Love the plants that love you back and demonstrate their love by thriving in your climate, soil and garden, says David Culp. Skip the garden designs invented by Europeans and find your own American style, using the colors that please your eye.
If you go to the effort of making a plan for the garden, start by installing the hardscape such as patio, walkways and walls since the plant selections themselves will change as you learn what works and dies over the years. The hardscape is there to stay.
According to Culp, no single garden style is exactly right or appropriate so use other gardeners’ ideas and adapt them to suit your situation. When it comes to color combinations, take risks and use the palette that you prefer, planting them in varying heights and forms.
Even color-themed gardens benefit from a variety of accent colors. For example a white garden changes character if it is accented with blue and purple, silver and grey, bronze and yellow or pink and red. Just avoid accenting a white garden with off whites; they just look dirty, Culp says.
The shapes of the plants you choose, rather than the color of the short-lived flowers they produce, give the garden its punch and drama. Upstanding plants and man-made elements give the garden the vertical structure that balances the basic horizontal nature of any garden.
Culp uses pillars planted with climbing roses, cold-hardy banana trees, small groups of bamboo stake teepees planted with vines, canna lilies and tall flowers as vertical accents. Each of these features is repeated throughout the garden providing unity.
In shady gardens, Culp recommends using plants with bold leaves such as Hostas, placing the largest varieties in the back and the small-leaf varieties in the front of the bed.
Use several specimens of the same plant to give a long-blooming period and a sense of continuity. For example, plant early, mid-season and late-blooming daffodils in the same bed.
A good choice for dry shade under and around tree roots is Carex ornamental grasses. There are enough beautiful Carex varieties that a collection, repeated in a wooded area, would provide assorted leaf colors and shapes for interest.
Culp says that part of the theatre of a garden is how plants move themselves around. Consider the original clump of Crocus that has now drifted several feet from its original spot, the re-seeding annuals such as poppies and zinnias that emerge the following spring and summer everyplace except where they were the previous year.
The re-seeding and spreading flowers that Culp prefers include: Corydalis (shade and woodland), Thalictrum (Meadow Rue, native, sun-shade), Rudbeckia (coneflowers), Dicentra (bleeding heart, rock garden), Stylophorum (Celandine wood poppy) and Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow bulbs).
Culp (www.davidlculp.com), author of “The Layered Garden” has defined himself as a gardener ever since his grandmother entrusted him with a handful of bulbs to plant where and how he chose. Now, with decades of garden experience and professional work in the field his passion is to empower others to garden.
Using plants’ elements of shape, color, size, structure and height to create a design is the key to having a garden where you want to do the daily work to keep it going.
Gardens are living, growing, and dying art projects that never finish being designed, according to Culp. In his two-acre garden, only one part of the garden is in peak beauty at a time rather than trying to make the entire space pop in the same week or two.
“The Layered Garden” (Timber Press, 2012, $25) is loaded with suggestions and photographs to empower every reader who wants to enjoy a three-season garden.