Ordinary Plants In Extraordinary Gardens

runktrun(z7a MA)July 3, 2008

This week after reading the following by Carl18; One last word about the 'commercialization' of gardening and all those nurseries and growers that are hell-bent on producing dozens of NEW and THRILLING varieties each year('Let's hear it for plant swaps, divisions and seeds!') -

give me an interesting garden of solid old standards, well presented, any time, over a tired collection of this year's trendiest plants combined with last year's tired novelties!

and a great little piece linked below written by By Carol King Platt in the NY Times, I began to give some thought to those older more commonly used varieties. To be frank many of the old tried and true plants I tend not to buy for two reasons; one been there done that, and secondly it tend to associate certain plants with certain time periods and garden styles much in the same way that I could never look at an avocado appliance without associating it with kitchens of the 60s and 70Âs. I do think however that Carl and Ms Platt make a great case for rethinking the use of these commonly used plants by incorporating them with an uncommon design. This season I found myself with more Stachys byzantine Lambs Ears than any one gardener should own and created a new garden layering that in front followed by lavender and ÂThe Fairy rose which is a design repeated in many landscapes in my neck of the woods. How would you have used the Lambs Ears in a more creative way? What plant combinations have you created using common and uncommon plants that youÂre thrilled with? What are some of the old standards that you wouldnÂt garden without? IÂd love to see some photos as well. Kt

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dawiff(z7 WA)

While I certainly can't speak to the well-situated part, I have to admit to a certain fondness for the following extremely common plants:

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Hemerocallis 'Barbara Mitchell'

Hemerocallis 'Strawberry Candy'

Echinacea purpurea (although I think the Swallowtail thought that Echinacea was very well situated)

And Nasturtiums (they're just so cute)

I don't think I have any uncommon plants, and my combinations are almost never planned. I actually have a border that was mostly designed by an almost five-year old.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 6:53PM
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the avocado appliance comment caught my eye. I recently saw a kitchen redesign show where they featured oil rubbed bronze appliances as a new alternative to stainless steel. It caught my eye because I need new applicances (one of these days) and I'm not crazy about SS and I love everything else ORB. But then I realized that ORB appliances looks very similar to the 70's "copper brown" appliances that followed the avocado trend. blech...

interesting question re common/uncommon. Something to ponder. I wonder how lambs ear would work in a container? or how about edging for some of the new bronze/purple physocarpus cultivars?

Personally, I love silver and purple. I have my lambs ear in front of catmint and Salvia May Night and Dark Knight buddleia.

Classic combos are probably classics for a good reason. trend designs are probably as bad as trend plants... more to fixup later when we tire of it.

Here's an old discussion on lambs ear companions:


    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 7:34PM
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mayalena(6 - MetroWest Boston)

Hi Katy.

Loved that piece from the NY Times -- thanks for the link. She almost convinced me to get some white impatiens for the bed from which my spring ephemerals have disappeared. Maybe I will tomorrow!

Carl's last line about a garden well-planted with classics really resonated with me too. I was just thinking on Monday, when I returned to my garden after a 2-week+ absence, that it's the "old standards" that are really looking great right now. It's also my "full sun neglect beds" that are looking really wonderful. Perhaps that's to be expected, with lots of rain and lots of neglect!

As to creative combos with old standards...I don't know enough to know whether my combos are new or old, original or knock off. I am still a new-enough gardener that I don't associate certain plants with certain periods. I guess that frees me to do what I want without baggage! I do like to think in terms of combos when I plant, and I'll try to get some pics later today. Maybe you can tell me whether they are original or not!

A couple of thots on Lamb's Ear:

You could get an antique commode (or an old outhouse), and plant lamb's ear around it...or in an old chamber pot..... Wasn't that one of the traditional uses for the plant?

Seriously, for me, playing with textures and shades of green feels new. I love stachys with achillea foliage and nepeta and especially with pinus mugo or other needle-y stuff, tho Alison's thots on stachys and salvia do make me want to go rearrange in one of my beds! I also love stachys near my red-twig variegated dogwood, where the leaf shapes and colors are highly complementary. And tho I am largely afraid of grasses, the thot of stachys with some grasses is compelling....

Off to celebrate the day with my babes. Happy 4th.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 9:43AM
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Lambs ears, fairy rose and lavender are 3 of my favorite plants; they've earned their place in gardens by looking (and in 1 case, smelling) great for a long part of the season.

I guess I use lambs ear in an unconventional way, by letting them run ramshod over more desirable plants, letting the flower stalks stand, and oohing and aahing over seedlings when I should be pulling them up. LOL, they are just so darn cute and fuzzy.

Re: trendy plants, I have to admit I just added a black lace sambuccus to my garden and have been wondering how long it will take to get tired of it.

I was looking for info on an unusual plant (can't recall what it was specifically) on line and ran into a web site that specialized in oddities. The home page said something like "we recognize that some of our plants are rare for a reason" - that's been a phrase we use all the time, but usually describing our dog, not plants. I DO have some rare plants that clearly have drawbacks, and will never be trendy for one reason or another.

Yes, you can make an Extraordinary Garden with Ordinary Plants, and vice versa.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 11:56PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

dawiff, thanks for sharing the photos I particularly like Barbara Mitchell
wendy, thanks for the link interesting old discussion with a couple of combos that I may try. I don't pop over to the perennials forum very often I wonder if folks are still discussing lambs ears or are they more intrigued by the 5000 varieties of echinacea?
You could get an antique commode (or an old outhouse), and plant lamb's ear around it...or in an old chamber pot..... Wasn't that one of the traditional uses for the plant? LOL I don't think I will ever look at this plant in quite the same way again!
I have to admit I just added a black lace sambuccus to my garden and have been wondering how long it will take to get tired of it.
My very thoughts exactly but I paired it with a clematis that is a STUNNING combination. When my current rodent situation is resolved I'll post a photo and check the name on the clematis.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 2:26PM
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I've always liked classic plants and classic furnitue and clothes for that matter. I do have soms of the "new" varieties sprinkled in here and there but the real workhorses are the nepetas, echinaceas, coreopsis, etc that have been around for years. They're usually stronger and don't need as much coddling. It bothers me that plant breeers take classic shapes like echinaceas and transform them into bizarre things with pompons, quills, etc. but I can understand making plants dwarfer or more disease resistant. I know they're only trying to create new plants to keep the public buying every year but some of these become fads like clothing fads.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 3:13PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

It bothers me that plant breeders take classic shapes like echinaceas and transform them into bizarre things with pompons, quills, etc.
I couldn't agree with you more. One particular variety 'Doppelganger' that grows a second flower on top of and hiding the beautiful cone is one plant I will never understand.kt

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 1:11PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Well, I have lots of ordinary plants in my garden. I love plain old forsythia in the spring, with lots of plain old yellow daffodils, and I've got plain old lilacs growing. Right now I'm enjoying the incredibly common orange daylilies in my yard (along with other, named varieties).

But then again, I don't have an extraordinary garden, lol, so I can't really comment on that aspect. I will say that I always enjoy some of the more common plants, no matter where I see them. (Well, except for those boring plain old green hostas! Goodness, with all the gorgeous hostas out there, can't one find something beside the Walmart Green variety?)

Someone may have already said it above, but they are classics - or even just common, for that matter - for a reason.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 2:39PM
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actually I use plain green hostas to break up the chaos of a lot of variegated ones or to get a large-leaf solid affect in an extra busy garden spot. I found an attractive green one last year that has nice shiny leaves (should be sun tolerant, anti-slug) and a slight wavey edge. I might trash my more plain greens and replace with that plain green one.

Speaking of S. 'Black Lace', I have mine paired with Tradescentia (sp?) 'Sweet Kate' which has golden foliage and purple flowers on and off throughout the season. A bit dramatic (read: will tire of it later), but so far I like it.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 3:25PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Love your 'Sarah Bernhardt', dawiff. I am torn...I enjoy new varieties of plants within reason, but from a careful and natural breeding program. I love plain old Echinacea, Delphiniums, Poppies and a long list more, if I took the time to consider it further. Yet, many of the newer varieties and offerings are very tempting. Tempting but not always delivering on their promise. Now I just read a 2007 article in Horticulture magazine about transgenic ornamental plants that is very disturbing and gave me much to think about. I now feel I need to be much more careful about knowing what I am buying and growing.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 3:51PM
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The problem with Getrude Jekyll's gardens, if I'm not off my rocker (a strong possibility after the weekend I've had) is that she relied so strongly on color that her gardens during off season were pretty dreadful. She designed for people who wintered in the south of France, not for people in the New England 'burbs. Or, I could be making that up...

One of my absolute favorite plants is a new coreopsis, Sweet Dreams. If it had been available 50 years ago we'd think of it as an old standby.

Maybe what's good about it is that it's not especially unusual, it's just a long-blooming, reliable plant with a great multi-color flower. It doesn't look like something that's brand new!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 5:23PM
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Alison: you've been taking pictures in my garden again!
Every single plant on your list resides in my beds now and
in almost every other garden I've owned. . .but your terrific photos certainly point out just badly I need to
get me a digital camera so that I can share more. . .

Daylilies are certainly one of the "old standards" I was referring to in my earlier comments. . .NOT necessarily
those "new and trendy" concoctions they manufacture year in
and year out, but a lot of the serious contenders that have been time tested. Admittedly, I love hemerocallis -
and I realize that they are not everyone's cup of tea - but
when I first planted a dedicated bed of them, it took me
only that first season to realize how tiresome that looked.
Rather than give up on them, I began experimenting in subsequent seasons, with all manner of combinations (in the
best "mixed border" tradition) until now, these many years
later, they always seem to be noticed by visitors, but
more for their placement than just as dayliles. Example:
just behind a handsome Juniper "Old Gold" (about 3-foot tall, with a lovely golden cast, especially in early summer), there is a 38", rich orange daylily with seven-inch blooms just poking through the peripheral branches of the
juniper. . .other daylilies are used singly in an otherwise mixed border, just because an explosion of color
in that particular spot, at that particular time, is the perfect accent. And here is where "the garden is never finished" concept emerges - it's only by working with these
old standards over an extended time that I feel I've been
able to present each of them at its best. . .as opposed to
being disappointed after one or two seasons, and running out to try one of the "trendy" new creations to correct the problem.

It has proven to be enormously helpful to me to try to log
bloom cycles of these "old standards" as much as possible
over the years - several pleasing combinations have come
about simply becuase I noted that two perennials, on opposite sides of the property, had overlapping bloom times. And again, using hemerocallis as an example, by
knowing their bloom times, I can group complimentary bloomers for a color blend,or create succession blooms, essentially ending up with three distinctly different color accents all in exactly the same spot!

Another example: the much denigrated (by some) Rubeckia
"Goldstrum" ("Those black-eyed susans are SO common!") -
but let's be honest, it's a tough, reliable plant. . .my
gardens have only "patches" of them, not huge sweeps, but
when they burst into bloom, it's a presence hard to ignore.
Quite serendipidously, I had picked up several Achillea
anthea on sale, with no plan in mind (always dangerous!),
but because I had seen a photo on one my favorite websites
(www.lazySSfarm.com - terrific info, photos and just generally excellent as a plant reference) and the color
and height caught my eye. Just wanting to tuck them in
somewhere, they were planted next to a patch of the rudbeckia - and a match made in heaven has materialized before my eyes! The Achillea anthea and the Rudbeckia are EXACTLY the same height, with the pale, pale yellow of
the yarrow boosting the intensity of the golden Rudbeckia . . .can't wait to expand this piece of magic into every one of my patches of black-eyed susans. . .

Visiting other gardens constantly has been the single most
helpful practice for me in appreciating the "old standards", which is why I am forever touting the benefits
of joining the Garden Conservancy -it never ceases to
astound me how so many gardeners can use the same old plants DIFFERENTLY! - and imitation is the highest form
of compliment. . .

And so it goes: there are so many "old standards" out there just waiting for us to re-discover them or re-think
how we use them. . .visiting a friend in Vermont this
past week-end, I was caught completely off-guard at being
"re-introduced" to Valerian officianalis with it's massive white heads of fragrant bloom, towering five feet tall and developing a dull roar in the early morning sun when hundreds of bees descended upon it. . .

Ah, methinks I could just ramble on forever, but I note that many of you are nodding off. . . :)


A footnote: Katy, your provocative posts have clearly been
responsible for a deluge of verbiage from me. . .thanks
for priming my pump!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 6:42PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

"...it never ceases to astound me how so many gardeners can use the same old plants DIFFERENTLY!..."

Excellent point, Carl. And, if I recall correctly, the point Katy was making in her original post - can these common plants be used in creative ways in the garden? I'm using them... I just have to work on the "creative" part, lol.

Wendy, I have nothing against plain green hostas in general, and indeed they can be used very nicely to offset some of the more eye-catching hostas. But as you said - "I might trash my more plain greens and replace them with that plain green one" - there are plain green, and then there are PLAIN GREEN hostas, lol. I was referring to that same old green hosta that I see in every yard where either the person is obviously not an avid gardener, or perhaps where a new garden has been planted. I call it the Walmart Green, because I think this (and perhaps Francis Williams, which I do love) is the only hosta they carry, lol, and it's where many non-gardeners shop for the few plants to landscape their foundations with.


P.S. Carl, would love to see a photo of the juniper and the daylily (hint, hint)!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 7:15PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I make no claim for most of my garden, which I started in 2005, but I have some corners I like which are highlighted by common-as-dirt plants.

Left over from my mother's garden are a couple of roses, probably Dorothy Perkins (blooms once, not fragrant, but hardy). They were sprigs shorter than a foot when I found them smothered by lily of the valley. They've been moved twice and given an arch to climb up.

Along with the roses I found a no-ID garden phlox which lurked until conditions got better. After the phlox re-established itself a no-ID campanula showed up (If it's not a campanula, please let me know). The phlox is a little pinker than it looks in these photos and the campanula a little darker purple.

Old standards have the advantage of being easy to grow - the phlox are swarming everywhere and the rose canes are sneaking through the beds. When the rose stops blooming I have to tie it back and up, and I'm already frantically pulling out phlox, but I have no wish to replace these with newer plants.

Peeking through the arch:

Hey! There's a Downy Woodpecker in there!

Side view of the arch showing campanulas and phlox.

I have nothing against fancy improved cultivars, and I have some, but reliable, hardy performers are always welcome in my garden.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 8:59PM
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Would you consider donating some to my garden since you are pulling it out? (I hope I am not being too brash in asking.) I think I am just up 3A from you, and I have been wanting to try a garden phlox. Since yours seems so healthy, it might do well for me. Please let me know!


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 9:40PM
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Beautiful, Claire. I love that phlox, it looks lovely with the roses.

I suspect the campanula is actually Adenophora confusa, which may behave well for you, or may be a terror, as it is in my garden. It pops up in the center of other plants and can only be dug out by removing about a foot of soil - it's the Borg, in other words, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that somewhere about a mile below the surface, its roots are holding the continent together.

I know it's not invasive everywhere, but on the Cape it's difficult to eradicate. It gets whitefly too ... which annoys the heck out of me for some reason. It sure is pretty when it's flowering!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 9:54PM
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cloud_9(z5 CT)

dtd - you may be interested in this thread from the Perennials forum on confusion between Adenophora confusa and Campanula rapunculoides

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 10:19PM
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Nothing but ordinary plants,
Daylily 'Hyperion' + Hydrangea 'Nikko Blue'

Nikko Blue + Calladium + Ligularia dentata

Juniperus squamata 'Blue star' + Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' + Platycodon grandiflorus 'Sentimental Blue' + Hosta 'Gold Standard'

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 11:14PM
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littleonefb(zone 5, MA)

As a little girl my grandmother, who farmed the flower half of the summer flower and veggie farm, taught me that the gardens where where you "renewed your life, rejuvenated yourself, derived beauty and pleasure of simplicity in nature and life."

My earliest memories of her and my grandfather are in those garden beds, both flowers and veggies, on hands and knees, learning to plant seedlings and how to tell which was a weed and which was a plant.

Of course on occasion grandpa would just say "pull, it. if it comes out easy, you goofed it's a plant and you better stuff it back in the ground and hope grandma doesn't notice, if it's hard to come out, it's a weed and you have to really give it a tug."
Course grandma always heard what he said and she would all but have a heart attack over what he said.

So in a sense, my life all but began on hands and knees in the dirt in gardens learning all that I could. Could that be why at a few years under 60, I have a bum back and just had my second spinal surgery in 2 years?
I've often wondered that as many of the patients I have talked with in the waiting room of my spinal surgeon's office, seems like most of the patients are also avid gardeners? Wonder what that means.

Anyways Grandma always had her garden beds stuffed to the brim with plants so that something was always blooming all the time.

When she ran out of room, she just grabbed whatever was handy that could hold soil and stuffed those too.
Things like old metal wash basins, watering cans, falling apart wheel barrels, she even took my brothers old red wagon till it totally fell apart. She let whatever she put in there just do their thing and grow in whatever way nature decided to have it grow.

So with that idea in mind, I have grabbed whatever I had handy when i ran out of room and done the same kind of thing.

It is amazing how simple and ordinary plants take on a whole new look and meaning when they are placed in something that no one would think of using or letting them just grow they way they want within a container or design.


a dwarf sunflower in a huge pot, accented by hostas and a daylily bed. the hostas are divisions from a neighbor. she has had the original hosta plants for almost 50 years.

alyssum and balsam impatiens in a strawberry jar.

The stunning affect of nasturtium peaches and cream in front of a very old dark blue nikko blue hydrangea

just simple alyssum in a pot inside another pot accented my a victorian girl with a gazing ball.

datura metal growing "it's way" in a pot

old fashioned zinnias doing "their thing" in a pot

the birdbath my not hold water anymore, but is sure holds plants, petunias to be exact.

morning glory in a hanging pot

morning glory in a pot

My daylily bed. It started with those non purest daylilies that many people call "ditch" lilies. but I still love those perenial work horses. I have the double orange, single orange and the orange and burnt orange in there. But over the years named varieties and unnamed varieties have been added. that leaves me with daylilies always in bloom starting with the happy returns, the first to bloom and they repeat bloom all through the summer well into the first early frosts.

Daylily bed

one of three clumps of happy returns


a yellow ruffled

Catherine woodbury in a bed of my mother's plants. This pic shows the color of this daylily that gets more sun than my other one and is more pink than lavender

Catherine woodbury that doesn't get as much sun

an unknown from a plant swap

purple d'oro. continuous blooms till frost.

and these came our of a bag of bare roots that my daughter picked up for me several years ago. She just couldn't resist the price, 1 little quarter for 10 supposed to be hybrid daylilies. So much for whoever counted, there where only 5 in the sealed bag, but after seeing these blooms, i didn't care. A couple i have been able to identify, but not the others.

franz hall

rocket city

a salmon pink


This beautiful gold, and that is the true color in the pic

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 1:57AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

dtd: the campanula/adenophora is no thug here, maybe it's cowed by the phlox and siberian iris and wild roses and sumac and pokeberries and wild cherries and maples and oaks...... which insist on popping up everywhere.

Lisa: The current batch of phlox I pulled out are promised to a neighbor to put on her coastal bank, but I have many many more. Email me through my member page and we can arrange a pickup.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 11:17AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

Your comments and photos have really blown me away. I don't know about the rest of you but I carry your comments with me into the garden with me. Now of course most of the time this learning curve is a good thing, but often I find myself running of to the nursery to try and fix/create a new or copy something I admire. This time however I am anxiously awaiting the next plant swap. Thanks for sharing. kt

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 6:47PM
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This actually had more of an impact before the black-eyed susans came out, but this is one of my favorite common plant combos. Penstemon 'Husker Red' and Artemisia 'Silver Brocade'.

Ok this whole posting photos thing is a little addicting.


    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 7:19PM
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I think you once posted a photo of the Sedum AJ along the front walk of your house. Or maybe my mind is recreating it. If it is still there, would you please post a pix. I think it is truly a memorable use of an ordinary plant in an extraordinary garden.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 8:54PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

I would certainly post a photo of my sedum 'Autum Joy' if I could, I seem to be locked out of photobucket. For a number of years I went to photobucket via my favorites list and over that time my email server changed and of course I never updated my photobucket acct. and now suddenly they want me to remember my password from years ago...like that is ever going to happen.
Anyhoo funny you should mention that path of Autum Joy as just this year I have been seriously considering changing it for something with more winter interest. kt

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 7:16AM
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KT - time to get a picasa web account. They are free and it's very easy to use. I have a gmail acount just for this purpose.

Deb - thanks for that link. Apparently adenorpha is the good twin, the evil one being campanula rapunculoides aka Rampion Bellflower or Creeping Bellflower:

Here is a simple test for distinguishing the two. Take a flower and gently pull off the petals, leaving the style standing in the center. You will be left holding the base of the flower with a bumpy appendage (the ovary) in the middle and the style sticking straight up out of the center. VERY CAREFULLY peel off the outside of the bumpy appendage, leaving the style standing. If underneath, all you see is a flat base to which the style is attached, then you have a campanula. If, however, you see, after the peeling, another bulb-like appendage surrounding the style, then you have an adenophora. An easy way to rogue out all those imposters!

In my case, the plants get so ratty looking by mid-July, and spread so much, that I don't really care what they are. I just want them OUT.

And I agree with Marie, Katy's garden has several examples of great uses of common plants (as well as some very uncommon ones) to create an exceptional garden. As in Claire's gardens, the repetition of these plants, or their use on a grand scale, is a big part of the impact.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 8:57AM
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I just wanted to add one of my old time favorites...Hollyhock. It's one of the few flowers I remember from my childhood (when I had no interest in flowers at all).


    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 9:22AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Lisa said: "Ok this whole posting photos thing is a little addicting." and I nearly choked on my coffee. Addicting it is.

You have a very good eye, Lisa - that color combo is excellent.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 12:20PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

msyoohoo, it's funny that you mention hollyhocks as common flowers. While I think of them as old-fashioned, I do have to say that I don't think of them as common, because I never really see them in any gardens around here. I have one (yes, just one, lol) blooming right now, which I grew from seed last year. And I'm really enjoying my one hollyhock, lol.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 2:07PM
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I found the thread with kt's extraordinary autumn joy display

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 2:44PM
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Dee - you're right, they don't seem to be common now (guess I'm dating myself - lol) but I certainly remember them being common when I was a kid. Mostly singles - mostly reds as I recall.

I have a thing for just about anything pink so this one is a favorite. (Let me trying posting a pic again...)


    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 8:33PM
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Maureen-- I like your hollyhock too. :) In fact I'd love to have them (and could really use the height in my garden), but the ones I've seen, the foliage gets rust and looks pretty ratty by late August. Have you found that to be the case? Do you stake yours?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 12:08PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

To the roses, and adenophora, and phlox, add lily Showboat and an ornamental grass.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 12:18PM
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Pretty pics Claire. Nice color combination.

Greening - this is my first year with it so I don't know about the leaves. I'll try to remember to post at the end of the summer. Once I am able to harvest the seeds, if it gets ratty, I'll cut it down. (I would be happy to share the seeds.) So far I have not had to stake it but I'm watching it just in case.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 12:27PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Maureen, that hollyhock is gorgeous! I tried some Chater's Double Icicle, I think is the name, which is a double white, but I just grew them from seed this spring so I'll have to wait and see. I also tried plants of Peaches and Cream, which never came back for me, and ditto for some other seed-started ones. I'll have to try a little harder in the hollyhock department. I just don't seem to do well with them.

Thanks for the photos!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 1:52PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Although I signed up a while ago on GardenWeb, I have only recently joined back on. Kt, your posts have been wonderful and very thought-provoking. This has been a particular thread I have very much enjoyed and the pictures from everyone are all so beautiful.

I thought of my front slope when you raised the question of ordinary plants. After new construction about 11 years ago, I needed to throw in something that would hold a slope in place. For an interim period, I chose cotoneaster. Did the trick, but was incredibly (yawn) boring! After a few years I was ready to tackle the project. OUT with the cotoneaster. Knowing it was a slope that I did not want to spend a lot of time doing maintenance on, I thought about which good-old plants would be easy and add some impact. Crimson pygmy barberry, gold spirea (with white flowers) and king's gold cypress add some nice color. I put in some single peonies, autumn joy and matrona sedum, golden-fleece goldenrod with purple asters (which the deer keep quite nicely pruned down for me to about the height of the goldenrod), fairy roses, phlox subulata, daffodils and daylilies. There are also more varieties of spirea including bridal-wreath and bumalda 'crispa', a dwarf flowering almond and a couple of dwarf alberta spruce. There are multiples of everything and it makes quite an impact. These ordinary plants/shrubs have added so much interest as opposed to having a grassy slope, or a slope loaded with a bunch of spreading junipers (oh yeah, i have a couple of those too).
At the base of the slope is a rock wall of medium-size boulders and between the rock and the grass is a long strip of stella d'oro daylilies.
It did turn out to be an extremely low maintenance area with some good, solid visual interest.

Sure it's fun to try the latest and greatest out there, but I always seem to rely on the tried and true.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 6:33PM
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Thanks Dee. If I do get seeds (and they usually seed well), you are welcome to some.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 7:43PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Thank you Maureen. That's very generous of you.

thyme2dig, do you have a picture of this slope? I would love to see it!


    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 10:04PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

holey moley...Wendy how did you ever find that old thread you are quite the detective. It did make me stop and think a year later if I felt any differently about sedum AJ. I'll save my conclusion for another thread.
thyme2dig...great screen name. I would love to discuss further your plant choices/design on a slope, which I think may be the gardeners biggest challenge. I posted a thread a year ago regarding my now urgent need to landscape a berm/garbage pile in the front of my property and received some very helpful advise that has resonated with me over the last twelve months. But now that the time has come this flat lander is frozen in fear of the unknown.
Ms. yoohoo,
Great hollyhock!!! In my mind every cape style house should have at least one in the garden.
great photo's your plants look so healthy. I was looking through Penelope Hobhouse's "Garden Designs" and thought of your garden when looking at a cliff garden in Maine.

I am very excited as I have been documenting and photographing the installation of a geothermal field for residential heating and cooling and this same project has designed a massive green roof that I have snapped a few photos of and today had the opportunity to talk to one of the installation guys...more later but I promise this is very cool.
Photo of one half of geothermal field standing on top of green roof.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 10:10PM
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Runktrun - that is one very lucky geothermal - what a view! lol It is cool though. On the Cape?


    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 11:12AM
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One excuse for planting 'less ordinary' plants is to extend the season of bloom. I have to say that in reality most old time plants look good for a short period of time - somewhere around June. It's a little trickier to find enough old standards to carry the garden from March through November.

Yeah, I know, there are some good season-stretching standby plants, like snow drops, sedum and goldenrod, but it's great to have lots of new alternatives. I don't know how long hellebores have been around, but I'm happy I garden in a time when they are easy to find.

Second, what the heck would we talk about if there were no new introductions or re-discovered old rare ones? It's so much fun to have people visit and ask "what the *heck* is that" - I wouldn't trade that for anything.

While, like others, I don't see the value in new, whacky flower shapes, and, personally, don't see the appeal in the new fat-flowered daylilies that have lost all the grace of the old ones, when it comes to new finds from plant explorers and new colors of coreopsis, please count me in!

Seedless sweet gum? Hardy camellias? New colors of witch hazel? Agastache in all shades of apricot? Yes, yes, and yes; I'm all for it.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 2:40PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Here is a picture of the slope. I have photos from other angles, but am having an issue trying to embed images right into the message. Any help would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 7:00PM
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Wow! THyme, I'd love to have one of those in my yard!

The code to embed an image is like this, but with pointy brackets (above the comma and period) instead of square ones.

[img src="http://i352.photobucket.com/albums/r333/mikeconfalone/Summer-1.jpg";]

If you use picasa web (a google service) they provide the code with a variety of sizes. All you need is a gmail account.

If the photo is large you can add something to resize it, like I did above,
so it'd be [img src="http://..." width=400]

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 7:18PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Dtd, Thank you for that tip. I am quite certain I would have never figured that out!

Here are some more pics of the slope. They are from a couple of years ago. It has filled out quite a bit.

Kt, I would be happy to discuss the choices for this slope. It has been very rewarding and there is interest all year long.

Scarlet O'Hara Peonies...No staking!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 8:55PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Very nice, thyme2dig! Lovely house and the slope looks so much better than just a grassy slope would. Nice job!

When this post first appeared, I almost posted about a little area by my house, but didn't. This evening, I decided I had to. I only wish I had a photo to share.

About 1/4 mile down the road from me is a side street. It leads to a small farm, and is a narrow, bumpy, hilly, country road. It's paved, technically, lol, but I would not be at all surprised if it is the original asphalt from the 70's when the roads were first paved around here. It's almost a dirt road from all the potholes etc.

The corner of this road and my road is not a hard corner, but a long, rounded one. All along this rounded corner is a long, long stretch of plain old orange daylilies. Behind them, barely visible under years and years of leaf debris, etc., is the slightly-showing top of an old stone wall.

I came up this road at sunset tonight, and once again, like I have for 13 years of living here, I was just absolutely taken with the beauty of this vignette. It's lovely any time of day, but at sunrise and sunset, with the golden rays slanting through the trees and hitting the daylilies, it's simply breathtaking.

Not a garden, per se, but completely ordinary plants in a setting where they are perfect. Nothing else could make that atmosphere, evoke that feeling, on that corner except those daylilies. Just beautiful.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 10:02PM
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Thyme, great work!
And very inspirational I would say.
I emailed those pics to a friend of mine whose daughter just bought a house in z5 MA with a very similar setting. He was asking my advise on how to make a curb appeal to a rocky slope in front of the house and here you are :-)
Picture is better than a thousand words!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2008 at 10:34PM
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The editors at Horticulture magazine must have been reading
this thread and rushed out their current (Aug/Sept) issue
to prove our many points. Numerous articles about "reliable
old plants" such as Vernonia novaboracensis (ironweed), one of my favorites from childhood; Rosa rugosa and many other lesser known species; all manner of Asclepias (milkweed), including a purple one I'd never heard of - yes, I'm in the process of tracking it down for my garden!

Then, in the midst of all this, one of the more comprehensive articles on the Echinacea explosion, a fitting counterpoint to our discussion of "tried and true".

Check it out. . .


    Bookmark   July 11, 2008 at 11:17AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

What a fabulous hillside, everything from your plant choices, placement, and rocks seem perfect. Did you do this as one whole project or was it broken up into sections, beginning at the top or bottom? Did you remove all of the existing plant material? Did you have erosion problems? How did you resolve watering issues? kt

    Bookmark   July 13, 2008 at 9:24AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

The first part of the project was having someone with heavy machinery do all the heavy lifting! We were lucky, all of the rocks that were used were dug up during the construction of our home. We did not have any rocks at the bottom of the slope for a few years. During that time I had the slope filled with cotoneaster to help with erosion. Once the rocks were placed, I was ready to move on to some more interesting plantings.
I honestly didn't have much more of a plan other than to try to mitigate how steep the slope looked from the road with low-maintenance shrubs/perennials that would be interesting. I put some medium shrubs (barberry, spirea, cypress, dwarf alberta spruce, bridal wreath spirea) towards the bottom/middle area. Tall daylilies and the multiple peonies help level out the middle of the slope. Once I had that figured out and planted, I then thought about what would be interesting for at least 3 seasons. The barberry and gold spirea and cypress have nice color. Phlox subulata and daffofils put on a show in spring. Then the peonies take the stage. Followed by the fairy and carpet roses. Fall really is my favorite season, so I needed to think about what easy fall interest I could put in. Low golednrod, purple asters, many, many sedums and chrysanthemums really take over in fall. The spireas at the top of the slope and the bridal wreath spirea have great fall foliage.
It did take about three years before I was really happy with how it looked. I moved things around and realized I just needed to keep adding more and more of the same thing. Especially the sedum, goldenrod and aster since they are so much smaller than the shrubs and peonies on the slope.
The daylilies at the base of the rock were kind of an afterthought. It was hard to mow so we thought about what could go as a border strip. Stella d'oro just seemed like the right thing since I knew they bloom for so long.
Rose campion, agastache, milkweed, husker's red penstemon and some other plants have volunteered as well.
We did mulch the slope with bark mulch the first 4 years or so to try to help with erosion (of which we didn't have much), but now it is pretty full, so we don't mulch anymore.
The watering isn't a problem since we have a spigot on the house just next to the farmers porch. We have a hose run along the bottom of the fence to the top of the slope, and one good pulsating sprinkler covers it.
It was a fun project. I'm glad everyone has enjoyed the photos. I live at the end of a cul de sac, so it is not seen by many.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2008 at 8:19PM
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I live at the end of a cul de sac, so it is not seen by many

What a loss to the community, not to be noticed.

It's been a long time since I uploaded a photo on GW, so I'll have to review the procedures.

Here I sit in the twilight with my computer on the table after hubby grilled our dinner outside. The fireflies are twinkling back at me and the air is finally still after blowing all day. I'm very fond of what we've done recently with the yard here. Mostly in the back, but a few things in the front as well.

For years, he's ad huge daffodils running parallel to the drive from house to street, about 120 feet. Last year, I put in nasturtiums which ran the whole length, and spilled over the rock wall down to the pavement. We also added a heavy planting of old fashioned zinnias, multicolored, and saved the seeds from both plants. This year, We moved the zinnias to the back, and the nasturtiums.....well, let's say we had enough seeds to go reeeeaaaalll far. At the end of last season, I bought up the left over echinaceas, coreopsis, Indian blanket/gallardia(?) and shasta daisies and May Night salvia, which are doing us proud this year. He took down his old garden fence for his defunct veggie garden and made a lawn up there. I neglected to say that our lawn slopes UP from the street to the back limit of the yard and it is about 40/50 feet higher in the back than in the front. So rows of rock wall dug from the glacial junk found here now form several tiers of terracing. The first tier, just beside this cement patio with the table and grill on it, is bordered by some sort of Siberian hedge that I despise, and will eventually dig up (like 7 plants a week or day) One less hedge to trim is the way I look at it. There is also a raised patio with a tree stump left in the middle, and I placed a weather proof fountain on the stump. Around the perimeter of the fountain is ajuga and vinca, both which bloomed so intensely purple/blue this spring that it was breathtaking. Then there is the variegated hosta which is all descended from plants originally purchased over 30 years ago. There are about 6 apple trees, 2 NH-bred Reliance peach trees, 2 funky pear trees, and the lovely blueberries which are now bearing huge fruits. Going up another tier of stone, after an expanse of lawn, is the newly planted lambs ears which are so nice to touch. He had an old chicken coop on the next level up, and I swear the common daylilies planted over it are the biggest I ever saw. I planted some of the hostas in an uneven strip behind the rhododendron, so they look like green/white molten lava flowing down the slope. We have a nice bench placed there because it is in the shade most of the day.
Well, the mosquitos are getting too bad to continue, so I'll go inside.

What do you do up here to get rid of skeeters?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2008 at 9:23PM
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This late afternoon, I will continue for a little while. This time I am indoors but looking out the window at the back yard which rises in 5 tiers to the back property line.

I failed to mention other ordinary plants which I love. I remember them from my childhood, when I'd walk behind my grandmother as she and my aunts chatted their way through a garden, taking cuttings or seeds. It's why I have "memory" plants to recall dear friends and family.

We now have about 15 rugosa roses down near the street where they can take the salty fallout. I have dianthus because those tough little plants were blooming last year with snow all over them. My neighbor gave me some money plant which is a biennial. The garden phlox spread this year to my delight, as did the shasta daisies. I recently bought a croquet set which sould be nice on this dense green lawn. DH made a ramp wide enough for his riding mower to access the upper tier of the garden, and the ramp will work with the croquet set also. Potted red geraniums flank either side of the rock steps between the lower two tiers. A hanging basket of bright red begonia graces the south end of the house near the fountain. I've repotted 3-foot tall sansiviera/mother-in-law to give to my husband's younger daughter who has NO plant nurturing ability AT ALL.

Up here in MA, I am sticking with the things I consider dependable, able to care for themselves. At home in south AL, I take more risks and explore plants with a tropical look to them. My favorite part of my AL garden is what I call the "secret garden" paved with old brick, bordered with dense leriope, hanging baskets of perennial ferns, and tropical greenery. One day, we will have a greenhouse.

For my tender plants down south, I get out my unused blankets and use clothes pins to cover the tender plants when we have a "hard freeze," which means when it gets below 28 degrees. It will last overnight, warm up, and maybe for another night be hard freeze. But NOTHING like what you experience up here!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2008 at 4:33PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

Both of your gardens sound really inviting and I love that you have memory plants. Are you here in Ma year round or seasonally?
I have been meaning to share this photo of a wild impatient I came across at the bottom of a cloud forest in Costa Rica. In my opinion this nocks the socks off any of the new introductions. kt

    Bookmark   July 15, 2008 at 9:44AM
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I love this thread. I am going to have to add my own thoughts, being a totally old-plant girl. I love the old fashioned ones: hollyhock, daylily, roses, peonies, zinnia, nasturtium, sweet william, snowball hydrangeas, daffodils. But Thyme2, WOW! I have a front slope that is sadly bare. Lovely beds in back that I have enlarged and changed, but nada in front. My house is also on a slope -- not quite as steep as yours, but I was thinking I had to spring for the $$, and plant up the bones, then add. Yours is an inspiration. I'm already thinking, thinking......

    Bookmark   July 15, 2008 at 6:37PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

moccasin, i hope you will be able to post some pics. your description is wonderful and it sounds like a lovely garden. It would be great if you could post pics of both your north and south gardens. It must be a lot of fun for you to garden in two very different zones.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2008 at 10:48PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

I got a chuckle from this, I suppose every generation always thinks they are were the first to experience something, even gardeners.

Your Grandmother's Garden

Oh, to wander at will in a garden,
One of my grandmother's day;
One that my grandmother tended,
Where old-fashioned flowers held sway!
Snowball and flowering almond,
Zinnias gorgeous in dye;
Lilacs scented and purple
Which regal robes outvie.
Great silky, blood-red poppies,
Phlox and sweet-william galore;
Morning glories and holly hocks lusty
In those happy days of yore.
Blossomed profusely and sweetly
In splendor and showy array,
But most of those old-time beauties
Are not in favor to-day!
Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960)

I was looking through one of the Sunset series of books on hillside gardening and your hillside is far nicer than anything I came across.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 11:24AM
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