COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Give garden a dramatic touch

The second week of February is time to celebrate a symphony of spring at the Northwest Flower and Garden show staged each year in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. This year the show runs today, Wednesday, through Feb. 12. Music is the theme chosen for the theme gardens this year and there will be plenty of tunes along with notes of fragrance and plants that waltz through the spectacular indoor displays.

Creating a garden is a lot like creating a symphony when you think about the repetition of plants and colors the way a melody reoccurs in a musical composition. But I like a lot of drama in a garden design. That means opera in the musical world, so here are some practical ways to add drama to your own back yard – or stage a performance for all the neighbors to see in the front.

Garden Opera: The Dramatic Divas

Add delphiniums to your landscape this summer. Delphiniums sing the blues with elegant long legs and strong voices. Delphiniums may be demanding with drinking problems, chemical dependencies and requiring lots of support – doesn’t that sound just like a diva?

So now I must confess that delphiniums commit suicide in my garden and are always attacked by slugs then rudely ignored by me as they grow ugly. Some operas are tragic, some divas die young. Not much you can do about that.

More divas: Add a canna, banana or palm tree to the landscape for shock and awe – but remember that these star players demand a lot of attention and need to be constantly in the spotlight for maximum heat and sun exposure.

Garden Opera: The Villains

Troublemakers, scoundrels and love affairs gone wrong. The plot thickens in any garden when you plant garden thugs like bamboo, lamium yellow archangel, wood hyacinth or that horrid villain with the British accent, English ivy. Some of the worst offenders even sneak into your beds as gifts from “friends.” If someone offers you all that you want of a certain plant, find out why they want to get rid of it.

More villains: Beware of not just groundcovers gone wild but also theft of foliage caused by deer and tragic, early deaths of sweet young beauties caused by frost, wind or a real tragedy – death by thirst as you forget to water.

This spring, many home owners will be replacing Japanese maples and other star players lost to the ravages of the ice storm. The danger is in the month of August when these newly-planted trees plead for extra water and the cries go unanswered. You will need to water new trees and shrubs for at least two summers so they can establish a solid root system before they can find water during our dry months.

Garden Opera: The Heroes

Show me a garden hero and I’ll show you a plant placed in the right place with a love of our climate and weather conditions. Many are native or with native roots like rhododendrons, Pieris, heucheras, Japanese maples and the always seen but never appreciated moss monster.

Only the phantom of the opera could understand how our native moss – green, uncomplaining and a wonderful backdrop and support to other native plants – is so hated, banished and tossed into the murky underground by gardeners without a heart. Consider for a moment that moss fills dark corners, shaded tree trunks and damp soil where nothing else wants to grow. Then imagine the beauty that sheets of moss add to pots of spring bulbs set into a basket, to topiary forms waiting to be filled with new plant growth, to low spots too damp for a real lawn. Unmask the bad reputation moss has been given and move the phantom to center stage – moss lawns are much more practical in Western Washington than the closely cropped grasses meant for dry climates.

More Garden Heroes: I nominate boulders that fill in for bushes as rock solid heroes in the garden, as well as garden benches, bird baths and a wide, well-designed pathway. Garden heroes have a strong voice and give the garden plot more structure. Hearty and healthy evergreen plants are also heroes of the strong and silent type in the garden and might I suggest the evergreen yew plant (the genus Taxus) as the best-behaved evergreen, especially for dark and shaded spots. Every opera needs a supporting cast and sometimes the real stars are all about yew.

Yes, every landscape has a story to tell, so add some drama to yours with divas, villains and heroes in the garden.


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