Craving for plants never subsides
- Barbara Ashmun
- Portland Tribune - Features
Lately I've been thinking about what makes me happy. New clothes used to be exciting, but now I spend most of my hours in the garden, wearing old khakis and oversized T-shirts.
I have enough earrings to wear a different pair every week. But when it comes to plants, I can never have too many.
For me, excitement means plants, plants, plants. You'd think by now I'd have gotten over the thrill. But it just doesn't end. The plant kingdom is vast and my curiosity and acquisitiveness seem to be infinite.
I started from the ground up, falling for annuals in the early days, back in the 1970s. Hot pink geraniums, cobalt blue lobelias, pastel pink cosmos and coral zinnias delighted me. Until I discovered perennials that returned every year, getting bigger and even multiplying! I abandoned the annuals for delphiniums with fat blue spikes, feathery pink peonies and regal purple bearded irises.
Seasons flew by as I collected more and more perennials, discovering hostas, cranesbills, yarrows and daylilies. For winter, I gathered up hellebores, snowdrops and epimediums. For fall, I found asters, sedums and ornamental grasses. Bulbs and tubers caught my attention, starting with daffodils and tulips, then going on to lilies, flowering onions (Allium), camassia, crocosmia, colchicum, hardy cyclamen and dahlias.
Oh it was such a wonderful world of color, texture and fragrance! I learned to make perennial borders and island beds, drawing up elaborate blueprints to scale. I planted perennials that bloom in one season so that a crescendo of simultaneous color would explode all at the same time. I experimented with sequential color so that flowers would open throughout the year. I made charts listing the plants, their heights, colors, bloom times and maintenance requirements.
After perennials I dived into roses - not just hybrid teas and floribundas that I'd tried growing in beds and borders - only to discover they didn't like perennials anywhere near them. I learned about the more sociable hybrid musks, such as pink 'Cornelia,' and fragrant rugosas such 'Hansa.' I found out about old roses such as 'Tuscany' with velvet petals and strong perfume. I had to have rambling roses such as purple 'Veilchenblau,' that draped themselves over arbors and scrambled up old fruit trees, then dangled in big garlands from the branches.
At a Heritage Rose Conference in New Zealand, complete with pre-conference and post-conference garden tours, I completely lost my heart to old roses. Thus began a 10-year love affair of sending for roses from Canada, California and Texas. This was way before Heirloom Roses in St. Paul, Oregon, became a rose lover's mecca. Plants would arrive bare root in spring, bundles of sticks wrapped in damp newspaper. The catalog descriptions were the only hint of beauty to come.
Next came more flowering shrubs - dwarf lilacs, viburnums, hydrangeas, abelias - and easy care roses such as 'Coral Floral Carpet' and 'Lovely Fairy' that bloom continuously. But wait - there were trees I was completely ignoring! I had to grow parrotias, smoke trees, ginkgos, oh my!
Then clematis took me hostage, appearing in garden centers with irresistible pictures of showy flowers. They could scramble up trellises or roam through shrubs. Soon 'Etoile Violette,' 'Royal Velours,' 'Duchess of Albany,' and 'Elsa Spaeth' were happily blooming in my garden.
If you were to look inside my mind you would see plants. It's a wonder that little tendrils aren't sprouting from my ears. I fall asleep daydreaming about the next set of combinations to plant together, and wake up with yet another idea.
Discoveries still await
Forty years of gardening and I still need more plants. The craving doesn't quit. Why just the other day I discovered a little shop called Oxalis on Northwest 24th Street between Thurman and Vaughn. My friend Connie and I checked out the jewelry, clothing and garden art, but as soon as we got a glimpse of foliage, we headed out the back door and down the stairs to the nursery, which is stocked with glorious plants.
Connie was first to discover Abelia 'Kaleidescope,' a compact form of glossy abelia with orange and gold tints in the evergreen leaves. I grabbed one too - it would be the perfect finishing touch to a vacant spot beside 'Coral Floral Carpet' roses, where I had just removed an overgrown Jerusalem sage. The abelia's evergreen leaves will be interesting year round, and the red fall color will be a bonus.
Now wouldn't 'Kaleidescope' look even better with a dark green shrub to set it off? I'm searching for just one more plant, probably 'Aztec Pearl' Mexican orange, as a necessary companion. The two together would make me very, very happy. For now.