Friday, May 2, 2008

Adelphi Front Bed With Iris, Penstemon, Coreopis auriculata nana, Germander, Sporobolus et alia

It does look good in this picture! Many of us have had, some regularly, the experience of looking at pictures of our gardens and knowing that they suggest a garden much nicer than the actuality. As though we were defrauding with photography. Well, yes and no. I know that if you had been standing with me when I took that picture, you would have seen a patchy asphalt street in the foreground. And lots of cars. And the sketchy turf surrounding the pictured island bed, and weeds in other beds. But still the plants in the picture were beautiful.

I use my garden, and others, as mnemonic devices, useful tools when I am designing and need to be able to call plants to mind quickly. Among the beauties here are several that are quite functional in the landscape. Iris pallida Aurea-variegata, the variegated iris center foreground, is a useful accent in a small mixed planting as it is here. Or, if you add two more of the same plant and position them in other beds in a pleasing triangle, they can help unify a small area, like my (or your?) front yard. Like many monocots, it has an architectural structure that visually isolates it (even without the variegation) from the more random growth of the dicots, i.e. the Germander to it's left, the Penstemon in front of it, and the Coreopsis behind it. Variegated Iris used to be fairly uncommon, but now are available inexpensively at both box stores and mainstream nurseries. Other variegated forms you see fairly regularly are Iris pseudacorus Variegata and Iris pallida Variegata.

To the left of the Iris is Germander,Teucrium chamaedrys, an evergreen sub-shrub. Of course I love sub-shrubs so I am predisposed to favor this plant, but any honest person would have to admit that its useful and beautiful. Like the other evergreen herbs, it is happiest in hot, well-drained soil, and full sun. No wonder this one is so happy, rooted in sand in a sunny bed beside a blacktop road! It doesn't grow much over a foot high and the evergreen leaves provide structure and interest in the winter. Much of the summer it is covered with rosy pink flowers that look like they belong on a plant in the mint family, which, of course, this is.

Everyone wants to grow herbs but everyone doesn't have a sunny sandy bed. A different place you may have that wiould serve these plants well is a SE or SW or W facing strip, against your house, overhung by your roof line. The herbs appreciate the hot reflected light, even more if it is beside a driveway, and the overhang helps keep the soil dry during wet periods. Lacking either of these areas, try a container in full sun (at least 6 hours).

The beautiful grass on the right is a native plant Sporobolus heterolepis, Prairie dropseed. Its characteristic rounded form and narrow, dark green blades make this distinctive grass a great garden plant. It tolerates a wide range of soils, clearly happy on sand. It is drought resistant in full sun, and though it browns in the winter, it retains enough of a presence to use as mass plantings in highly trafficked, highly visible areas. I have heard that Native Americans ground the seeds for "flour." I have watched the birds eat them in the winter.

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