My garden has been begging me to get out of it. I think it was the best thing I could do for it this summer. The oldest part of my garden is on the west side of my house, just inside the gate. It’s about 15 years old and it’s looking it’s age. Plants have an expiration date. Either they age out of beauty in the eyes of the gardener or they simply lose their vibrance. I think there’s a little of both going on here. I’ve been staring at the same space with the same plants for years and finding it difficult to reimagine it any other way. I needed a new perspective so I ditched my garden for the day and made a two-hour drive to Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan.
I spent the entire morning considering, imagining and snapping pictures of scenes and combos that appealed to me. The colors and textures woven throughout all the beds were exactly what I needed. And I’ll be studying the pictures for months, distilling them down to the elements that made me snap the shots in the first place.
Here’s what I’ve discovered after visiting Walters Gardens…
I need more black foliage!
Last year, I redesigned an area I called the redbud garden. It was a shady site full of lungwort, hosta and Solomon’s seal. When the tree died, it became full sun and all those shade-loving plants needed a new home. What was once a shade garden became a moon garden full of white, but something was missing. While walking the the gardens at Walters Gardens I found the missing link. Black. I need darker colors to make the white pop.
A garden done in all white needs something to set it off, otherwise it’s just blah. That’s where the black comes in. In the photo above, the black sedum, which isn’t really black but a very dark shade of purple, is dotted throughout the bed. If done too much, the black can translate as a large hole in the garden when viewed from a distance.
I discovered that when I planted a Black Lace elderberry in the corner of the backyard. It’s gorgeous but when viewed from the front yard, it looks rather boring until you get closer to it. I planted a panicle hydrangea, although I can’t remember which at the moment, next to it last fall and will divide a few Becky shasta daisies to add to the other side just to give it a bit more interest. It’s nice when you can shop your own garden and save money.
And yet another combo I love. I like it even more knowing that both plants exist in my garden. Just not together, yet. Starry Starry Night hibiscus from Proven Winners and Little Goldstar rudbeckia provide great color during that typical lull in early August when all that seems to flower is bindweed and dandelions.
Perhaps of all the grasses I saw at Walters Gardens, one left a lasting impression. Most surprising is that I’ve never really been that into grasses. Prairie Winds ‘Lemon Squeeze’ pennisetum glowed from across the parking lot. There wasn’t a spot where it didn’t work, but then you really can’t go wrong with chartreuse in the garden. It goes with everything. At 2.5′ tall and about 3′ wide, it’s perfect for a small spot in my garden that’s been begging for a do-over.
You really can’t appreciate the enormity of those flowers but trust me when I tell you that those light purple globes are the size of baseballs kept afloat by long sturdy stems. That’s Bubble Bath allium, a summer bloomer, and she’s a looker with that strappy blue-green foliage.
I have two other summer blooming alliums, Summer Beauty and Millenium. Both were all the rage in the Chicago area a few years ago. Summer Beauty especially. And while she’s a wonderfully low-maintenance pollinator plant, I found her coloring a bit hohum. Not to mention, the color was very short-lived. I much prefer Millenium.
But now I need to get my hands on Bubble Bath. The only way one could improve this plant is if they offered this variety in a darker shade of purple.
You really can’t go wrong with blue and yellow and Lemony Lace elderberry with Galaxy Blue agapanthus was peanut butter and jelly. They just go together. Hardy to zone 6, the agapanthus might make it in the right spot with enough protection in my zone 5b climate. It’s worth a go, I just don’t know where at the moment.
My garden could use a dose of the unusual and this picture drove that point home. The kniphofia glowed as it wove through this entire bed. Although my garden is small and I won’t be able to do a mass planting of it, nor would I want to, a plant or two would add the upright tropical flare I love.
A great big THANK YOU! to Walters Gardens for letting me enjoy the morning among their beautiful display beds. My garden will be better for it.
Interested in the plants mentioned in this post? Check out Great Garden Plants. They carry many plants from the Proven Winners catalog. While some varieties may be sold out, there’s an option to click the “Notify Me When Available.” By entering your email, you’ll get a heads-up as soon as the plant is available.