Anyone can take a crack at adventure gardening with native plants and flowers. So ‘dress to till’ with a pair of grubby jeans, crunch a garden hat on your head and let’s get started!
We think of plants as anchored to the earth, but plants relish new territory. My garden in Crystal Lake is made up mostly of native perennials, and without doubt the natives are restless. Plants know what they like and sometimes they jump about to put down roots.
That’s where the adventure of gardening comes in.
Let your native perennials run wild – well, sort of wild – in your garden and you’ll make way for a splash of adventure.
An Evolving Adventure
If you’re hung up on such things as structure and color combination in your garden, creating and maintaining an adventure garden may not be for you. Then again, plants have been known to change color, thereby coordinating with their neighbors.
A case in point is wild columbine, which in their original sites are red. Thirty feet away where they sprung up on their own, they’re white, harmonizing with a white flowering rose and a pink poppy and nearby spiderworts.
I have planted the majority of the native flora in my garden over the years. However, some of my garden perennials have been carried to my garden in mysterious ways by wild critters or blown by the whims of winds from across the meadowlands adjacent to our property. Many of these intruders are welcome.
Adventure gardening and wandering natives go hand in glove. Take spiderworts, for example. I first planted them on a small, partly sunny mound on the south side of our home. After three years or so, they got restless, probably looking for new horizons.
Early one spring while puttering around in the backyard, I chanced to see a small clump of spiderworts in a garden area 20 feet south of the original site and also in another plot roughly 20 feet to the west. All these clumps are now thriving in three locations, and they fit perfectly into the scheme of things. Happy that they adapted to my garden, I left them to their own resources.
Will they range even further afield? Ah, there’s the adventure.
Wild geraniums seem to be forever marching to new bailiwicks in the garden. Already, they occupy a half-dozen locations in various garden plots, and their lavender blooms liven up the early spring. Their red autumn foliage adds to that season’s leafy beauty.
Two other plants that put down roots well away from where I originally planted them are black-eyed Susan and purple coneflowers. Surprisingly, the two plants popped up together, and their colors are in harmony. Could I have planned it so well? Nature knows.
Find What Works
Some of the natives that I’ve introduced to my garden fizzled in their first or even second locations.
Woodland sunflowers and wild quinine are a couple of examples. They got their way and are now prospering in locations where they wanted to be. They are on their way to providing adventure down the line.
A while back I rescued prairie phlox from a vacant lot, which was slated for building. These plants reward me each spring with three patches of vibrant pink blooms and now accent the lavender of wild geraniums.
Living adjacent to municipal meadowland and a creek bounded by thickets, I’m provided with an array of usually welcome natives – plants that is.
About six years ago a single wildflower – still unidentified – with pinkish flowers dangling on a stalk settled in under our linden tree. I let nature take its course, and today a clump of about a half a dozen of the pink flowering plants makes their home under the tree. It’s a treat to see their blooms each June.
When first introduced to my garden about five years ago, a half-dozen joe pye weeds grudgingly grew about a foot tall. After three years, I transplanted them to part sun location alongside our garage. The southern exposure location suited them to a tee. There are now nearly 20 of them, and they grow up to 7 feet tall with clusters of pink flowers in late summer.
On the west side of my garden, several ground cherries with cream-colored blooms pop up annually.
As the season progresses, little lantern-like husks dangle from their twigs. These strangers provide welcome contrast with black-eyed Susan and pincushion flowers. The trio provides yellow, dark blue and cream color.
That’s the gist of the sort of adventure gardening you can look forward to in the Illinois environs. Get started today!
Ed Pahnke had his first story published in 1970. Since then, he’s had a number of short stories, articles and three books published. Last year, he had his latest book, “The Chiefs Investigate” – a book of 15 fictional mystery stories – published in e-book and paperback formats. For more, visit www.pahnkebooks.com.