My therapist pointed out to me recently that it doesn’t matter how good you are at gardening, it still takes time. (How many other gardening columns start with “my therapist …” I wonder).
The soil doesn’t care about you, the gardener. It cares about more prosaic things: water and nutrients and so on.
To someone with an ego as big as Texas, such as myself, I find that strangely comforting.
Have you ever seen a garden that has overgrown after its owner has moved on or died?
The garden continues regardless.
It expands, it overgrows, “weeds” take over – it’s not in the least concerned about a lack of human intervention.
I find myself walking around the garden most mornings absent-mindedly admiring the bank of hydrangeas in bloom, and the few Johnson blue geraniums that have started to sparingly flower, as if hesitant about summer (after the summer we’ve been having, wouldn’t you be?).
Hydrangeas are a common sight in the South Island, yet so many have been planted in pitiful groups of one or two.
The effect is a little like a dinner party with only one bottle of wine for the table.
Drifts of hydrangeas are so much more satisfying – the eye follows one to another to yet another, greedily, and it is even more charming when they are blooming at different times.
I am partial to shades of pink and violet, with a little white thrown in for good measure.
So many pink plants (fuchsias, for one) are offensively pink – they are cloyingly old-fashioned or are the visual equivalent of cheap perfume. Yet a group of hydrangeas can pull off any outrageous combination of colours: they are the Trixie Mattel of the plant world.
“But oh!” I hear you say. “What about hydrangeas when their flowers die off?”
To which I say – it is worth it for their display alone. Love is blind, as a wise lady once told me (or is it love is a battlefield?).
A more sane response is – the structure of the plants as they die off in winter is still quite beautiful; embrace their bareness and plant things that will complement that.
My hydrangeas have the good fortune of having as a background a 100-year-old magnolia and rhododendron, which lend the whole thing a kind of architectural beauty in winter, like Iggy Pop at 70.
So I was surprised when my friend Violet screwed up her delicate nose and said her impression of hydrangeas was of large bulk municipal plantings. I said the same could be said for the carex species of grass, which one can find growing in large hideous rows near big-box stores and badly designed government buildings.
This is such a shame, as grasses, when combined with other plants, can serve as a blurring device.
I like planting Heuchera and aquilegia, as well as a splash of shade-tolerant geraniums (those Johnson blues I mentioned earlier). The planting will look spotty at first, like a teenager hitting puberty, yet if you can tolerate that it will fill out and will look like a dreamy meadow (one hopes).