Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gardening Commandment #2?

I’m a neat and tidy sort of person. My Marines used to move my desktop items around when I stepped out of the office just to giggle at me readjusting them mere centimeters back to their proper places when I returned. I initially applied my orderly attitude to gardening. I’ve already discussed how unappealing planting in straight lines turned out to be. I also took a rather anal approach to plant groupings. I would plant them in a straight line, alternating varieties, creating orderly patterns of two or three. The results were not categorically ridiculous, but the patterns usually looked quite artificial.

For instance, in my sunset bed, I initially planted six plants along the edge: two each of cardinal lobelia, red daylilies, and goblin gaillardia. Let’s forget for a moment that the cardinal lobelia abhor a dry, northwestern exposure and I had to move them and that the gaillardia fried to death in a few short months. Had all the plants lived, the result would have been much more appropriate to an amusement park planting than a cottage garden. The pattern, rather than the overall effect, becomes the focus. Planting in 3’s is recommended, but that doesn’t mean to plant in patterns of three.

My experiences with patterns of two have been better. Along the front walk, I’ve planted lamb’s ear alternating with East Friesland sage. Although the lamb’s ear needs twice yearly, savage pruning to keep it from consuming the sage, the result is pleasing. The orderliness nicely balances the wild jungle of flowers in the rest of the bed. I’ve also seen nice results with patterns of two in other people’s yards and at Friendship Park.

Generally, though, I try to avoid patterns of even two, now. The result is formal, even a bit military, and that’s not my style (any more). In fact, I try to steer other people away from it as well. I think it is most tempting to create patterns when you are torn between two or more different plants or varieties. You think, “Well, since I can’t decide, I’ll just get an equal number of each and alternate them!” Don’t do it! If you’re planting in a line (hedge or edging), choose one variety only or choose many and don’t plant them in a discernible pattern (mixed hedges). If you aren’t planting in a line, go ahead and get both plants, but plant them each in their own little blobs (drifts, if you will).

Straight lines and patterns look great in the gardens of Versailles, but they just appear unimaginative and uptight in anything smaller. I guess my Second Gardening Commandment would be to Avoid Planting in Patterns. Unless you’re growing a living chessboard or something. That would be kind of cool.


Blogger Colleen said...

Another good commandment! See--this is the kind of stuff I think we all wish we had known when we started out. My first year here, I did a pattern of "pink impatien, white impatien, pink impatien, white impatien..." all along the (then-straight) edge of the front bed. It just looked ridiculous, like a gigantic version of those plastic bead necklaces kindergarteners make during craft time. Cute when a 5 year old does it, not so cute when a grown woman does it :-)

5:34 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Your lambs ear does look nice.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Takoma Gardener said...

You tell 'em!!

1:11 PM  
Blogger Kasmira said...

Thanks Maggie!

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Nothing to do with gardening, but...

The trick your Marines played on you...we did that to my father-in-law with his framed a few years ago at Thanksgiving. He actually got out a level and then blamed the cleaning lady before he finally realized there was a reason we were all giggling.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Hooked on Gardens said...

It's interesting that some gardeners swear that planting in patterns is the way to go. Your "Gardening Commandment #2," seems to make more sense if a person is interested in variety and in the “overall effect” rather than on uniformity.

7:43 AM  
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