By Linda Roe
Certified Professional Horticulturist, Wight’s Home & Garden
A question posed to me recently asked “What is the ultimate gardeners’ garden?” I got to thinking about my garden and my gardening friends, customers and coworkers gardens. They are all so different and yet, we, and our gardens have a few things in common. These are not the glossy magazine cover gardens. Our gardens are the 99% gardens, maintained without help, except for maybe a drafted spouse, or a cash strapped teenager. Our gardens are plant-centric. We have the uncommon varieties: the rare white form of a plant, the prized variegated leaved one, the tiny alpine version. We have tags which mark the spots where plants rest in peace during dormancy. We tend, contrary to design advice, to have one of everything. The resulting muddled mess we call a ‘cottage garden’. Our gardens tend to be a little weedy. We are more inclined to spend our precious gardening time propagating, planting, deadheading, pruning and mulching. We do weed, of course, but not meticulously. We have patience. We love to get the small plants and watch them grow. We anticipate the flowers to be. If a plant dies, we mourn its loss, and then look forward to planting a new one in its place. We have all killed plants (usually the most expensive plant!). It was so rare and beautiful (at least the picture was) and we had to have it!
Some gardeners are collectors. They pick (obsess over) one particular genre, or group of plants, and have to have every species and variety of it they can find. Rosarians are a classic example of this. While the rest of us save only our special favorites of these demanding divas, rosarians are willing slaves to the queen of flowers. Their devotion is rewarded handsomely throughout the summer with flower and fragrance. Japanese maples and dwarf conifers are fun to collect, but they require a fat wallet and a fair amount of space. Many collectors of perennial plants will hunt the bargain tables until they find their battered treasure. They will take it home, repot it in good soil, and nurture it along, then give this now healthy and beautiful plant a prime spot in their garden. Any type of plant can be the start of a collection. I know two Oriental poppy collectors. There are lots of cultivars, they are easy to find, and showy in bloom. Plant collector nerds with shady gardens won’t be contented with shrubs, bark and ground cover. They start out with hostas. They will have every variety of leaf variegation possible. They will have the huge-leaved ‘Sum and Substance’ and the tiny ‘Mouse Ears’. They will have green leaved ones and blue leaved ones and yellow leaved ones. When tired of hostas, shade gardeners will then move on to the rare ferns, hardy orchids and species of Arisaema. It’s all or nothing with shade gardeners.
Vegetable gardeners are a breed unto themselves. Every sunny windowsill is filled with tomato and pepper starts. They grow the blue potatoes and the blue corn. Carrots aren’t just orange in their potluck salads; they are purple, yellow and white. They try watermelon, even though they know it won’t grow here. They have zucchini, lots of zucchini. Veggie gardeners have the biggest compost piles and the bags of manure piled high against the garage wall. Veggie gardeners also grow fruit, if they have the space. Make friends and do nice things for a veggie gardener, they always grow too much and love to share.
I think most passionate gardeners start out trying to have, and do, it all. We will constantly move a plant around, trying to make it happy, or fit it into a design scheme. Our idea of a good winter read is a nice thick spring seed and plant catalog, or a favorite garden website. Our lawns get smaller. We plant every perennial, shrub and tree we can afford. We gardeners grow with our gardens; we learn from experience. We’ve killed roses in the shade and fried hostas in the sun. We’ve drowned plants and dried them up. We’ve learned to tolerate a few chewed leaves. And we still walk around our overgrown gardens with a cup of coffee and a new plant in our hands trying to shoehorn in yet another favorite. Our gardens are never finished. From the rare and exquisite to the common and tough, a gardeners’ garden is as unique as the gardener that tends it. Our gardens are full of the plants we love.