The thing about a garden is that it never looks the same as it did the last time you looked. A tree may grow leaves….then flowers…then berries…then the leaves change color…then they fall, exposing the bark. No matter when you take a stroll through the garden it always looks a little different than it did the last time.
Whenever I have visitors to my garden, no matter how much they are admiring of what they see, I find myself explaining that it doesn’t always look ‘this’ way; That last week those Irises were not blooming and they will stop blooming in a couple of weeks but the flowers will be replaced by seedheads that I like to use in dried arrangements.
Those big, blowsy white flowers that just appeared on the Oak Leaf Hydrangeas will be pink in a couple of weeks. The blue sheets of Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) that are covering the ground will disappear completely, replaced by whatever plants come up in their place – Irises, Japanese Anemones, Ornamental Grasses, etc. And they will also change – the grasses, for example starting out as green leaves, then perhaps adding soft, beigy-pink plumes, then turning gold for autumn.
So when people ask me when the garden is at its best I don’t have an answer. Except…you should have seen it last week…or you should come back next week.
This changing beauty is one of the things I love about gardening, so it’s not really a lament. Rather, it’s the Gardener’s Song and we sing it constantly.
Like Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme who discovered he had been using prose all his life…I have been doing succession planting all my life. But I only recently (a few years ago) read an article by the late Christopher Lloyd in which he named it.
What it describes is a way of having a succession of different plant ‘pictures’ in the same spot. So as one plant either dies down for the season, or finishes flowering, another plant in the same spot comes to the fore. Some common examples that most gardeners have seen or used are early Daffodils in the lawn, the Daffodils flowering in early spring, then disappearing as the lawn greens up; spring bulbs similarly can bring early color to the perennial border which then covers their dying leaves; early blooming sun loving plants can do well under the shade of deciduous trees – because the sun lovers get their needs fulfilled before the now-leafy trees shade the area.
Some examples I have used in past gardens (and may well use again). Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ interplanted with Allium aflatunense. The rich, purple balls of the Allium flowers are lovely; but the leaves always turn brown at the tips and look weather-beaten even when they’re not. The Heuchera not only hides the unsightly leaves; the effect is as if the Allium flower is growing from the Heuchera leaves and the colors of the leaves and flowers complement each other wonderfully. Then by the time the Allium flowers are over, the Heuchera’s own creamy froth of flowers take over.
Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) interplanted with Siberian Iris and Japanese Anemone. The brilliant blue Chionodoxa bulbs make a better and better show as the years progress – and appear while the Irises are just beginning to come up in the early spring. Then the Iris leaves and the Anemone leaves) take over the area and cover the yellowing Chionodoxa leaves. The Irises begin to flower in June and after those flowers are over the area becomes( for a while ) a lovely contrast in green texture — tall slim Iris leaves and Maple-like Anemone leaves. Then by summer’s end the Anemones begin to flower until frost.
It takes some knowledge of various plants’ ‘schedules’, and yes, sometimes the planned succession doesn’t work out quite as well as it should. But when it does l it is so much fun to watch an area change – almost magically –over the weeks and months.