THE MERE fact that things rarely work out as planned in a garden does not discourage your average fanatical gardener, and he barges right ahead as if he knew success were nigh.
At the moment my bedroom door is shut and an electric heater warms (somewhat) me and one of the dogs, and on a rickety table by an east window I have a ratty assortment of treasures that will figure grandly in my scheme for next spring.
There is a strip of border 14 feet wide and 20 feet long that lies low and is none too well drained and shaded somewhat from the west by neighbor's house and its own 6-foot wood fence.
Day lilies grew quite well there, so I moved them elsewhere. Gardeners will understand.
I wanted something far grander than day lilies. Think of the space as the stout proportion of a newspaper page. Along the left is the fence, and on the right is a brick walk.
In the top right corner, just where there is a step up to a higher level, is a columnar yew about nine feet high, with a yucca, Y. recurvifolia pendula, as its foot. The yucca is supposed to grow into a weeping rosette four feet across and is taking its own sweet time but as, I admit, fairly good-looking.
In the extreme upper left corner is the fine ditch grass, Arundo donax, against the fence. There are only about six stalks of it, and it is about 12 feet high. It is not very happy with me, though it blooms in its grassy way. It does not get enough heat in our chilly summers. So it does well enough but does not go leaping all about as it does in sunnier, warmer places.
There is nothing much along the left or fence side, except a couple of Rugosa roses, "Belle Poitevine" and the wild white variety.
There is another rose sprouting up also, which I cannot recall having planted and think it may be a shoot from "Joseph's Coat," which I sawed down in anger at its disgraceful color as its blooms fade.
They start out a glorious rich buff and red, but fade to a brown-gray-rosy sludge color, strikingly reminiscent of the kettles we used to cook up for the dogs.
Just here let me say "Joseph's Coat" can be brillant, and I once grew it so, but here it fades terribly and was not worth its space, though in another location it might have been perfect.
In this space there are a few day lilies toward the front, and off the bottom of the page (if you are still with me, that the proportions of the border just here are those of a newspaper page) there is a Japanese snowball fighting be because I am determined it shall have a 6-foot trunk like a little tree and it is resolved to grow as a many-stemmed shrub. It is gradually coming round fortunately. There is also a large bush of the pink climbing rose (which does not like to climb, but makes a fine large shrub leaning on the fence) called "Blossomtime."
Now is the space of border I have resolved to plant things valuable for lush foliage, which will accept the rather heavy rich soil.
I am working on the acquisition of a rhubarb, not the edible garden rhubarb, but the wild variety, Rheum palmatum , which grows six or seven feet tall and flaunts very large leaves.
It is a royal pain to order plants from England. You wind up paying a lot of money and the inspection or quarantine process is such that often things die. Nevertheless, one of these days I suppose a live one will arrive and all will be well.
Also in this part of the border there are to be cannas. Snobs do not like cannas, partly because they grow so well around tenant farmers' houses in the cotton fields and in old run-down parts of southern towns.
And then, to give the snobs their due, cannas are blatant and come in various screaming colors and the blooms are as shapeless as a bloom can very well get. So it's all right if you don't like cannas, but I do, and I mean to have them.
I have raised from seed two wild cannas, C. indica and C. warcewiscii; and if anybody says he doesn't like those lousy cannas, I shall remind him they are wild species, not garden varieties, and are moreover on the rare side. Their flowers are not much, which is in their favor, and their foliage is at once luxuriant and elegant.
I may, or may not, stick in two or three plants of the garden canna called 'Wyoming,' which has bronze-purple leaves and scarlet flowers. It took me years to conclude I think it the best of the bronze-leaf cannas know to me.
Also in this place is the great Japanese butterburr, Petasites japanicus . It is not so great as I would like, but by giving the clump (and one of its faults is that is does not make a clump, but proceeds to plunge off in all directions, and has all the qualifications of a most dangerous weed) a few bushels of manure and some heavy soakings at dry times of the spring, I know I shall have at least a few leaves like circular platters wider than a washtub.
There is a little problem with the cardoon. The cardoon is very like a globe artichoke, except its gray jagged leaves are even handsomer and it grows even larger, to nine feet or so. It is quirky about cold and may perish in our winters, especially when it is a young plant. For this reason my cardoons, grown from seed, are spending the winter in a pot in the bedroom with the cannas.
They will be planted outdoors in May and given very rich soil and every inducement to grow madly through July, then hardened off to face the ordeal of winter with a heap of ashes over their roots.
But the real problem of the cardoon is that it does not like heavy damp soil. Quite the contrary, it loves sandly loam with full sun.
But I don't want it anywhere except in this damp heavy part of the border with the other great-leaved plants. Perhaps I can build the soil up a bit, at the cardoon planting station, with some sand and leaf mold, and perhaps lead a little drainage trench from the cardoons to the butterburrs. And as for full sun, the cardoon will have to make do with what it gets.
So often you have to ask a plant to make do with imperfect conditions, and often it obliges, expecially if you are truly willing to knock yourself out for it, as much as you can.
There is also the question of Farrer's buddleia. It has a greenish-gray (more green than gray) leaves and makes a shrub 10 feet high.
A beautiful specimen grows at the National Arboretum, and I have always admired it, but never had a chance to acquire it. Nurseries are so busy raising buddleias that sound great but which do nothing at all for a garden that they never to seem to raise B. farrerii. It does not sound like much -- its flowers are not especially large and are lavender -- but in the flesh, so to speak, is a very beautiful thing.
It is not only illegal (they throw you in a dungeon to rot) to damage plants in botanical gardens, it is also wrong. "It would be wrong," as I often say. iFortunately a workman last year knocked off a twig of this buddleia, which I found wilting in the sun on the ground. I took it home, limp as it was, and got a three-inch cutting from it, which fortunately rooted and is now in a pot with the other rats on the table by the east window. r
I am of two minds about the papyrus. To include the papyrus with the others in this border might be overdoing it. Probably it should return to its big oak tub this spring. Still, it is the tall variety of papyrus and would be startling enough.
Given plenty of manure and water from the hose, it grows in an ordinary garden border and does not require a pool. Papyrus does not stand frost and has to come indoors for the winter. Over the years I have tried various ruses, since I have never had a house that conveniently accommodated a mature papyrus plant for the winter, especially since it looks quite woe-begone at that season. The best way, for me, is to dig up a clump or part of a clump and ram it into a clay pot and let it have one freeze outdoors. That takes care of the green stalks, which you then trim off, though leaving the bare stalks a foot or so high. Water sparingly, and soon green shots emerge like spears from the roots. You do not want to encourage growth during the dreadful winter, and you just keep an eye on the young shoots, seeing to it they do not wither from lack of water. a
I soak all these things, cardoons, papyrus, cannas, etc., in the bathtub for a few hours once every three weeks. There is no reason people cannot use another bathroom during that period. It is not too much to ask, surely. And yet only the hound goes in, bracing forepaws at the edge of the tub, to admire them. You never hear her grumbling around.