Of course a garden is more than flowers. There’s weeds and bugs too! The nice thing about gardening in this region – the mid-atlantic – is that we can create a garden that has flowers blooming nearly 12 months of the year. Sure those late fall and winter flowers may not be the showstopper the Hibiscus pictured above is, but they are flowers nonetheless. Summer is the time when flowers abound, annuals like impatiens, begonias and marigolds brighten up gardens throughout the warmer months, only succumbing when the first frost hits, turning them into mushy piles of petals. For those of us more inclined towards the perennial persuasion of plants, having blooms throughout the growing season means developing a diversity in the garden that ensures multiple seasons of blooms. It is not as simple as planting rows of impatiens we know will keep blooming through the summer. We have to plan a sequence of flowering to ensure something’s in bloom whenever we gaze into the garden. I love this challenge. When I worked in an urban educational garden, I challenged myself to create a garden with 4 seasons of blooms. Not just four seasons of interest, which we had, but I wanted visitors to see flowers in the city whenever they visited. Through careful selection and combination of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs flowers could be found 12 months of the year, much to my delight and to the delight of the visitors.
But there’s so much more to a garden than flowers. I always tell my students while flowers may be present for just a short time, foliage is there a lot longer and you should always consider the foliage when you are planning to add a plant to the garden. When considering interest in the garden and bloom times, don’t forget about the foliage!
This was cemented in my brain after a trip to Costa Rica. I had never been there before and it was pre-google (& pre-digital camera – 23 rolls of film later!). I was expecting orchids dripping off the trees, practically slapping me in the face everywhere I went. I expected carpets of tropical flowers lining every road and trail. What I didn’t expect was green. Lots of green, everywhere green and not many flowers to speak of (well, at least compared to what my vivid imagination conjured). During a canopy tour, I peered over the swinging bridge railing into the top of the rain forest and noticed how different all the green was. There were countless shades of green and the textures ranged from the coarse Monstera speciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant to the lacy Tree Fern. It was fantastically beautiful. From then on I had an appreciation for how beautiful and interesting foliage can be.
My recent visit to the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College really solidified for me what one can do in a garden by simply taking a considered look at foliage.