Round Robin: Colorful Garden Design

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The view from bed

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia–The profusion of bloom this season, brought on and sustained by intermittent rain, is extraordinary. Perhaps because of these favorable conditions, I have discovered one of the most important rules of landscaping: establish plantings where they can be seen from indoors at a glance. The sight of something especially pleasing when you rise in the morning will immediately brighten your day and send you forth with a feeling of joy in your heart.

We have established two parallel raised beds, 60 feet by 4 feet, on the west side of the house, that are visible from our downstairs bedroom window. One bed is for hardy roses, the other, for herbs that I need in quantity and new plants that I’m trying out. This summer, I’ve added annuals and perennials to the rose bed to help keep down the weeds in the bare spaces until the roses attain their maximum growth.

I grew the annuals from seed under lights, the most cost-effective way to get the large numbers that I needed. Even though I didn’t sow the seeds until April 22, the plants started to flower outdoors by mid-June. That’s early enough for me as there are plenty of perennials still in bloom in early summer.

Small clumps of sweet alyssum spill over the sides of the rose bed’s log enclosure. This summer, I tried a new white, ‘Snow Crystals’, a vigorous tetraploid with larger-than-usual flowers; ‘Navy’ turned out to be the usual, purplish violet but nice anyway.

Few people seem to know the annual Echium vulgare ‘Brilliant’, a dwarf version of the rangy herb once used as an astringent and blood purifier. A member of the borage family, it produces an endless number of little trumpet flowers on bristly, uncoiling stems. In common with other members of the family, the flowers are pink in bud, turning blue, then shades of violet as they open and mature. A single plant in the rose bed sprawled 3 feet and was a great weed suppresser.

Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile), another borage, is closely related to hound’s-tongue (C. officinale), which has been used medicinally. The common and Latin generic names describe the shape and rough texture of the leaves (the seeds are also rough to the touch). The flowers of C. a. ‘Firmament’ are a bright, rich blue like that of the spring forget-me-not but zestier. A few sprigs of the clustered flowers are exquisite in rose bouquets.

Some of the silvery-leaved perennials combine well with roses. I admire southernwood for its finely cut foliage, adaptability to virtually any growing condition, and camphor-lemon scent. I clip it hard in spring and again in early summer and dry the clippings to use in the kitchen and as a garden moth repellent. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) in early growth looks much like lamb’s-ears (also great with roses). It produces smallish but numerous flowers, brilliant magenta or white, on branching silvery stems.

The herb harvest bed changes every year, depending on my needs. The constants are German chamomile, dill, calendulas, nigella, chives, catnip (protected from the resident cats by a cage), and lemon balm. I usually grow sunflowers against the fence that the bed shares with the adjacent turkey pen.

This is what I see out the window in the morning these days: Up front in the harvest bed are low, neat mounds of ‘Tangerine Gem’ and ‘Little Giant’ signet marigolds and daisies of all sizes and colors, including small white chamomile flowers, a golden cloud of dyer’s chamomile, and soft orange Mexican sunflowers. Beyond them are bright splashes of color contributed by vivid purple Salvia viridis, deep blue cornflowers, yellow and orange calendulas. In the distance, a bush of light purple bee balm is backed by silvery wormwood, and all along the fence are the sunflowers–mahogany, bronze, yellows, primrose, white with a brown eye. Up front in the rose bed are the low, trailing mounds of sweet alyssum, a perfect ball of medium blue (Campanula carpatica ‘Blue Clips’), patches of purples and deep blues (Echium, catmint, veronica) and magenta and white (rose campion), as well as a wide bush of shimmering pink bee balm and silvery mounds of southernwood among the roses. And down the middle are the late-blooming roses, ‘The Fairy’, ‘Champlain’, ‘John Franklin’, ‘Jens Munk’, ‘Dart’s Dash’, ‘Survivor’–shell pink, velvety reds, purplish pinks. What a way to wake up.

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