Sunday, May 3, 2015


Despite what my teen years would suggest, I've always liked rules. I like structure, and parameters. I think it makes for a better end-result because there are no surprises, and everyone feels safer.

I have approached my gardening with the same attitude. I don't apply these rules to other people's gardens, nor do I judge anyone harshly who "breaks" my rules - your garden, your bidness. I simply have not enjoyed the results when I experimented with said rule, hence the ban.

My long-standing principles, with respect to the garden:

  • No yellow (I simply don't find it restful and it tends to be an attention hog)
  • No orange-red/red-orange (same reason)
  • Use white cautiously (it tends to grab the eye and creates visual "holes")
  • No variegation (it looks pretty up close, but from afar it tends to look messy)
  • Nothing that requires TONS of maintenance to live in my soil (so no acid-loving plants)
  • I do not and will not trim my plants into unnatural shapes, like rectangles or circles
  • Nothing weedy or messy by habit, unless it has some amaze-balls flowers that make up for it
  • Can't be too water-needy (once a week, max)

That's not to say I haven't fantasized about a "sunset" garden: all orange, yellow, and orange-red. Or a white garden, which could include lots of variegation. But given that I only get ONE garden at a time, I spend many hours over many weeks coming up with a color/planting scheme that stays within my set parameters, and then I rigidly adhere to it.

Sometimes I make the mistake of verbally lamenting a planting "dilemma" I've got, and then people offer all kinds of well-intentioned advice about what I can plant to solve it. Then I have to just shut my mouth and smile and say thank you, when what I'm thinking is "I can't plant that: it's the wrong color/size/sun exposure". Nobody likes that person who always presents a problem and then shoots down all attempts to help remedy it: they start to think you like being stuck.

My back yard has been no exception. My planting scheme was to be red, burgundy/maroon/brown, and white, with some blue foliage occasionally thrown in because I heart it.

This has been a BIG challenge in a mostly shade yard. If you're a gardener and you're reading this, you might be thinking of all kinds of plants that could work. Turk's cap, you say? I've never seen one that didn't look weedy/messy and scraggly. Inland Sea Oats? Ditto. Scarlet Sage? It's orange-red. See how annoying I am??

And let's face it: most of the shade-loving plants for this zone are dull. At least, they're dull to me. Case in point: Cast Iron Plant. It's a solid performer in the shade, and sooooooo uninteresting. Even when planted en masse it's just less dull. Put another way, on the dull-o-meter it still only gets the half-way mark.

In the spirit of being open-minded, I bought 3 White Mistflower plants earlier this spring. I read that they have lovely white fragrant flowers, but so far they bore me and just lay there all floppy-like. It takes every ounce of will-power I have not to rip them out.

In an act of frustration I also bought 6 Variegated Flax Lilies, and despite my misgivings I'm pleased with the outcome:

I consciously ignored the fact that they produce little purple flowers on tall stems, rationalizing that I'd simply cut them off if/when they showed up.

Yet every time I look out our bedroom window I am taunted by the bed on the right against the back fence, because it gets a LOT of shade. The only time it gets full sun is when the neighbor's trees are bare in winter. What the heck can I plant there that has any color?? So far I've got a large Philodendron, a white flowered Crape Myrtle, and a Loquat. Zzzzzzzz.

Then something happened that forced me to re-evaluate my whole back yard scheme.

It was 1am on a Thursday, and I was desperately searching the internet for more red-blooming shade-tolerant plants. I ordered 3 Bloom-a-thon red Azalea. Immediately after confirming my purchase I knew I'd crossed into stupid-ville and needed to take a step back.

It's not that azaleas are stupid, they're lovely. But they like more acidic soil than I'll ever have, and more moisture than I can guarantee. Those are pretty important gardening principles I'd violated. And more to the point, I'd passed up lots of perfectly viable plants just because they had purple flowers. For example: Philippine Violet, or Salvia Mexicana 'Limelight', both of which I've previously grown in shade with success. And don't forget Acanthus Mollis, with it's white and pale purple spikes.

I started googling "salvia shade" and came across 'Flowers By The Sea', a confusing name for a nursery that specializes in Salvia. Today I placed an order for:

And now I wait eagerly for them to arrive, then figure out where they go, and the experimentation continues!

Still no yellow or red-orange allowed, though.

For the record, I do understand that none of this is really a problem. It's a nice distraction from legitmate problems, though. And I perversely enjoy the agonizing over this stuff. It's kind of like a mosquito bite: it's super itchy and annoying, and yet it feels SO good to scratch!!


  1. Ah, experimentation -- the real fun of any garden! BTW, the white mistflower does have fragrant (spicy, sort of) white flowers, but not until late fall. It usually blooms around Halloween for me.

    1. Thanks Pam, good to know how long I have to sit on my hands for that one! :-) My salvia arrived and I got them all planted this past weekend, woohoo!