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The Artist and the Plant-Lover

The artist in me itches to change a certain bed. It's the lower of two terraces going up a hill, each a foot high. She visualizes keeping the plants in the first level all low enough to see the beautiful rocks forming the second level's retaining wall (and the creepers spilling elegantly between them). Also she craves more silver and bronze (horticultural jargon for a deep greenish purple or red).

The plant-lover in me has a different agenda. The site has sun 3/4 of the day, and rich soil; what plants need these conditions — especially ones languishing elsewhere in my yard? Both sides of me keep experimenting, putting plants in to see how they do, digging them up again if they don't work out.

To persuade Plant-lover, the artist found short plants needing rescue: for bronze, Labrador violet; for silver, Sedum sieboldii and curly chives — as well as some hens-and-chicks with both.

Volunteers show up in that rich soil every spring. Some of the more notable are tall: peach-leaf campanula, 'Husker Red' penstemon, yarrows in crimson and pastels, and feverfews. My plant-lover wants to keep all these treasures. My artist thinks a few stalks of something tall are okay for contrast, but if it gets to be a bulky clump, it has to go.

The 'Husker Red' can stay, though it's getting wide as well as tall, because its stems and leaves are a deep ruby when temperatures are cool, and because when it's done blooming and I cut the flower stalks down, it's short the rest of the summer.

Similarly two plants needing help are too tall, but the right colors: 'Mohrchen' sedum, (bronzy-red leaves turning deep ruby-red in fall), and a Japanese silver painted fern (with maroon stalks and ribs); again Artist will compromise. In turn, the biggest feverfew was hulking over Heuchera 'Pewter Moon' — marbled silver and gray foliage, deep maroon undersides — so Plant-lover had to choose between them, and gracefully gave Artist the silver and maroon.

Both of me feel conflicted about the invasives. Artist loves the bronze leaves of Ajuga 'Atropurpurea', and the bright white splashes on the leaves of the variegated strawberry. Plant-lover hates to sacrifice such exuberant health — but they're overrunning other beauties, like silver-leaved Ajuga Gray Lady', and Trifolium purpurascens, a clover with bronze leaves (a lot of them four-lobed!).

A gardener juggles not only the physical conditions of the garden, but also dreams and passions.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 4 July 2003

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