Sunday Opinion: The Plants

 faux bois

The heart and soul of any landscape is the plants.  As much as I love a fine bench, or a great galvanized tub, or my edger strip that keeps weeds out of my beds, or my deck with its comfortable chairs, or my tools, or my granite mulch, or my fountain, the really important news is almost always about the plants.  Beautiful plants always get my attention.  New ones intrigue me.  Old favorites bring back memories.  Great combinations never cease to interest me.

 magnolia Butterflies 

The frost destroyed every flower on all twelve of my magnolia trees-this is news.  OK, this is news in my world.  I have a very small urban property.  The magnolias are a big part of my landscape.  If you love magnolias as much as I do, those few fleeting weeks in the spring in which they bloom is a treasure.  That flowering cut short- heartbreaking.  Though I knew the trees themselves were not damaged,  I still worried about them.  The frost wrecked brown blooms of my Galaxy magnolias are still holding on-a daily reminder of a personally grievous event that warrants no press, no mourners besides me.

perennial garden designMy most favorite moments in the garden happen unexpectedly.  A clematis comes into bloom.  The Norway maple send forth leaves.  The lawn greens up, thickens, and grows almost overnight, given some spring weather.  A trout lily comes from no where and blooms.  The roses bud, and bloom, filling my side yard with that fragrance I associate with June.  The little plants I set in my pots flush out, and make a music I have heretofore not heard.  A hummingbird visits, fleetingly. All of what the plants provide to a landscape is one miraculous event after another. 

boxwood hedge

A large tree can provide shelter from the sun.  An old tree puts one’s own mortality in perspective.  A boxwood hedge can satisfy a need for order.  A wildflower garden satisfies that need to experience the primeval forest.  A rock garden successfully planted and maintained provides that particular pleasure-knowing you have suitably provided for a unique environment.  Growing food for your family dovetails with that most elemental instinct-to make a better world, to nurture.  By far and away, the most popular plant we carry in the shop is rosemary.  The pungent smell speaks strongly to the garden.  Cut sprigs season the dinner.  A wedding featuring rosemary features the garden.  Rosemary is a symbol of loyalty and remembrance.     

  white Japanese anemone

Spring flowering bulbs attest to patience, vision and belief in the future.  Fall blooming perennials bravely provide interest and color late in the year.  Tropical plants take the heat.  They grow to astonishing proportions.  Ornamental grasses court the wind.  The grass is a place for the corgis to play, and a place where the eye can rest. A grove of trees provides shelter from a sudden summer shower.   An espaliered apple tree occupies a very small space, but can produce lots of fruit.  Succulents are so sculptural in appearance, and need little in the way of care.   

landscape design

The moon and the Mohave desert are landscapes with capital L’s, but I would not want to live in either place.  I like land densely populated with all manner of plants. How many plants does it take to make a good landscape design?  As many as you can add to your vocabulary and experience.  Or as few as you like. As big, or as little as you like.  But a working knowledge of plants is essential. Design decisions involve making choices, so there has to be something from which to choose.    


There is no need to open a book.  The plants will tell you what they like and what they don’t.  Feel free to move plants around-they handle it well if you are careful with their root ball.  It’s about time for the plants-are you ready?