It is preaching to the choir to suggest that gardeners are inspired by plants-of course they are. No one would put up with the work, the unfriendly weather, the failures that hang on forever and the joys that are fleeting, should they did not feel compelled to grow plants. It is not preaching to the choir to suggest that some designers are not interested in plants. You can instantly spot a project where plants are treated as an architectural side note, rather than a living thing that needs proper siting and care. The plants are the language that enables a garden to speak clearly. The plants can also be as important an inspiration for good design as any idea.
Though I favor landscapes that are structured, I love any flower that reminds me of a meadow. Who knows why. A meadow was never part of my experience growing up, as I have always lived in urban areas. Perhaps a big flowering meadow is one of those gardens of my dreams. The habit of certain plants favor that meadow. If the flowers that look like they have come straight from God’s hands – and by this I mean as simple as a species, not big and overwrought like a 5th generation hybrid dahlia-how they inspire and enchant you can gift your design.
This first generation hybrid of Monarda fistulosa is named Claire Grace. How appropriate. It thrives for me in unamended soil; I do not feed, and I barely water what are now large thriving stands. They wave in the slightest breeze. They share this habit with my panicum virgatum-panic grass. They both are tall and sturdy growing; I have space on my urban lot for them. They are what I see out my kitchen window-who wants architecture glaring back at them from the kitchen window? Wanting in the worst way to grow these plants fueled the design for this spot.
Echinacea is one of those old fashioned long blooming perennials that cheerfully endured my gardening youth. Even the recent and robust hydrids still have that aura of a country meadow. My meadow is a small space, so I need plants that grow reasonably upright without a lot of fuss. I do not cook, but that does not mean I am not interested in the loose and lax look of an old fashioned kitchen garden.
Ornamental grasses -many a garden has been designed with these plants in mind. Repeatedly planted en mass, in sweeping shapes, they are architecturally arresting. A single plant is everything one needs to know about horticultural punctuation. I once saw a planting of grasses intended by an architect dabbling in landscape design to stay within a rigidly designed grid. Messy and confused-the result. His palette of plants-his language- not so strong.
Boltonia asteroides is a fancy name for a late blooming New England aster. Should a plant like this represent your idea of beautiful, then design in this direction. This vigorous native plant is perfect if open, loosely defined spaces are for you. A garden that is always robustly ahead of you-do you like this? If you like it in small doses, is there one place you might be comfortable with this level of abandon?
It amuses me how the “new” landscape roses so look like old roses. The name landscape roses refers of course to roses not so demanding. This Carefree Delight rose delivers in spades for any gardener wanting the delight of profusion, without profuse care. These roses are sited in partial shade, in a windy location. They always look happy.
I did a consultation last summer to clients building a new house on an old property. This beauty bush was laden with its characteristic cascading blooms. Formally known as Kolwitzia, I do not see it so often anymore. It needs great space to grow, and weep. Most pruning ruins it; take the old stems out all the way to the ground, if you must. It is in bloom for the wink of an eye; out of bloom, beauty bush would never interest you. But it is one of those old fashioned, easy going shrubs that makes a visual statement.
A successful design can be made around those plants that consistently inspire. If there are plants that make you want to speak up, know their names, and keep them close by when it’s time to plan.