A marked difference between ordinary ornamental gardens and more notable ones often consists of pleasing plant combinations or the absence thereof. A thought-out combination of rather plebeian plants can come to the fore when used with some thought in their placement.
Take, for instance, a trio consisting of marigolds, variegated monkey grass and some blue salvia with spiky flowers. The marigolds, plebeian to the limit, are humpy, rounded in effect — I am speaking of the French marigolds here — and, on their own, nothing to talk about. If, however, a grouping of them, three or five, are planted in a zig-zag form with a clump of the monkey grass at either end, then a trio of the spiky blue salvia behind the marigolds — preferably yellow ones — the whole picture takes on a far more attractive effect, despite the commonality of each species. Your visitors would compliment you on your garden, at least in that spot. Many more other examples could be used.
A combo I have been pleased with, on a somewhat larger scale, is with one specimen of red twig dogwood, cut back to a couple of feet in spring, fronted with a larger grouping of tall garden phlox. The latter would be cut back in mid-spring, keeping it to some three feet or so by bloom time, and on each side of the phlox several plants of a late flowering blue aster.
The shrubby dogwood goes from strength to strength during the growing season, drawing minimal attention I must say, while the phlox and asters grow apace, even with a summer shave if they get too tall. Then, the phlox cranks up in July for a month and, if pruned rather sharply following, may put on a second flowering in late fall, just when the blue aster kicks in. Thus, there are many weeks of flower from two of the plants.
Finally, come winter, the red twig dogwood, which has gained 5 feet or more, begins to glow with the red-orange branches of the year.
Low winter sun conspires with the twigs of the dogwood to make a flaring winter picture when all around are grays, tans and other benign contributions.
At another, shady juncture in our garden there are several plants there that, I must admit, were started some years apart with no planning at all, but, as luck, good this time, would have it they have made a picture for a big part of the year.
The most notable feature there is a Japanese beautyberry with unusual white berries in fall and early winter, with a ground cover below of a variegated arum, Arum italicum ‘Pictum,’ which bears red-orange berries in fall on 18-inch stems. Adjoining this is a large specimen of Oriental rice paper plant, Edgeworthia chrysantha, which has consideration enough to produce drooping white and yellow flowers in January and February that scent the air for many yards around with a vanilla fragrance.
Speaking of the latter, catalogs say the size will be 6 feet across or so. Ours is some 12 feet or more that size after about 10 years. They grow fast and are foolproof with one caveat. They can get maimed in a horrid winter, but are seldom killed outright. Ours lost flowering a few years ago, but that was the only instance.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — As my father often instructed me: Use your head for something besides a hat rack.
I get more inquiries about moles than almost anything else. How to get rid of them, that is. Friend Johnny Oliver has got the problem down to a science, a successful science. Johnny has killed a total of 89 moles this year alone, and that on a postage stamp sized lawn at his home with his wife, Jean. Johnny picks on the voles and Jean picks butterbeans.
His modus operandi consists of sitting on one of his verandas in early morning and mid-afternoon, watching intently as robins go about their daily search for worms. When one of them cocks his head and begins to listen closely, Johnny goes into action. He takes a sharp spade and stealthily approaches the scene of the action, where the robin is waiting to feast on an earthworm the mole has bothered. Then Johnny spears the spade into the ground just behind the mole and flips it out on the ground to be cruelly crushed. Good show, old boy. Bloody good show.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.