Weekly Almanac, Honesdale Pa.
July 20, 1990
by Bella Stander
Being that I've been feeling a bit peevish lately, it is only fitting that I air my pet gardening peeves and vent my spleen at the most egregious landscaping atrocities. If you find yourself or a loved one to be a target of my comments, please bear in mind that my object is only to foster esthetic harmony.
The most glaring fault that strikes me at this time of year is clashing colors. My eyeballs are still burning from a particularly painful combination of flowers that I saw in a barrel planter not far from where I live. Aiming for a splash of bright color, the offenders grouped a mass of magenta-and-white-striped petunias with yellow-and-maroon pansies. Either group would have looked just fine alone, as the vivid markings of the flowers provide contrast enough. But together. ..1 shudder even now to recall it.
Another thing I can't stand is "polka-dot" gardens. I see them everywhere, rigid little soldiers lined up in a row: one spike of screaming red salvia, one silver dusty miller, one glaring orange marigold; or one shocking pink impatien, one white impatien; or one red wax begonia, one white one; repeated ad nauseum along the length of a foundation, or around a boulder, or along a driveway. These plantings look more like a bottle collection on a mantelpiece than a living, growing garden.
Look around at the glorious wild scenery that abounds in our area. Do you see evenly spaced polka-dots anywhere in nature? Of course not. When you see a wild stand of flowers along the roadside, there will be a clump of daisies, say, whose edges intermingle with some black-eyed Susans, which then give way to daylilies. Obviously, we don't want our gardens to be completely natural (a disordered array of as many weeds as flowers), but we can take our cue from nature and put flowers--even annual ones-in soft masses with random spots of contrasting compatible color, and leave the rigid spacing for the curio shelf in the parlor.
Now I know that on this next point I'm railing in vain, but I'd love to see an end to "foundation plantings"--you know, that ho-hum assortment of dreary evergreens, usually clipped into silly pillow shapes, that fester around the periphery of buildings everywhere. Foundation plantings are a relatively recent phenomenon, and originated as a means to screen poor workmanship on foundations in the latter years of the last century. If your house sits low to the ground, or has a well-crafted stone foundation, there is no need to have a skirt of greenery around its ankles.
But if you do find the need for a planting to tie your house into the landscape, there is no ordinance mandating the use of the same old evergreens-arborvitae, hemlock, yew-that all your neighbors are out pruning week after endless week. Observe the monster hemlocks crowding into the front windows of any abandoned farmhouse and you'll see what happens to those neat little pillows when left to their own devices.
Why not plant something that--gasp!--your neighbor doesn't grow and that requires, at most, minimal pruning? There is a wide array of small-to-medium-sized shrubs that would be perfect for foundation plantings: Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana contorta), butterfly bush (Buddleia species), flowering quince (Chaenomeles species). Of course, azaleas and rhododendrons are perfect too. However, please note that there are hundreds of varieties available, and not just the shrieking magenta and sickly lilac rhododendrons, or blazing coral and shocking pink azaleas that are endemic in our area every spring.
And for all those people with chocolate-colored plastic deer, fuzzy fake sheep and cutouts of bent-over ladies with bloomers cluttering their lawns, I've sheathed my claws for now, but your time will come.
© 1990 Bella Stander