Designing with Plants – Plants that Should not be Forgotten in Planting Schemes
It’s quite common these days to discover that certain plant species that you planned to include in a design, while appearing in the design gardening books, are difficult to find in the garden nurseries. They used to be sold by the garden centers, but then become increasingly rare and even entirely unavailable. In general, the reason for this of course is that these species lose some of their popularity and therefore the demand for them declines. It may be tempting to think that because a garden center sales person pulls a face at the mention of a certain plant, and says “I am afraid there’s not much call for that these days”, and then adds, “Well I suppose we could find it for you if you insist”, that the species concerned is basically inferior. Unfortunately many excellent plants have either fallen by the wayside or are in danger of doing so, and as a result we actually have less genuinely appropriate varieties to choose from. I’ll present here some examples from my own 20 years plus experience gardening in Israel.
There are a number of reasons that certain garden species, whether they be flowering, foliage plants or trees, fall out of favor. A common one is that the plant is incorrectly used by gardeners, professional or otherwise. For example, the fabulous shrub Duranta erecta was heavily planted as a sheared hedge, a growing form unsuited to it, and particularly to the variegated variety. The plant became so discredited that no one wanted you to plant it for them. Yet as an isolated specimen in a shrub grouping it can be superb.
Another reason for plants becoming unpopular is that many gardeners, particularly home, amateur ones, are unaware of some simple actions that if not undertaken, mean that the plant becomes ugly and unsightly. Take the Ice plant (Lampranthus roseus) for instance. As a low growing ground cover, its spring flower display is not only spectacular, but in my view is virtually unique in the gardening world. Yet the plant tends to look ragged and untidy for large parts of the year, unless the simple expedient of clipping back the plant, BEFORE all the flowers have withered, is carried out.
Finally, some plants simply go out of fashion. This is the most unnecessary and dare I say, most stupid reason of all. Fashion is the killer of good planting schemes. The great gardens of the world are generally immune to it, as are top garden designers. (At least as far as plants are concerned – hard landscaping being another matter)
I first became aware of this when visiting the magnificent Waddesdon Manor in England some years ago. There, growing proudly in a conservatory to protect it from the cold, was the most despised garden plant in my country – Plumgago auriculata. Another example is the Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), arguably one of the most beautiful and suitable bushes for a dry climate. Fortunately, there were just enough designers in Israel demanding it, to prevent it disappearing altogether. I am pleased to say it has started to become fashionable again!