Happy Accidents: Uplanned successes and surprises from my 2022 garden

January has been dismal, uninspiring and boring - cold, rainy, gray days have kept me inside for most of the month. This probably sounds a little pathetic, but looking back at old garden photos has been my main source of entertainment lately.

Scrolling through them has been enlightening. It’s interesting how much you miss when you’re busy in the act. For all my careful planning, I’ve noticed that some of the best combinations were accidental. To remind myself to try them again, I made a list of several that jumped out at me. Looking back seems like a good way to start out a new year of gardening.

Must have more of: Put on the sunglasses! That screaming gold plant (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) in the bottom left of the photo was a leftover from a previous container planting. I plopped it in with the fennel. I wish I could take credit for pairing it up with what I think is Veronica longifolia (or possibly a salvia) but in any case it was a puny looking thing I didn’t have a home for. I don’t know what happened, but this combination took off like gangbusters in June. Yes, yes, yes to that hit of oregano - definitely plant it with anything lavender and blue. Make sure to pair it up with finely textured plants like fennel.

Left to right: Gold oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’), Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Speedwell (not sure exactly, may have been mislabelled Veronica longifolia ‘Purple Illusion’ - or an unknown salvia. In any case, it’s the color I want more of.

Below is a shot of one of my best containers. I didn’t have quite enough plants to fill it, so I added a tiny houseplant (Duranta repens) I had been nurturing and plunked it into (bottom right) a mix of hot colored annuals. I never dreamed it would take off in such a big way - the variegated chartreuse foliage dominated the container, but I love it. I’m babying it inside now, hoping to employ it again. I’m inspired to use more hot color combinations like this one and definitely more Duranta.

Left to right: Signet Marigold ‘Lemon Gem’, Lantana ‘Dallas Red,’ Coleus, Duranta repens (aka golden dewdrop)

Experiments with flower shapes brought about this combination of Veronicastrum (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’) and Sea Holly (Eryngium planum ‘Blaukappe.’ I wish I had planted more Sea Holly, or even a taller perennial with a similar shape to keep pace with the Veronicastrum. Keep going with shapes! Repeat this idea in other areas.

Left to right: Veronicastrum (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’), Sea Holly (Eryngium planum ‘Blaukappe.’

Underused plants doing cool things: Desperation drove me to plant Cerastium tomentosum (aka Snow in Summer) in this spot. It’s a perennial I’ve often ignored because it’s kind of aggressive. I put my misgivings aside, figuring it was one of the few perennials that would tolerate lean soil and hot, dry conditions. Surprisingly, it was a show stopper that caused me to rethink its use. This useful, attractive groundcover doesn’t skip a beat in hot, dry weather and the soft gray foliage is striking even after it flowers.

Cerastium tomentosum (aka Snow in Summer) - a thriller and spiller that captures attention.

It sure makes a statement above that stone wall doesn’t it? It’s back on the favorite tough plant list.

A little farther up that stone wall is another choice of desperation. Physocarpus opilifolius (Ninebark), a shrub that endures hot, dry conditions. I figured it would live, but never dreamed it would perform so gloriously.

Physocarpus opilifolius ‘ Little Devil’ (Ninebark)

This one is a dwarf - Physocarpus opilifolius ‘ Little Devil.’ I’ve used it many times in other types of plantings, but never considered it’s qualities as a spiller - a perfect match for the stone wall. Note to self - be more open minded about ways to use shrubs.

Go big or go home: Yeah, like this planting of Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) I saw on a bank in a friends front yard. It stopped me dead in my tracks. Food for thought - If some is good, more is better.

A bank of Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)

My garden lacks exotic looking Crocosmia’s - mostly because I haven’t figured out exactly how to use big honking plants like this effectively. If you’re going to plant them, this is the way to roll. When I saw this planting in front of another gardener’s house I almost wrecked my car. Note to self - be bold.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is rocking it here.

Leftover Surprises: The Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth) below were leftovers from a cutting garden I planted for customer. I didn’t have a place to put them, so I used them to fill a hole in the shrub border next to my vegetable garden.

I wasn’t expecting to like them so much, but they’ve become one of my favorite annuals. Lesson - try plants you haven’t used, be open minded about where you put them.

Gomphrena globosa (aka Globe Amaranth) - such bright pop of color!

Here's one that made me laugh. What’s that thing erupting from the base of this container? A Nicotiana I planted years ago that wants to come back. A good reminder to plant it again. Reminder to self - include more self seeders.

Nicotiana seedling

If you need a little inspiration for 2023, I can’t think of a better way to get started. After all, our successes and failures guide future ventures. We need reminders to keep us going. One of my biggest takeaways from all this? Take more photos, keep notes and label plants better! Next up, attack the pile of seed catalogues on the dining room table.


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