Traditional thinking links creativity with some lightening strike of genius or some crystal clear "aha" moment.
But people like Jacquie don't wait for a flashes of inspiration; they simply get down to it. Making a garden is about hard work and perseverance. When you talk with a gardener who has as much experience as Jacquie, you realize that creativity involves planting a perennial in the wrong spot, digging it up and moving it to a more appropriate one. You make mistakes, but hopefully you learn from them.
When I asked Jacquie about her methods for creating such pleasing plant combinations, she told me:
"I used to be that I'd plunk a plant in where I had room. Now I'm much more careful. Often a shrub or tree will remain in a pot for a month until I decide for sure where its permanent home will be. Smaller plants don't take as long, but even so, it takes me a while to decide."
"I look at the foliage and plant colour, texture and size, walk around the around the garden with it or sometimes I just sit the plant where I think it should go, and leave it for a few days just to be sure. "
"I might do that two or three times before it's a done deal. If a plant doesn't do what I think it should do the first season, I'll try is somewhere else the next year. I'm much braver now and more ruthless. Eventually it all works."
I was curious to know the story behind this tall, totem-like wood carving.
Jacquie:"I had friends for dinner including Steve, an ex-priest and Maureen, his wife and an ex-nun. Steve passed away last year, just before Christmas, but he was a character and as big as life, so his memory lives on. "
"During dinner he told us he had taken a course at Lee Valley on how to carve outdoor trees, but didn't have a tree to work on.
"During Hurricane Juan, two 100' poplars fell down into our neighbour's property. When the people we hired had trimmed one of the poplars to about 25', it popped back up and landed in the 8' hole it had left. When I saw it standing, I realized I could probably do something with it and so stopped them from cutting it down further. Then I forgot about it."
"When Steve complained about not having a tree, I said,"I have just the tree for you." He was excited and started that summer. It took about a week in total to complete it."
"Steve had a very dry humour. I was watching him up on his ladder one day and asked why he was using a mirror. He replied, "I want to get the wrinkles just right." And they were! We were very pleased with the carving, and now, we treasure it even more."
The lower section of the hillside garden
Unknown variety of Euphorbia
Jacquie kindly spent over an hour trying to find the name for this Euphorbia for me, but to no avail.
"It must have been given to me because I keep record of everything. It seeds around a lot, but in spring I gather the seedlings up and clump them together. It also has to be cut back in mid-summer, so it leaves a bit of a hole. Despite all that, I really like it for its colour."
I did some poking around myself on the internet and I wonder if it is no Euphorbia 'Mini Martini'. Any suggestions?
Flowers or foliage? I asked Jacquie which she valued most.
Her answer: "I think I value flowers and foliage equally, but am much more interested in foliage than I used to be. For instance, hostas didn't used to interest me much, except as a filler, and now I'm crazy about them."
Golden Comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminister Gold'
Jacquie: " I love Golden Comfrey for its beautiful foliage and have moved it several times because it burns in the sun. It think it's finally found its home."
Golden Comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum 'Axminister Gold' has long oval leaves edged with a creamy butter colour. Note: the foliage can cause skin irritation, so use gloves. It has pale blue bell-shaped flowers in early summer. This plant likes moist soil in full sun or light shade (afternoon shade is best in hot regions). It has a spreading growth habit. If you cut back the foliage after the plant flowers it will produce a new flush of fresh growth. Powdery mildew can be a problem. Propagate from root cuttings or grow plants from seed. Height: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9
Gentian Speedwell, Veronica gentianoides
Jacquie has two different cultivars of Veronica gentianoides: "I have one that is pale, pale blue - almost white and another that is a deeper blue. Love them both."
Gentian Speedwell,Veronica gentianoides: forms a low rosette of wide leaves with upright powder blue flower spikes in late spring/early summer. Veronica gentianoides tolerates a variety of soil types, but likes the soil to be moist. Full sun or light shade. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) USDA Zones: 2-9.
Jacquie's "flower fairy" who presides over the lower part of the garden from the top of a
stump of an old crabapple tree.
Lysimacahia cliata 'Firecracker': is an upright plant with burgundy-purple foliage and insignificant yellow flowers. It prefers clay soil and moist conditions. For best colour, plant it in full sun or light shade. Be warned this is a pretty aggressive plant that spreads. Height: 75-90 cm ( 29-35 inches), Spread: 75 cm and more ( 29 inches...) USDA Zones: 2-9
Jacquie's review of this foliage plant: "It's a horrible spreader, but worth keeping contained in a pot for its beautiful colour. I have one area where it has gotten fairly wild and I'll never get rid of it."
Unnamed variety of Verbascum. Jacquie:"I've had trouble with these in the past, because my garden is so wet, but this one is doing well.
Jacquie told me, "I found the Buddhist hand in one of those small boutiques you stumble upon in a mall and just have to enter because everything looks so interesting. It was very inexpensive and I thought it might dispel evil or bring good luck or something good. I've looked it up and it appears to have many possible meanings. It's lost a finger, but now it has more character."
I asked Jacquie if she had a favourite perennial.
Not surprisingly she replied, "Favourite perennial? That's impossible to answer. They're nearly all favourites!"
Geum borisii: Forms a low growing clump with sprays of bright orange flowers from early spring into summer. It may occassionally re-bloom in fall. Part shade and moist soil are best. Height: 30-45cm (12- 18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) USDA Zones: 5-7. Note: Geum borisii struggles with heat and humidity south of zone 7.
An interesting mix of colours and textures with a large, glass bottle as a centrepiece.
Geum rivale: has nodding reddish-brown and butter-yellow bells in May/June. This plant will grow in average garden soil, but it likes moist conditions and some light shade. Bees love its flowers. Height: 25-50 cm (10-20 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm ( 18-23 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9.
Creeping Speedwell, Veronica whitleyi
Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium caeruleum
Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium caeruleum: forms a low mound of ferny foliage with star-shaped blue flowers on tall, upright stems. It can self-seed prolifically given the right growing conditions, so deadhead it after flowering if you wan to limit seedlings. Average garden soil is fine, but Jacob's Ladder likes the soil to be moist. Height: 45-80 cm (18-31 inches), Spread 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.
Even though the sun shines well into the eveningin June, the light in Jacquie's garden was starting to fade. Happy, but weary after taking pictures for well over an hour, I sat with Jacquie for a few minutes while she continued to pot up her plants. You can learn a lot from someone like her. We compared notes on plants and chatted about gardening.
As Jacquie's beautiful garden shows, creativity is mostly conscious hard work. With a little passion and determination, we all have it in us to be creative.
I have one more post showing how Jacquie's garden transitions into late summer
This third post will appear in the coming weeks.
Have a wonderful weekend!