I have resigned myself to the fact that there are literally one thousand and one
ways to design every garden. The secret to success is finding the combination
of proportion, color, and texture of the plants that suits both the site and all
that you dreamed it would be.
Conquering the site seems second nature to most, but we all seem to get caught
up in interpreting our dreams and bringing them to reality. I have found that
with many gardeners your gardening memories from childhood play the biggest part
of what you inherently believe your garden should look like.
As a young girl I can remember being completely overwhelmed by the amount of
space in which I had to garden. I grew up on a small farm with a large yard
and an even larger vegetable garden and lots of pasture space for roaming. The
first landscapes I dreamed that would be my own were big with large groves of
trees and big sweeping perennial beds, yet I was always drawn to the details.
I can vividly recall the native grove of persimmon trees standing tall around
The common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is as difficult to find as it is
to transplant. While my garden now is small in comparison to those in my first
dreams, I still believe I have the perfect spot in my urban back yard for a
persimmon. I am not really interested in the fruit. It is all the other characteristics
that I want.
Persimmons are dioecious, which means that male and female flowers are borne
on separate plants. So it is possible to select and plant only male cultivars
if fruit would prove to be too messy in your landscape. The wood is very hard
and the bark is thick and dark, almost black, and very blocky. The leaves are
simple and glossy green with yellow-red and purple fall color. This tree typically
has more of a slender outline, making it suitable for a narrower space. The
tallest persimmon I have seen in Kentucky was about 30 feet.
Rows of hostas
I have met many people who have designed part of their landscape because of
a memory or because of some historical significance. My own neighbor has a row
of hostas on either side of the sidewalk as you enter the house from the street.
I only recently discovered that he designed it this way because that was how
his front walk was when he was growing up. Now as he and I make a few renovations
in the front I will make sure to keep the hosta plantings as is, regardless
of how the design evolves and changes.
A tremendous horticulturist, great teacher, and mentor to my husband Tony and
me recently passed away. At his funeral all kinds of plants were discussed and
we found out that the hardy begonia, Begonia grandis, plants that he gave us
years earlier and which now prosper in our garden, were grown from plants that
were originally his father’s. No matter where we live we will make certain that
a piece of our hardy begonias goes with us. I hope one day we can plant them
in our children’s gardens and we can share the story of how these plants came
to mean so much.
This hardy begonia looks similar to the common annual varieties we are familiar
with but with a few differences. The leaves are green with bright-red veins
and they get larger in size toward the base of the plant. This perennial plant
will grow to about 2 feet in height each season, with an abundance of pink flowers
that are 1 inch wide and droop from the plant in small clusters. Hardy begonia
is a shade-lover and will bloom from mid-summer through fall in your garden.
Plants for future generations
Another plant that we have inherited has always been one of my favorites-a perennial
geranium, Geranium sanguineum. It was my husband Tony’s great-grandfather’s
and it grew in his yard in the Portland area of Louisville around 1910. It has
been passed down to each generation and now resides in our garden waiting for
our children to grow.
The perennial geranium is another shade-lover but will grow in partial sun where
the soil is moist. It has bright-pink flowers that rise above the foliage, making
an excellent display of color. It grows only about 10 to 12 inches tall but
forms a nice uniform clump, and the foliage remains attractive even after blooming
is complete. It is a perfect plant for the shady perennial border or rock garden.
While I love plants and gardening I am constantly drawn to the human side of
every garden: how and why gardens are transformed and built from large open
areas to the most intimate of spaces. I always want to know why certain common
or unusual plants end up in the oddest of locations. For me it truly goes back
to my childhood. My dream was that every garden was just like mine, ready to
be transformed. That’s what gardening is about-a dream and people who know and
love the space to bring it all together.