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Threading Things Together

Posted on 20 April 2012

web iris for column

Now that I have gathered every variety of hellebore on the East End of Long Island into my hot little hands, my focus is turning to some of the other early spring bloomers popping up in the garden and at the garden centers. It appears that my forget-me-nots have disappeared due to over-energetic edging, so they will have to be replaced, but they’re not in yet, so my dirty fingers are wandering towards other interesting temptations.

I vowed this year I would be better at creating a tapestry of plants that have coherence and not just be seduced by the showy things that so often catch my eye; so along with the big flowers, I’m trying to make sure I’m bringing home plants that knit areas together.

I’ve always thought the best deal in the world was to buy Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) in the 4”-size people sell as an annual for pots, and instead stick it in the ground. After years of doing this, I’m finally starting to build up a momentum of chartreuse that works fantastically as connective stitches between different plant families.

I discovered the spotted dead nettle or lamium called ‘Purple Dragon’ last year, with a large white splotch on the leaf and a great purple flower that’s going gangbusters this spring. It’s much, much more vigorous than other varieties, so a few more jumped into my car and followed me home along with another variety called ‘Ghost’ that has the same deep purple snapdragon like flower and a bigger white blotch, but is meant to be an even taller, more vigorous version. I’m going to have a run off between the two to see which does better and I feel compelled to bring ‘White Nancy’ home, too, just because a girl can never have too many white flowers in her yard.

I also snatched up some of the variegated white edge salvia nipponica ‘Fuji Snow.’ It really isn’t about flowering (it has yellow blah flowers in mid summer that really do nothing for me); but, instead, is spreading nicely under the shade of my largest apple tree. And that’s a tough spot; my ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’ is just sort of sitting there sulking, so more of it just happened to jump into the car.

I know, I know, I know that for us plantaholics there’s always room for one more plant to squeeze in somewhere, but too many onesies and twosies end up as a polka dotted jumble, so repetition is the key — and a great excuse to buy things in bunches. At least five at a time is my new rule. This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to still slip one of each of those beautiful new tiarellas into my box of things I have to have; but it also means that when I’m deciding which of the two new edging salvias in the dimension series, I’m going to make sure I buy enough to make a real impact. I have to have the deep violet, rose-colored one, but I have to wait, because they were snatched up so fast it made my head spin.

For some reason, I’ve never really used a lot of astilbes in the garden, but I adore goatsbeard, especially the dwarf aruncus called ‘Misty Lace.’ I think their flowers are just a little prettier and I love the way their lacey textured foliage blends in with other leaves, especially with epimediums. Now you might be a huge barrenwort fan, but if you don’t have soil that’s too heavy and they survive the winter, they will spread and run and eventually even take over your shady, dry places. And that’s a rare and amazing quality in a plant. I can’t remember if it was five or seven that I added to my ever-growing pile, but I could have used a couple dozen.

Creating a tapestry doesn’t always mean buying just groundcovers, it also means thinking about how plants go together. So when you buy those amazing spring blooming plants, that you know you have to have and you know will go dormant, remember you should also plant something at the same time that will fill in later and cover the bare spot. With bleeding hearts, dicentra, the obvious partners are hostas and ferns — depending on your deer situation; but I recommend brunnera. People also suggest heuchera, but I murder those puppies with such impunity each year that this spring I’m going to try tiarellas and heucherellas instead, both of which seem a little tougher to me.

With oriental poppies, you can either use coreopsis or Russian sage or black-eyed susans or crocosmia. Anything that’s going to come into full flower after the poppies do their thing, but don’t push up so much foliage that they shade the plant out before it goes dormant will work. In other words don’t use daylilies like I did, as they’ll just run roughshod over the poppies. This year I only have three left as the rest got swallowed up. My solution? I’m trying the suggestion of a friend who planted bearded iris with the poppies, so guess what else is squeezing into the car? A mess of those new wine colored reblooming irises I spotted on the plant racks with a bushel of hot pink ‘Watermelon’ oriental poppies. Whoops I guess there’s not going to be a lot of room left in the car!


Paige Patterson is loved by her friends – especially the one who brought her a bag of Ivory Prince Hellebores from Whole Foods in Manhattan!

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