Even after more than 30 years of gardening, planting a brand-new bed is a thrill. Where there was nothing but lawn, I can paint a beautiful picture with plants.
Planning a new bed
I begin by daydreaming to my heart's content, picturing all the possibilities before I plant. Often at night, as I'm drifting into sleep, I imagine tableaux, almost like dream images. I see the blank slate the way it is right now, and then picture it filled with colorful plants.
The potential for emerging beauty is a great gift - a bed can become anything, and the empty space hints at so many possibilities.
Until I commit, it's like dating, and I flirt with many plant combinations until I settle on a satisfying picture.
Will it be pink weigelas and blue-violet cranesbills for spring color, with daylilies and penstemons to carry the color into summer, and some asters and sedums for fall?
Or perhaps 'Golden Lanterns' Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria) will launch a golden-leaved bed, along with a 'Golden Spirit' smoke tree and golden redtwig dogwood. An underplanting of burgundy-tinted coral bells like 'Chocolate Ruffles' and 'Plum Pudding' would contrast dramatically, while drifts of yellow coreopsis would echo the golden leaves.
The appeal of sensual delight
Even though they don't have remarkable leaves or architectural shapes, shrub roses make me happy.
Their surprising beauty, emerging from such thorny canes, along with their irresistible perfume and and long bloom period win me over time and again. With flowers in shades of heavenly pink, lipstick red, peach, banana yellow, nearly black and pure white, there's a color for every mood.
Half the pleasure of gardening is dreaming about choices. Color entices me first, then scent. I favor the single roses that open their flowers wide, allowing the light to pour through, revealing larger surfaces of color and inviting the bees to feast.
Start with what you love
The difference between gardening and inspired gardening is love.
Start by thinking about what you love. In the early stages of my garden, I loved pastels and was obsessed with perennials.
Now, I'm crazy about more intense colors - velvety purple, vibrant burgundy, hot pink, deep red, and cobalt blue - with touches of creamy yellow, ivory, pale pink, icy blue, peach and chartreuse to bring light and contrast.
There's nothing like the sweet flavor of homegrown figs and sugar snap peas, the aroma of ripe grapes ready to pick, the scent of lily-of-the-valley and rugosa roses.
The unfurling of ferns, the ripening of viburnum berries, the marbled leaves of cyclamen - all give me pleasure. What makes you feel alive, amazed and happy in your garden?
Do you love to dig and prune, or would you rather rest in a hammock and relax? Do you need a sheltered place to read, a little shed to pot seedlings, or a greenhouse to winter over tropicals and propagate plants?
Do you need a play space for your children, or a raised bed where they can grow strawberries and carrots? A woman who works with preschool children told me she saves a space for a dirt pile where kids can dig in.
Art can give guidance
If you want to study beauty, nature and art are inspiring teachers. Nature shows us how plants grow in compatible communities - groves of oaks or pines with an understory of rhododendrons and camellias, and a layer of trilliums and ferns beneath. Imitate nature's ways for a beautiful picture that flows naturally.
Fine art illustrates how to combine colors, textures and shapes. Paintings have a focal point that draws your interest, with a backdrop and foreground that are less dominant. There's some contrast for punch, and a great deal of blending, which help create a unified picture.
Aim for a composition rather than a collection of individual plants. Consider how the plants will join together happily, how they will flow together in a peaceful way. This is the art of gardening and can be learned over time.
Don't be afraid to experiment and have fun. Fortunately, plants can be moved around both before and after planting. Before is a lot easier, so try out your 'pictures' by sinking potted plants into the bed or drawing up a design on paper.
But don't worry about changing things around later. In the garden, as in life, change is the only certainty.
• Camellia exhibition, noon to 4 p.m. March 28, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29 and March 30, Japanese Garden Society, 611 S.W. Kingston Ave., adults $8, seniors and students $6.25. For information, visit japanesegarden.com, or call 503-223-1321.
• The Better Living Show focuses on sustainable homes and lifestyles and features four gardens and many speakers. It runs noon to 9 p.m. March 28, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. March 29 and March 30, Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive, admission free, parking $7. For information, visit betterlivingshow.org.
Beginning March 28, the Garden Muse column will run in the home section of Friday's Portland Tribune.