Marianne recently posted about under used plants .

and in the comments I responded with  “I’m possibly the only person on this planet who thinks that it’s what you do with any old plant which is what matters really.” 

I got an immediate email from Marianne agreeing with me and after a little discussion we agreed to do a joint post on the subject. Which then became joint posts. Here is the first one, and you’ll have to wait for the second. (and third, maybe, who knows? Not us yet.)

Marianne:

Okay, I’ll start.  But can we mess around with this idea of what constitutes a “good plant” in the first place? 

I think we both agree that common/uncommon is irrelevant. I’m not good with dismissing common plants when, used wisely and creatively, they can do incredible things in the garden.

For me, a good plant fulfils a specific function in the garden, and does it well. It may be necessary to the design, or showcased by the design, but when the growing of it is unencumbered by any type of design, and it’s just about owning something rare and unusual, I have a hard time understanding. 

Great love of an unusual plant should beget great care and great placement.  It should create an effect bigger than itself – whether it’s a stunning tree that stands alone, or an amalgamation of unusual foliage shapes/textures creating something exciting, or a single plant en masse in a crazy cool way. Am I off base?

Erythonium Pagoda in the woods at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Anne: we plant 100 Erythonium pagoda in this two acre wood every year and have done for the past 30 years. This is a glimpse of them. Crazy cool?

Oh, and glad you like the pergola planting.  I do too – yet it is completely not what I thought it would be when I began.  I had visions of showcasing Allium species.  Not with the exposure in this valley – seven hours for my sunniest spots and that ain’t the pergola. A [literal] design flop.

Carex 'Ice Dance'

Marianne: The flagrant overplanting of Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ under my pergola that started the discussion.

Anne:

I think it should go the other way round.

A place in the garden needs something – like your pergola needed setting off with something at the base, so we/I/you ideally then think of what kind of effect you’d like, consider the place, climate, soil and go about researching the best plant or plants for the job. Then try and obtain them. (Much easier in the UK since most nurseries went online). And ideally, yes – a single plant en masse in a crazy cool way = YES!

I know we are all liable to fall for a plant we find unexpectedly, as in a …. umm… visit to a nursery. And then wander around, pot in hand, looking for a home for it. (the doorstep?). Not ideal. And at least we could have our needy places (not the doorstep) in mind when we do our nursery visit, so that we can buy appropriately.

Special Plants Nursery copyright Anne Wareham

Anne: one of those corrupting nurseries…Special Plants, nr Bath, UK

You weren’t, perchance, thinking of Rosemary Verey when you planted the alliums? Well, sadly we all make mistakes and they can be costly. Design flops is part of the game. Look what came out of that one!

Marianne:

I was thinking of great alliums I have loved (which sounds like a terrible name for a book…)

A. schubertii, A cristophii, A. karataviense, A spherocephalon, Nectaroscordum etc.  You would have hated the hodge podge of it. It wasn’t a good fit in any case — regardless of the sun. I’ve dotted  them here and there which is much more successful. Little surprises. I’ll channel Verey’s allium massing (if not the laburnum) in the more formal kitchen garden if it ever happens.

allium schubertii

Marianne: Allium schubertii are better used in more exposed areas of my garden – dotted here and there like surprise explosions.

So you never sublimate the design to the plant — ever? Your needy places are already heavily designed? What about when you were building the garden — still playing?  I admit to designing around a plant, but then I cannot admit to the high level of design you have at The Veddw. I am envious and yet it feels confining.

I fell in love with a Poncirus trifoliata (now Citrus) nine years ago when I saw it perfectly placed in a home garden. Got a seedling and it moved with me until I created a perfect little outcropping that showcases it. Ironically, the poncirus inspiration was eventually removed by the owner as he grew tired of visitors getting snagged. I would have removed the visitors. LOL.

Poncirus trifoliata

Marianne: This year, a bonus! Some ripening fruit on my nine year-old, much-traveled poncirus.

Anne:

I have nothing against alliums

– they are actually affordable over here and I have combined Nectaroscordum with hostas along a whole walk. Because the hostas needed something better than their own flowers, which are miserable and I chop them off.  The hostas also do a good job of hiding the disgusting leaves of the Nectaroscordum. Bulbs lend themselves well to being brightening up additions. 

Hosta Walk at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Anne: nectaroscordums. in the Hosta Walk

‘Heavily designed’ sounds nasty – how could you!?? (Goes off for a sulk….) 

Starting the garden was a tough thing and choice was dictated by which seeds germinated or which rampant plant I could get hold of. So there are parts of the garden I work hard at trying to improve now. ( https://gardenrant.com/2021/06/scheming.html)

We started with an effectively empty plot and very little money, so it was not ideal and not an ideal place for one star plant which would have vanished rapidly in the competing weeds and grass. But true, I did start with plants then – Robin Lane Fox’s choice as outlined in Better Gardening; in particular, shrubs and trees, which tend to be a kind of backbone.

If I had been sensible rather than plant orientated then would I really have created a magnolia walk where the magnolias would struggle to grow at all? No, not really. 

So I am describing both my current practice and what I would also recommend to a beginner gardener. It doesn’t mean not falling in love with a plant and using it – as you did, with the poncirus. But doing that is a particular challenge and invites potential sorrows – like seeing a poncirus removed for presumably stabbing people. Or living with a garden which is less than satisfying. We need to discuss the benefits or costs of ‘heavy design’?

So with that, Happy Readers, we’ll end for now and pick up this discussion next time.