It's odd in gardening, as in life, that things carefully thought out may be a great disappointment, and in support of this I mention the erigerons by the bronze dog.
In the isle of Jersey I was struck by the marvelous stone walls tufted in the joints with cushions of erigerons, or fleabanes, and thought what a glorious example they were of the effectiveness of virtual weeds when used with flair.
The fleabane in question is a wild one from Mexico, and it has the gall (for a weed) to be rather tender to winter cold. Never mind, its nickel-sized, many-petaled daises of white fading to carmine pink are beautiful against old stone.
Just the thing, I thought at the time, for the stuccoed masonry base of the bronze dog (a Siamese version of a Chinese winged lion, with the wings sprouting at odd places) in the garden.
I ordered the seeds from England and, somewhat to my surprise, they sprouted, and were duly installed in a chink of the masonry. They flourished and bloomed.
And now I confess it does not look especially hot. One surprise was that this Mexican creature does not like heat and dryness. The walls of Jersey and Scilly (where I saw it so beautiful) are frequently drenched with rain and mist, but no such disgusting weather occurs in Washington in July.
Furthermore, this fleabane has grown more vigorously on Washington masonry than on English walls, although it was never fertilized and had only the most austere diet and habitation--one inch of sand to which a tablespoon of good clay loam had been added (per quart).
The fleabane was too happy here, and too ambitious. I shall no longer trot out to water it, and I shall not replace it if it fails to appear next year.
On the other hand, I may report on a morning glory that I do not like at all, but which has been undeniably beautiful and perfect for its place.
A few years ago a dear friend sent me a little plant that was supposed to be Ipomea learii, a gorgeous (and I do not use the word easily) morning glory from South America, either tropical or subtropical. It bears clusters of ultramarine flowers on stems perhaps six or eight inches long, and with a little mulch it proves perennial in felicitous climates (such as ours). I grew it for years in my old garden but did not have it here, so you may imagine how pleased I was to be given a small start of it.
I grew it in a plastic pot 14 inches in diameter. It grew like the pretty weed it is, up a six-foot branch of a peach tree I stuck in the pot. It flowered and was not, alas, the gorgeous blue I. learii but a soft milky dilute magenta with a crimson magenta throat. Furthermore it burned and collapsed by 9 o'clock on summer mornings.
For several years it has occupied its pot outdoors all summer and indoors in my bathroom in the winter. There it has been inconvenient, wedged in between the hand basin and a small window where one stumbles over it and, while shaving, has to move a few inches to the left. Never mind, you cannot throw out a plant given you by a dandy friend, especially since he thought it was one you longed to have.
Well. This summer I got tired of its rather ugly appearance on its pole, which began to lean with the first summer storm and was near horizontal by August, and I gave it a new position. I set the pot right against a waist-high iron railing by some steps that lead down to the basement. It obligingly began to twine along this railing and for a month now has been flowering. The east sun does not touch it, though it gets sun from about 11 to 4 p.m. The color is enhanced and far more delicate in half-shade than in sun. This morning there were 30 flowers open on its eight-foot length.
What I call German black bees, the honey bees that are black with a touch of yellow, have always loved this plant. The Italian or Cyprian bees (which is what sane people keep in their beehives) do not visit the flowers. I am much alarmed by bugs that sting, but I have not been stung, and we should slaughter bees, wasps and hornets only when they seriously threaten us. Indeed, the only thing I can think of that might someday get me into heaven is that I refrain from killing stinging bugs though I am scared silly of them.
This morning glory twists around the top of the iron railing. Along the bottom of the railing there are some boxes of dirt holding the sedum 'Autumn Joy,' mainly because few things will grow in those boxes. Once we had parsley in them (this railing is just out the kitchen door) and thyme, but the terrier developed an interest in parsley and that ended that. He does not like sedum or not yet.
For years I fussed at the iron railing, which has bars like a small jail and generally looks as if it came from the store it in fact came from. And yet it is set in concrete and brick and I could not think of anything to do about it. The boxes of sedum along the brick walk and the morning glory (lovely enough when shaded from morning sun, as it often is in the beautiful courtyards of Mexico where you often see it flopping over a wall) have quite transformed the railing for the summer months. At the end of the railing you step up to a landing opening from the kitchen door. The landing has black wood posts and forms a sort of small arbor, with the grape, 'Alden' on it, and a rather large trailing plant of a red fuchsia hanging from it.
The fuchsia blooms its head off, thus repaying the nuisance of watering it twice or three times a day in July and August. The red teardrops look rather pretty cascading down above the horizontal pale magenta morning glory.
I had the highest hopes from the fleabane tufting the masonry of the bronze dog, and it all came to naught. I had no hopes at all for the morning glory on the railing or, for that matter, for the fuchsia (the red and white fuchsia, 'Swingtime,' is by far the handsomest and best-tempered fuchsia we have ever grown, and why I ever abandoned it for another I do not know). And yet, with no special hopes at all, the railing has been rather pretty.
The railing ends with a little brick pier and a copper Venetian lantern on a pole. It used to be cobalt and blue and is now painted black, on the theory that what is fine for gondoliers singing their heads off on a canal is not fine at all for H. Mitchell moaning and grumbling about the garden.
Just by the pier is a great tub with a framework of steel and nylon strings for sweet peas. They did so well last year I tried them again, only in more select varieties.
Thanks to the icy rainy June they did not start blooming until the end of June, and when the temperature soared toward 100 degrees in July the sweet peas began thinking of a better world than this.
Everyone knows sweet peas are no good in July here. Still, one tries and is occasionally rewarded, as I was last year.
But this year, despite daily waterings and discreet applications of manure, the leaves began to burn up in mid-July and in August I may yet get another l5 or 20 flowers from the entire tub, but no more, and if I had any sense I'd have cut the plants down before now, since what good are a few straggling flowers when the tub as a whole suggests corruption and death?