Gardens Need Originality and Imagination

The felicitous grouping of plants is one of the signs of a gardener’s coming of age. It takes knowledge, thought, imagination and taste to assemble together plants which like the same soil, exposure and cultural conditions, which bloom at the right time to make the picture, and which look as though they belong together.


This is the time of year to be thinking about next year’s garden pictures, and it is a pleasant game to be playing. What our gardens need is originality and imagination. Too many of us take the easy way and follow the lead of others, and the result is an uninteresting and boring sameness of pattern.


If fresh ideas don’t flow readily, take a look at wild flower groupings, analyze them and find out what makes them charming. Is it foliage shape or texture, or flower color or quality? Is it harmony or contrast? Wild flower drifts are especially effective in helping us to widen our vision of color association and in giving us tips on new and exciting combinations. Reflect on the banks of blue gilias and collinsias in many shades of purple, on cerise penstemons growing with blue and purple penstemons, on lavender Iris macrosiphon growing in among wine-red Calochortus rubellus.


Self-sown plants bring the happiest accidents to my garden, creating effects I would never have dreamed of. One year, green-blue nigellas sprang up in a patch of crimson-scarlet Delphinium nudicaule. Another time some very bright pink ixias, apparently dropped by absent-minded gophers en route to their store houses, bloomed among the flower-laden branches of a lavender-blue ceanothus. And once Campanula rotundifolia came up in the arms of a Beatrix dianthus, some of whose blooms had reverted to the old sweet-william deep pink.


Annuals, bulbs, as well as some clean air plants which do their own perpetuating are invaluable in bringing unexpected color contrasts or harmonies to the garden. Brilliant blue Agathea aethiopica is lovely with cherry-red helianthemums, and the lesser of the two dingle grasses, Briza minor, at one sea-son brought fairiness to a group of volunteer lobelias in light, bright blue and white. And anyone who lets his babianas and sparaxis seed themselves knows what startling results ensue when exceptional shades show up in the scilla colony or come out of a blazing plant of blue lithospermum Heavenly Blue. Anagalis, in blue and in tomato-red, Linaria maroccana in yellow, purple, mauve and lilac, all are splendid companion pieces, and the linaria is particularly valuable because of its spike-shaped flower heads.


Nature doesn’t have to do it all. We can take things into our own hands and create our own pictures, and there are annuals suitable for this purpose in every garden on the West Coast. Use the grace and sweetness of Papaver heterophylla and see how much appeal its bendy bud stems and its tangerine, maroon-blotched flowers will add. Put the deep, rich magnolia purple of old honesty behind blue and blue-purple April flowering cinerarias, and be sure not to side-step the dusty mauves, gray-purples and ashes-of-roses of tall annual nicotines. The advantage of using annuals for purposeful plantings is that the seed sowing or the transplanting can be con-trolled to make the blossoming come to pass at the appointed time.