In the Garden: Try this

By Greta Belanger deJong

by Greta Belanger deJong

A compendium of gardening ideas and inspirations.

dejong_gardenIn planning a garden, certainly, there is much to consider: sunlight, soil type, drainage, microclimate, your needs and desires and more. With all that understood, here are some ideas of garden themes. Choose one, or elements from several. Think your plan through the seasons, noting growth and color changes month by month. There are many helpful books at the library and in bookstores to assist you—as well as, of course, online.

In planning a garden, certainly, there is much to consider: sunlight, soil type, drainage, microclimate, your needs and desires and more. With all that understood, here are some ideas of garden themes. Choose one, or elements from several. Think your plan through the seasons, noting growth and color changes month by month. There are many helpful books at the library and in bookstores to assist you—as well as, of course, online.

• Fragrance garden

Careful—certain plants well-known for their aroma have been tampered with by breeders to produce showier, but less fragrant, flowers. (So true of roses.) Choose nonhybrids wherever possible. Consider alyssum, heliotrope, santolina, mignonette, stock, sweet pea, hyacinth, lilies, dian­thus, lavender, lilies of the valley, mock orange, roses, lilacs, violets, sweet woodruff, valerian.

• Butterfly garden

Remember, from suspicious-looking caterpillars, butterflies come. If you want the latter, you must feed the former. Some com­plete their lifecycle in a year or more; other species have several broods in a single season. Some migrate south. Some change shape and attach themselves to twigs. All stages of lepidoptera life prefer their landscapes un­manicured. They need a spot to sun themselves (flat rocks are nice), water, shelter from wind. To attract and keep butterflies in Utah, grow milkweed, aster, centaury, goldenrod, mallow, lily-of-the-Nile, nasturium, impatiens, mint, cosmos, hollyhock, statice, stone­crop and coreopsis.

• Children’s garden

A garden for children should be magical, fun, full of interest. Include foods they like to eat; something for birds and butterflies, which the kids can watch; curiosities, such a spaghetti squash; projects—pumpkins for Halloween, flowers for bouquets, gourds for birdhouses. Plant a sunflower house or bean tipi. Plant varieties that grow fast: cherry tomatoes, radishes (“Easter Egg” seeds include a range of beautiful colors), an early crop of peas and a pussy willow. Think novelty: money plants, Chinese lanterns, popcorn and catnip. Think bright: portulaca, snapdragons, nasturtiums, straw­flowers. And how about a pond, with some critters?

• Moon garden

They look good in moonlight. Usually (but not always) white, some actually bloom specifically at night. They are often fragrant. Choose white varieties of cosmos, nicotiana, petunia (not the new supertunias, which have little fragrance), night-scented stock, daffodils, asters, mums, alyssum, delphiniums, colum­bine, Japan­ese iris, moonflowers. Baby’s breath and sweet woodruff also add texture.

• Zen garden

Zen gardens show restraint, a minimalist elegance. Some are just raked gravel and carefully chosen stones. Plan­ning and pruning is paramount, as placement and shape take pre­ce­dence over color. Japanese Zen gardens usually include moss. True moss doesn’t do so well in our high desert; but try Irish moss (comes in two shades) or ajuga. Include a Japanese maple (the cutleaf variety is low and umbrella-like, good for small gardens) or weeping cherry or birch, and a bench upon which to sit and be still.

• Hummingbird garden

Go for the tubular, sweet and red (or orange): trumpet vine, bee balm, columbine, nicotiana, salvia, lilies and day lilies, lupine, penstemon, dianthus, Japanese flowering quince.

• Victorian garden

Victorians liked stuff. Think birdbaths, benches, gazebos and urns. Statues, sundials, step­ping stones and pergolas. And, as in the rest of their lives, they hid their passions behind fragrant arbors and vine-covered walls reached by shadowed, winding paths.

• Winter garden

Snowdrops (galanthus) come in 23 species and hundreds of cultivars. They grow 3-10 in., in sun or partial shade, with four types of foliage. Some are even fragrant. But here’s the punchline: In Utah, some begin blooming in January. Also plant crocus, winter aconite, glory-of-the-snow, scilla, hen-and-chicks, sedum (“dragon’s blood” keeps its red foliage through winter), French tarragon (you can harvest it as you need it). By March you can put out pansies and primroses. Many shrubs shine in winter, including the Japanese barberry, with its bright red berries. And ornamental grasses hold their graceful, fountainlike shape through winter snows.

• Grass garden

Exotic-looking but easy to grow, ornamental grasses come in a variety of colors, heights, habits and requirements. They work well with stone and wood. Plant sparsely; they spread. Try blue fescue, fountaingrass, molinia—and, if you’re brave, the magnificent segmented grass that looks like bamboo and grows to a height of 20 feet. (You want some? Call CATALYST; we’ll be thinning ours this month.)

• Garden of giants

Dinner-plate dahlias, 400-pound pumpkins, 20-foot-tall tomatoes… How to Grow World Record Tomatoes (Acres U.S.A., 1999) by Charles Wilber is still the Bible on making any plant a jolly giant. In a nutshell: Compost. Mulch. Water. (And yes, you could go buy seeds of giant varieties. Make sure they’ve been bred not only for size, but also for flavor.)

• Herb garden

Be practical: What do you like and would you use? But also consider texture, color, shape and, most of all, size. (That cute little lovage will be 10 feet tall be­fore you know it; a 2-inch potted sage will soon become a shrub.) Define the garden’s shape with perennials (chives, fennel, French sorrel, French tarragon, sage, winter savory, oregano, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, mint) and biennials (parsley; rosemary is not a reliable perennial in Salt Lake so I think of it as a biennial); fill in with annuals (basil, dill, marjoram, cilantro). Read seed packets or plant labels to be certain. (German chamomile is an annual; Roman chamomile is perennial.) Pay attention to their various soil needs: Some like rich soil and lots of water (basil), others produce their best flavor when stressed. Many herbs ap­preciate pinching; freeze the sprigs if you can’t use them in a few days.

• Oriental vegetable garden

Whenever I used to go to San Francisco, I’d visit the Japanese and Chinese hardware stores and look for packets of seeds; I’ve brought home blue kuri (Japanese pumpkin), wong bok (a Napa-type Chinese cabbage), tah tsai (a 45-day brassica, sometimes called Chinese cabbage), Japanese extra-long cucumbers, gai choy (Chinese mustard greens), dow ghok (yard long beans), michihili (Chinese celery cabbage), mizuna (Japanese mustard greens), hinn choy (Chinese spinach; actually an amaranth), daikon radishes and, of course, bok choy and Japanese eggplants. Now you can find many of these locally. Traces has a good selection. Plant some Oriental pop­pies, too. And start browsing through your Far East cookbooks for recipes.

• A garden of “babies”

If you have a little garden, you might want to try little vegetables. Often geared toward patio gardens, you’ll find seed or plants for “baby” carrots, eggplants, tomatoes, peas, beans, greens (try tat choi) and even strawberries. Or a flower garden: dwarf cosmos, sunflowers, sweetpeas, roses, bachelor buttons and more. Just remember: “Dwarf” is relative.

• Gourmet garden

Why plant onions when you can grow shallots and leeks? Cab­bage costs 39 cents/lb. in the grocery and takes a lot of space to grow, but that same space full of basil, at $7/lb., would give you a few freezer containers full of pesto; or how about a raspberry bush? Arugula is easy to grow. Yellow peppers and tomatoes, blue potatoes, white eggplant—they all command a premium, for their great taste as well as unique looks, and are no more trouble than their more commonly colored relatives.

If you like baby vegetables, always remove more mature fruit so the plant continues to produce. Choose small and/or quick-growing varieties. But the big trick is: Watch them closely and pick not a minute too late. This is easy, because there’s little chance of picking too early.

• Medicinal garden

Grow your own St. John’s wort, echinacea, calendula, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, comfrey, feverfew, valerian, horehound, the many mints, and—most important of all—garlic.

• Cutting garden

Choose flowers that are easy to grow, bloom long and respond well to cutting. Include some tall, spiky flow­ers, some rounded shapes, and “fillers” (such as baby’s breath). Good ones: sweet peas, sweet William, snap­dragons, cosmos, love-in-a-mist, pompom-type dahlias, zinnias, larkspur, salvia, phlox, cleomes, sunflowers, celosia, bells of Ire­land, bachelor bells. And roses, of course! Harvest the blooms early in the morning and place directly into a bucket of lukewarm water.

• Perennial edible garden

Plant rhubarb, asparagus, ber­ries, grapes, fruit trees, globe ar­ti­chokes, Jerusalem artichokes (related to sunflowers); many herbs are perennials, too.

• Heirloom garden

Heirlooms, be they flow­ers, vegetables or fruits, are generally considered varieties that have been in gardens for at least 100 years; their offspring is true to the parent. (We won’t get into the potential for open-pollinated varieties to accidentally crossbreed….) Look for Seeds of Change, Shepherd’s Seeds, and check out catalogs from Nichols Nursery and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Heirlooms may not be as showy, or as big as their hybrid counterparts. But they will have other attributes to treasure: taste, fragrance, adaptability. When they’re done growing, be sure to save some seed for next year, and to give to other gardeners. Diane’s Flower Seeds, in Ogden, sells a wide variety of unusual heirloom perennial seeds:

Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST.

This article was originally published on March 31, 2010.