Garden Planning vs. Plant Collecting


DO YOU BUY PLANTS WITHOUT KNOWING WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO PUT THEM? If so, welcome to my club: Like me, you're probably more of a plant collector than a garden planner.

Now the odd thing about my being a plant collector is that, when I talk to other people about gardening, I encourage them to be garden planners.

This is the standard advice given to gardeners: Take some time (preferably in the off-season), sit down with a map of your property (preferably to scale), and plan what you want to do where.

This is not only standard advice but also good advice, definitely the way to proceed if you want to use your money and time efficiently and avoid having to undo sudden inspirations that later turn out to have been mistakes. It also helps to ensure that you will have planting sites that are suitable for the plants you want to grow. And perhaps most important of all, this is a more natural approach to gardening. When you plan your garden, you are treating it as a plant community rather than as a collection of individual plants. This is how nature does it, too.

Make no mistake: This is a good thing to do. I encourage it. People have even paid me, on occasion, to create garden plans for them, for precisely this reason.

And yet when it comes to my own garden, I barely plan at all. I have a general idea of where I'm headed (e.g., "front yard = woodland garden"), and I do devote some time to figuring out where to put whatever trees I want to include in my design. But most other planting decisions are driven by what I purchase. And what I purchase is driven by a combination of what's available with the kind of have-to-have-it-right-now craving that is known only to the hardened collector. If you're a collector, you know what I talking about. If you're not, you'll never understand.

If you're a plant collector, you may also do what I end up doing: Namely, I buy plants because I have-to-have-them, even though I don't know where I'm going to put them. I see that Jane is selling a Dodecatheon, for example, and I buy it even though my forlorn front yard isn't ready for this woodland plant yet. The photo above shows Jane's Dodecatheon in a pot on my deck, which is the only spot I could think of for it, along with Jane's Erythronium and one of Jodi's Podophyllums. They'll live there, happily I hope, until my woodland garden is ready for them.

In the meantime, I consider myself lucky to be a native plant enthusiast. Limiting myself to native or "nearly native" plants helps to curb my appetite for plants, much as specializing in Wedgewood humidors might restrain the pottery enthusiast's purchases of expensive breakables.

Being a native plant fan also helps to create the illusion that I am a good garden planner. As long as I stick to natives and nearly-natives, and as long as I do eventually create good sites for them, the plants I'm buying so impulsively probably will be able to form a community. That's because so many of them probably were part of the same, or similar, communities in nature.

Nature can be very kind -- even to her plant collectors.

1 comment:

jodi said...

Giggle. I have more than a few plants sitting in my holding area (the greenhouse) while I make up my mind where they want to live. Part of this is because i'm waiting for a truckload of soil, but of course now I'm also waiting for the waters to recede somewhat here. My 'chocolate' garden needs to have more soil to raise it up a few inches before i plant it, and some parts of the existing garden also need to be raised and replanted. All in good time...or that's my story...:-)