Sunday, May 17, 2009

Welcome to Darwin Gardens

Sambuca, Scotch Moss, and Ajuga, the latest offering
to Darwin's Great Experiment in my garden.

I have finally found the perfect name for our estate. I mean, um, the patch of ground which I garden. I mean, the site where I occasionally pay attention to what's more than 5' from my torch. Darwin Gardens. What more perfect name for the experiment naturally unfolding in my garden since my love affair with molten glass began.

It's very simple. I invite the plants into the garden. Granted, the odds of invitations being issued were far greater during the PGP (Pre-Glass Period), but a few are slipping out in recent days. Once the plants are here, they are free to perform (and live), or not, and it's entirely up to them and their genetic makeup. Certainly, it's not up to me. It's nature doing her thing, all by herself.

The hybrid teas we inherited from the prior owners. While some of them are still there, they struggle in comparison to the old roses I have planted by their sides, or the thriving tagetes I have woven amongst them to deter the deer with their exhuberant fragrance. Or the lavender planted for similar reasons. Neither of these get any modicum of attention or water during the growing season, and yet, they live on, more or less, to provide their show of bloom and delight me. The exception to the lackluster hybrid tea roses is the one I believe is a Peace rose, which towers high above the rest, despite having far poorer soil and light conditions.

Is this a Peace rose?

These experiments are happening all throughout my garden, ever confirming Darwin's truth. There seems to be a trend going on with the salvias. It doesn't matter much what species, or where I plant them - they seem to know what to do and how to do it with little interference from me. Some are doing it too well. There is a towering red salvia literally consuming what are suposed to be native manzanita bushes, and I don't recall ever having watered, fed, or pruned it.

Two salvias consuming a native manzanita, without
sustenance or encouragement from me.

It's not always the perennials that win, either. In the first year or two of living in this place, I planted some Dusty Miller (the annual type, sold en masse at the Home Depot as accents) along the path to the kitchen door. It's an Annual, for cripe's sake, but it is still there, growing bigger each year, without water or care for the last near decade.

A perennial relative called 'Powis Castle' is accomplishing similar feats back in a shady backstage area of the vegetable garden, which I used to use as a nursery when I was passionately tending the soil. I loved to propagate plants, and had started some wormwood (artemesia) cuttings in 1 gallon pots. Well, over the years these little starts got a little dribble here and there as the veggies got their dose, and soon became shrubs on their own. They grew so well that their roots extended out of the gallon pots and down into the soil, so that it eventually became impossible to lift the pot off the ground. Their leggy branches will be pruned back one day to promote new, bushier growth, and the plants will ultimately find a wonderful spot in my Darwin garden. They have certainly earned it!

Certain succulents seem to have a leg up around here as well. There is an odd stonecrop that seems happy to be plunked down anywhere, doesn't mind being ignored, and will dutifully fill in any empty spaces. It asks nothing from me.

There is a bronze sedge that wants nothing more than to be propagated the hell out of, and distributed all throughout my garden. The coolest thing about this one is that even if it dies, the color is almost the same and I can't tell either way.

My favorite, bronze sedge.

Planting under trees (at least the redwoods and douglas firs we have) has not worked well for me. I am abandoning certain areas because of this, digging up any potential survivors and finding other more optimistic homes for them, and conceding victory to the trees. There are exceptions - the Spring Bouquet viburnum has thrived under the douglas fir out front, as has the bergenia, and a spirea. But the lovely small flowered rhodies, some azaleas, and certainly the hydrangeas have all been bullied by the moisture-hungry roots of these trees, and have succumbed. I think these places in particular exemplify Darwin's ideas, where even an attentive gardener cannot do much to alter the course of what will ultimately be.

Failure is a part of every scientific venture, and my garden is no exception. Many who are chosen to participate because of their flashy blooms, heady fragrance, or exotic habit are shocked to learn that a server does not come by every day with a drink and an appetizer. Sure, eventually they do get a little attention, but you can bet it's nothing like what they were used to at the greenhouse. Once they pass I do try to remove them with respect, and give them a chance to serve again by composting their remains. Sometimes I try heroic rescue tactics but they usually don't work and take up far too much time. Time I could be spending at the torch.

I invite you to take a stroll through my Darwin garden at my Flickr photo album.

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