I might not be able to put it down on graph paper, but I definitely have a style of garden that I like, and plants that I like. What about you? Or do you like them all?
Charleston is in zone 8b, but practically speaking, the peninsula has a microclimate that is more like 9a. People who have lived here their whole lives say that we haven't had a winter like this one since 1940. But even that said, if you look at the rules of what makes a hardiness zone, even with many below freezing days, we never once dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit even this year. This puts us in zone 9a, and it is apparent through the plants that you frequently see. Many people here grow tropical plants and things like lime trees with success. The problem is I don't like any of those plants. Not really. Oh, except for Brugsmansia, which I definitely will have in my garden somewhere. I might even have two.
Now maybe this will change after years of struggling with other plants that aren't really fit for this climate. You see we are also heat zone 8-9, with high humidity, which means we have around 120 + days above 86 degrees, with that high humidity. Insane, I know, but you get used to it. Generally, if its below 80 degrees and there is even the slightest breeze, I get a chill. Can you believe I lived in the NE for 13 years? Goes to prove that your blood gets set when you are 2 years old or something.
Okay back to the point. Many of the plants that I picture in my minds eye will be a struggle to grow here. I know this. Some of them I'm not even going to try. Like peonies and dahlias. Others though, like tall garden phlox, which is my absolutely favorite garden plant in the world, I'm going to grow if it kills me. Sure, our 365 days of humidity are going to cause powdery mildew problems, but I don't care.
In general, I like tall vertical plants. Pretty much all of them. Among my favorites are delphiniums, foxglove, cleome and agapanthas. I can't think of a tall flower spike plant that I don't like. I also really like coneflowers, which is weird because the rest of the daisylike bunch is "meh" to me. It has something to do with the way their faces are curled back like a pink lion. It might also have something to do with the fact that they bloom for months on end. And you only have to plant them once, you never have to water them, or deadhead them, or even fertilize them if you don't want to.
My final loves, stylistically, are the whispy many tiny flower faced plants. Like catchfly. Swamp milkweed. Yarrow and even sedum sort of fit into this category.
My dislikes, besides the alien looking tropical plants, are silver blue foliage plants, anything the color orange, anything that looks like it can maim you, and irises, both because they smell awful to me and they rot in such an unattractive way, I just can't take them.
So, just judging by the plants I like, a style sort of forms in my head. But there is more. I love densely over-planted wild looking gardens. My front garden won't look like that, because it faces the Charleston street where formal gardens are the rule. The carriage rides that go by daily would likely tisk tisk an overgrown botanical warzone. How un-Charleston, they would say. She's clearly not from here, they would say. However, my back garden, hidden completely from everyone behind the tall fenceline, I want to be a wild place. To some degree I don't care if a 4 foot daylily is in front of my coneflowers, if 4 o'clocks have reseeded themselves in the bushes, or if one plant (within reason) is taking over another. Its all green life for themselves out there. Let the best plants win. And of course the phlox need to win too.
Maybe this is why the graph paper isn't working.
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