Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Ease of Coneflowers, or Gardening's Dirty Secret

Post 5

Hey, most of gardening's secrets are dirty; it goes with the territory. Yields good results though.
Coneflowers with Red Maple
The big secret?  It's that very few people garden the way garden writers tell us to garden. We are told to learn about plants, prepare our soil and design a garden before putting a single plant in. We are told to hire experts or buy garden design plans . This message sometimes suggests that gardening is a dangerous activity apt to blow up in the unempowered novice's face.

Well, people seem to really like my garden and I've never hired anyone or used any plans. I also knew very little when I plunged in. Most people know very little when they plunge in.

This is how it worked --I hated my new front yard's sickly grass even more than I hated its boring pachysandra. So I thinned out some of the pachysandra, and transplanted it to where I'd dug up grass. Then something inside of me felt an irrational tug, a temptation towards lights, colors, action! Friends of mine had flower gardens, why, why...not me? So, inspired, determined and deluded, I tromped off to the nearest box store to buy cheap flats of annuals. I put them in. Instant pizzazz. Positive feedback. I was hooked.

Coneflowers, Phloxes, Rose, Verbascum, Petunias
Now here is where friends and family came in. They offered me plants, not just the annuals of a summer but hardy perennials that came back every year. They gave me advice and encouragement. I learned where to put things. I learned to water. Bought perennials on sale. Took out library books on plants. Played around on the Internet and discovered a haven of good advice, Garden Web.

Piecemeal, it all came together. When I saw something I liked, I bought it and put it in where I had space. If it didn't look right I moved it or divided it. Sometimes I killed it by mistake, learning as I went. But after a few years-- there was not a bit of pachysandra or grass left.

Coneflowers and Daylilies

Your best design tool is your eyes. Just keep looking as you go. When things don't look right, change them till they do, till your gaze feels drawn in, welcome, happy to rest amidst the abundance. Its not rocket science; its gardening. So, if you don't much mind the exercise, or being outside in gorgeous weather or delicious smells or the feeling of cooperating with nature, you will look up one day while gardening and find that-- you have made yourself a garden.

So the dirty secret is that garden-making is not difficult. It is as if nature wants to cooperate, is happy to do the hard work for you. Non-perfectionist gardening is like one of the easiest, prettiest plants around: coneflowers.  They are the pink, daisy like flower in all the garden pictures.  And all they want to do is grow.

And if you do not believe me about making gardening easy, then believe these Handy Tips by Felder Rushing from his helpful new book, Slow Gardening


Coneflower, or Echinachea purpurea, is native to American prairies and so likes sun, good drainage and moderate water. However, it is a sturdy, highly adaptable plant; it will also take part shade and amended clay soil, but not damp soil. It has a good 6 weeks of bloom, usually from early to late summer, and, contrary to its Latin color name, is usually a lavender pink ,with a fat russetty domed center (that does look like a curled up hedgehog aka, in Greek, echinos.) It is easily divided, self seeds readily and can handily be grown from seed as long as the seeds have a period of cold. Because it is so hard to kill and because to have some coneflower means to soon have more coneflower, it is a perfect pass along plant, a good gift to a new gardener. There are many fancy varieties in wonderful colors: white, red, orange, magenta, yellow, bicolor and green, but they are less likely to seed or spread. Usually two feet tall , and with many 4 inch flowers on just one plant, it is a useful, easy, beautiful addition to most gardens. And , as a bonus, goldfinches seek out its seedheads for feasting. For information on its possible medical properties, go here 


Anonymous said...

Youre indeed correct on this piece!!

Anonymous said...

Probably this blog's best blog on the net..

Anonymous said...

I fully agree completely.

Anonymous said...

This makes perfect sense!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece of writing!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness some bloggers can write. Thank you for this blog...

Anonymous said...

This surely makes great sense to anyone!!