I’ve never planted this plant before. Isn’t that great!

I enjoy working with plants that are totally familiar.  I can recognize them at any stage of their growth, I know how fast they grow, what they combine well with, what conditions they require – everything.

But do I want only to use those plants?  Of course not.  Using plants that were not familiar is how the plants that are familiar got that way.

Whenever I design a garden I try to use about 10% of plants I’m not familiar with.  (With my clients’ knowledge, of course.  They usually accept my disclosure when I’m going through the plant list with them.)

I’m not coming from total ignorance.  I do a lot of research, formerly using my rather vast library, now more on the internet.  But I do know, in an abstract kind of way, what the new (to me) plants will do.  I have to say though, that all the research in the world is not the same as seeing and living with a plant, live and in person and hands on.

So here at Timshala, I’ve been putting in several unfamiliar plants – with full approval from my client (that would be me).

I had never planted Bald Cypress before. Taxodium

Or Golden Rain Tree. Kohlreuteria

Or Aronia brilliantissima. Aronia brilliantissima fall color

Or Viburnum pragense. Viburnum pragense

These are all plants that are being recommended to me as being suitable for the soil and climate here.  And not surprisingly, they are doing beautifully.

And next time I use them, they will no longer be on the list of “Never used that before”.   They will  have become familiar and  I will have to find other plants for the next “Unfamiliars’  list.  Yeah!!!

Driveway trees are blooming

One of the most important parts of the design is the entrance, the trees lining the driveway on the way to the house.  They lead the eye…and the car…and the mind.  And, especially when underplanted with large shrubs, slightly screen the garden from view so the garden beyond becomes a series of surprises.

I started out wanting Hawthornes, a life-long dream, but was persuaded not to use them as they are subject to, and co-host, Cedar-Hawthorne disease and the co-host Red Cedars are native here and  ubiquitous.  So I spent a lot of time trying to find my next choice, the single-flowering Cherry, Sargent Cherry, Prunus sargentii.  However it does not seem to be available here and I’m told that Cherries generally don’t do well in this climate.

Finally, after a lot of anguish (yes, this is the kind of thing that gives a garden designer sleepless nights!)  and a lot of suggestions from a lot of people, one suggestion “took”.  Dennis Patton, the always helpful Horticulture Agent at Johnson County Extension (www.johnson.ksu.edu) suggested Kohlreuteria, the Golden Rain Tree.  Kohlreuteria June 2015. full tree in bloom

It is the right size.  Has a handsome shape.  Beautiful yellow flowers drop to the ground like “rain” – therefore the Golden Rain Tree — leaving straw colored seedheads that persist.  And it is likely to be successful here; it actually likes the soil and climate.

We put in twelve of them last month and so far ten are blooming and beginning to do their job.

The Importance of Motion

I have been watching people walk along the driveway, now (as of a few days ago) lined on both sides with a dozen Kohlreuteria – Golden Rain Trees.  The trees are about 6’ to 8’ tall now, nowhere near their future majestic 20’ -25’.  And yet, one can see that the visitors are aware of the driveway in a way they weren’t before the trees went in.  They, and I also,  walk more deliberately, more experiencing of the driveway and its goal: the house at the end.  The house is no less visible than it was a week ago.  But here is the difference: now it isn’t just ‘over there’; the approach itself has become a sensory and visual experience.

Almost everyone who now visits and strolls through the garden “gets it” this way in some sense.  It is still very raw; there are now lots of baby trees and shrubs everywhere, but they truly are babies.  It will be several years before the actual spaces created by the plantings start to take shape.

The woodland will be defined by the shade created by large trees and the layers of understory trees and shrubs and groundcovers.  The orchard trees will be their own space, with a low-growing colorful grassy area defining that space.  And so on, for each of the areas we have planned.

And yet, visitors already seem to experience those spaces and shapes, which will actually come later.

Here is what I think is the reason:  the one thing is complete is the paths.  And in a sense I think this – motion — is the essence of what makes the garden a garden.   This is probably true for every garden.

In a garden, motion is the interplay between plants and us.  The plantings define the spaces; the paths and openings help define the plantings.

Motion takes place at many levels.  We have the driveway;  the major 4’wide walking paths; the large stepping stone paths; the mown paths through grasses and meadows.  A different kind of level is within the plantings themselves.  Even where we don’t actually walk, we can create a sense of motion with plantings that move the eye.

For example, you don’t actually step through a “trail” of Hostas winding through a large bed of ferns – but your eye does.  The pop of red from poppies waving in a distant meadow causes you to change the focus of your vision to the meadow, another kind of motion.  I think of these as mental motion.

And I think this is why so many people are enjoying the garden, immature though it is.