Monday, March 1, 2010

What's your style?

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.


  1. Hi Jess~~ Very interesting. I too live in a Zone 9 garden disguised as an 8b. Until December '08. Then December '09. I think I might just be cured of Zonal denial. The only conceivable antidote would be a heated greenhouse. In my dreams.

    We share similar likes and dislikes. Coral or salmon but orange is banned from my garden, as is most yellows. I like the whispies but I like the beefy, large leaved plants too. And there are phases. Hydrangea one year, Clematis the next--mini obsessions that have to play out so I can move on to the next big thrill.

    Phlox paniculata is a jewel of a plant. I'm sure you'll be able to find newer, disease resistant varieties. When everything is to your satisfaction, I hope you'll allow us a peak. I for one, promise not to say you're un-Charleston. :)

  2. Hello Jess. Hmmm. I wish I had a style, I think the fact that I don't shows in my garden, which is a very random affair. Having said that, I love flowers with symmetry such as sunflowers or flowers with intricate form like columbines. Well, there's two things that don't match already!

  3. I think that after growing up on a farm, wild flowers are not my style. Anything daisy like reminds me on the fields, not big on asclepias either, nothing weedy. I love more formal structure, and a lot of old fashioned flowers, lilac, peonies, roses etc. But spring bulbs are my absoulte favourite. After being buried in snow for such a long time, they are such a welcome sight.

  4. Charleston is a favorite city for me. I have been there twice and can't wait to get back! I do not like wild, but I also do not like straight lines and formal. I enjoy whimsy and surprises in the garden. I love pink flowers but have every color in my garden, even purple which is not one of my favorites. Can't wait to see what you plant in Charleston.


  5. I love hearing about everyones styles. It is very cool how different ideas of what makes the ideal garden abound! Thanks for the comments :)

  6. Jess, it's going to be so exciting to see your garden unfold. Many of your favorites are my own. (I especially back you on your love of tall flower spikes.) I can see where having a full and abundant planting in the front yard would give the Charlestonians fits... but still, I hope you let a bit of your style peek into the front yard, if only to flirt with the tourists in their carriages. This is, after all, how style is formed over time, with the people who live there adding their own unique twists to the tradition. :)

  7. p.s. A friend and fellow gardener in Georgia told me she likes David phlox for its mildew resistance. Maybe it would work for you, too. :)

  8. I say, get on with your bad self! LOL My back garden is the same for me....that's where my experiments are, where it doesn't matter if something is 'not supposed to be' planted where it is.

  9. I used to think I had a style, but with each new house, comes a new garden, and my 'style', whatever that may be, is constantly evolving and changing. I think living here I'm learning to let go more, be less formal, less rigid. I've also come to realize that my 'style' adapts to where I'm living. Dense shade...I leaned more toward Japanese-style gardening; stifling dry heat...more xeriscaping and drought tolerant landscaping; surrounded by acres of woodland...I'm now trying to make what I plant fit with the surroundings, and work with the little ecosystem we have here...I wonder where I'll end up next?

  10. I love purple coneflowers. I am waiting to receive my 'green envy' coneflowers. I am kind of still discovering what I like and dislike. I do like whispy flowers like...gaura. I LOVE white flowers. I could go on and on...this would be a good post topic. :)

  11. I'm lucky enough to be gardening in almost the perfect climate for the plants that I like. It's cold enough for peonies and lilacs, but not quite too cold for rosemary. I, too, dislike tropicals, so it's just fine that they won't grow. (Except for lemon verbena. I'd be happy if I could grow that as a tree.)

    I like peonies, roses, foxgloves, Japanese anemones, all of those plants that I read as British cottage garden, though I don't know if I'm reading them right. And I like them in a jungle-like tangle, though I do like the tangle to have big clumps.

  12. Your ideas are wonderful and will look gorgeous in your yard. I think you can mix a little of your style into the formal frontage and be just fine. My style, currently, is definitely tropical since I've relocated to SE Florida in zone 9b (borderline 10). I was never able to grow many of the plants I can now in the Chicago area, so I'm having a great time! I'm looking forward to seeing your finished product!