Monday, April 02, 2007

Suburban Island

I spent the weekend mucking around in my teeny, tiny yard. I was happily sorting and digging and weeding and just imagining the glory of this yard in a few years. I was also watching the reaction of the people walking by to see if my yard actually looks like a masterpiece in progress or if it looks like a hot mess in need of a good clean up instead. My ability to self-delude is mammoth so occasionally I like to gauge my perspective by observing others. Not that the opinions of anyone else will have an ounce of impact on the direction this garden is going. I just want to know if I’m the Weirdo on the corner with the wacked out landscaping or if I’m the Hipster on the corner using plant material as my palette. Judging by most facial expressions, I’m neither avant garde nor batty-just doing a good job. I choose to believe their lack of vision revolves the strategic placement of dinosaurs, swords, and diggers my son has left as yard sculpture.

Anyway, while I was mucking around in my teeny, tiny yard and being unusually persnickety about the placement of plants, I mused about the differences between this yard and my last yard. (the picture above is my old back yard when it was new. To clarify, it's about a third of my old back yard and it's before I planted the entire jungle). With my last yard, a trip to the nursery was a cavalier spending spree. A little of this, a dash of that-there was room for all of it. If I wasn't sure it would work, I'd just put it in the backyard where no one could see behind the 7 foot tall privacy fence. With our new house, we are public in a big way. Our fence is only 36 inches high and we are smack on one of the busiest corners in our neighborhood. As an additional barrier, our house has a Charleston feel to it that demands some southern charm when working on the garden. It is pretty important that I stick to a palette, that I make good choices regarding mature size, and that the adolescent years aren't too painful. I backed away from several favorite plants this weekend at the wholesale nursery and I almost tackled my husband to keep him from purchasing some big trees just because he likes the look of them. (Thank goodness he's not like this about pets.) All the constraints made me think about the desert island theme Lindy at Toast used in October. If you were marooned on a desert island and could only have 10 foods, what would they be? Since there is very little difference between gardening and eating to me, I nicely transitioned to "If you were stuck in a Suburban Island and could only have a few plants, what would those plants be?" Several hours later, I had a long list going in my head while I pulled up dandelions.

Didn't I already make this list when I moved and plopped snippets into my two big pots? Yes. And, er, no. I knew I would have access to plant material once I moved so I was only taking the comforting or the extra-specials that I had little chance of finding at a commercial nursery. What I began to list in my head were plants that my yard would just not be complete without. Plants that leave a hole in my heart if I had to eliminate them from my garden forever. And plants that I wished more people would grow instead of reaching blindly for the Helleri holly or the gardenia.

Now, I know these plants will not put me into the cool gardener club. In fact, some other bloggers (who I enjoy reading and whose opinons I value) will consider some of my required plants pretty passe'. But, I also like cool whip (despite it’s disturbing ingredient list) and refuse to read another Jodi Picoult book no matter how much my book club insists that it is the selected book this month and we HAVE to read it. I like what I like. These are the plants that are vital to my existence and I see no reason to snub them:

#1. RosemaryIf I could only have one plant and one plant only, it would be rosemary. Rosmarinus officinalis to be exact. There are lots of members of the Lamiaceae family that I enjoy but rosemary is the preferred family member for both aesthetic and practical reasons. I love the evergreen-gray of the foliage and the shock of blue-violet flowers that erupt suddenly and then disappear. I love the tenacity that allows me to clip it and clip it and clip it and still thrive as its ssquare stemmed spikes reach for the sun. I love little pots of rosemary on the table and large bushes of rosemary spidering around flowers. I love a sprig of rosemary in pocket or on bread. I love to inhale the smell of rosemary fresh-picked in the morning or to catch a whiff of it on the breeze in the evening. In short, there is NO WAY that I do not love Rosemary.

Versatility should be rosemary 's middle name. There are hundreds of uses for it. In a landscape it can be used as winter annual, a perennial accent, topiary, or a small shrub. It will be satisfied in a pot or happy planted in the ground (provided you it keep it evenly moist but not soaked). In the kitchen you can use rosemary in any course, at any meal. It is great in bread, perfect on chicken, delightful tossed in salads AND in can even hold it's on in dessert (I dare you to give rosemary gelato a try). Apparently rosemary has some medicinal properties too. In my current teeny tiny yard, I have 8 rosemary plants. I'm not sure that's enough but I may have to be satisfied with it for now.

#2. Camellia (japonica)
On Mother’s Day Sunday, it is traditional (where I’m from) to wear a blossom to church on Mother's Day Sunday in honor of your mother. If your mother is living, you wear a red or a pink blossom. If your mother has gone on to the ever-after, you wear a white blossom. Some people actually buy these blossoms from the super market. I am disturbed by the idea of buying an orchid wrapped in plastic from a chain in the same way that hothouse tomatoes bother me. Perfectly shaped, perfectly packaged, blemish free bits of boring. My Mother’s Day blossom was hand selected from my great-Aunt L.’s yard and pinned on with a safety pin. (My childhood weekends were always spent with my fabulous great-Aunt L. and I walked to church with her on Sunday mornings. And yes, every weekend was spent with her-including Mother’s Day weekend.) If we were having an especially cool spring, her Camellia bush would be loaded to the hilt with bodacious, red flowers that seemed as big as my head. I would insist on the biggest, usually dripping with dew and would march proudly to church feeling like a sophisticated lady. In my new yard, I have planted two Camellias and if they grow slowly (which they usually do) I shouldn’t have to pull anything out of that bed for 5 years or so. By that time, something will have died probably so I won’t have to pull anything out. One of my camellias is a bodacious red C. japonica and the other is a mysterious C. sasanqua (smaller leaves, usually smaller blooms). Now if I could just get to church....

#3. Hydrangea

I think all beds look a little better with a hydrangea thrown in. Any hydrangea will do for me-I like all types. Pink, blue, purple, white, green. I even like that new maroon kind with purple leaves. Hydrangeas are a nice combo of austere Southern charm and trumped up floozy. They make great cut flowers, humming-birds like (some of) them and they're just plain easy to grow. The only complaint I’ve witnessed (in other people) is a inclination to go mucking around with lime or other soil amendments to adjust their color. I like to just plant them and see what God gives me. According to my landscape plan, I should only have 1 hydrangea but since I like hydrangea more than I like viburnum, I have substituted. I’m hoping I can stop at four but no promises.

#4. Pansy

I adore pansies. I think of them as the Rachel Ray of the flowering annuals and they are apparently just as divisive. You either LOVE them or you LOATHE them. They are consistently my favorite annual and I am unable to envision a winter without their little flat-faced heads. I am happiest with purple and yellow combinations but really have never met a pansy I didn't like. I even enjoy the tackiness of mass plantings in front of shopping centers or neighborhoods although I prefer them on the smaller scale. Maybe it's because they bloom in the winter when everything else is sleeping. Maybe it's because they are just so dang perky and resilient. I know there are areas where pansies don't make it through but they can weather just about anything an NC winter can throw at them. A few days of looking tired and then the sun comes out and up pops the pansies. Pansies don't really require tons of fertilizer or fiddling which is another plus (since I forget to do that stuff pretty often-especially in the rainy winter).

#5 DaylilyI almost left daylilies off of this list and what a mistake that would be! Daylilies are so unassuming, so integral to gardens that you often forget how many kinds are available and how tolerant they are. Daylilies are grasses that have glorious blooms that soar up like trumpets on thin graceful stalks and erupt in a riot of color. Or, they are small little trumpets that toot occasionally in pastel shades. You can grow them just about anywhere, they make an excellent cut-flower, and require little in the way of nutrition or care. They are also easy to propagate-just dig them up and split them. They are also good at making you new friends because they're so fantastic people can't believe your generosity when you give them one. I brought 3 with me when I moved and have bought 2 more. Those 5 are just the start though since I like to mix in the ones that rebloom (like Stella D’oro) with the really crazy colored ones that only give it one shot. I have distant relative who is a daylily breeder (link to that I’m hoping to visit this summer to get some zingers.

I couldn’t really come up with 10 plants like Lindy does with food items. I don’t think there’s any reason every home owner shouldn’t have at least one of the above plants tucked into their yard and apartment dwellers could even have 3 of the 5 (a pot of daylily, rosemary, and pansy looks great in every season). I might do a post next of the plants I think should be banned from suburban yards. Mostly, I’m just exhausted thinking about how much more planting I have to do!


Kris said...

Oh were off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of whole sale nursery!

Melody said...

Well said.

Sucar said...

Thanks Melody!