pot. The unusual shape of the holly made a dramatic statement in the container arrangement and added some vertical interest.


On the right is a version of the same arrangement I made at home with flowers I found at the local garden center, including a sky pencil holly and some miniature petunias. I didn’t have the fabulous container they had at the Dixon gardens, so a simple terra cotta container had to do.

Could I have gotten such an arrangement idea from a book? Sure. But by actually seeing and copying an existing arrangement, I had a much better idea of the outcome to expect.

I haven’t had nearly the same success with packages of plants sold to create specific effects. White Flower Farm has some spectacular arrangement collections and photographs that make me salivate. They are drop-dead gorgeous. Still, I’m not buying them anymore though because I can never recreate the same effect in my garden. It’s frustrating to spend a lot of money on plants and then be disappointed in the outcome. I’ll save my money for seeds, fabulous pots and plants I can be confident will do well here at Bumblebee.

Of course, not all of the arrangements here at Bumblebee are copies. But I think copycat gardening is a good strategy for learning about plants until you’re ready to fly solo.

Posted In: Container Gardening, Gardening

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