A River Runs Through It*


Don’t be misled by the title of this post. We have not had flooding rains, thank goodness. But we have had some welcome precipitation. The river referred to is a river of plants, cascading like a waterfall down a piece of sloping land. Sloping land is easy to come by in the Fairegarden, in case you haven’t heard. Come on around the bend in the pathway and down the steps behind the garage deck.
(Above: Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ that has lost all traces of frostiness and a volunteer Perilla.)


Many types of plants could have been used to make the faux river, but the choice for this newest addition was a grass type plant. There are bodies of water composed of grasses already in existence, including the pool of Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’. Please watch your footing as we descend the steep steps, it is easy to get distracted by the garden calling out to us.
(Above: Rosa ‘Fairy Queen’ and a volunteer Perilla.)


We are now passing by the raised planter that the Financier built to shore up the space in front of the old existing block wall that was dug out below grade when the garage was built. The Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ and Nasturtium ‘Yeti’ have been a good pair in there. The cutting grown Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ will be blooming soon to really set off the fireworks.


Ah, here we are. Doesn’t it look like frothy white water rapids, on a miniature scale? If you squint and use your imagination?


This is a natural gully where the block wall ends. Because the earth was scooped out below the wall several feet down to help make the land level for the laying of the block foundation for the garage, it is a steep drop down. Originally it was mulched but heavy rains created nature’s own waterslide with the mulch ending up in the space below. Egg rock was laid along the ravine and that too was washed down. Dry stack rock walls were built and many plantings tried to stop the erosion. The recently pruned heath and heather to the left of the new planting have done a commendable job to hold the earth in place.


Little leaf syndrome abounds here. Tiny leaves, whether narrow and pointy or small and round, and all greens have been used to fill this sun drenched location. Silver hued velvety textured large leaf lamb’s ear, a passalong from my dear friend Laurie has begun to counteract the LLS. The color of the waterfall plant, a light bronze with greenish tints, which is very much to my taste, helps to provide more foliage color contrast.


These divided to smallish clump bits are seedlings of several bronze foliaged Carex that were growing in containers behind the main house for several years, including C. comans ‘Bronze Form’ ,C. buchananii, and C. flagellifera ‘Toffee Twist’. There may have been a C. comans ‘Frosty Curls’ in the orgy church social as well. The small offspring were noticed growing in the gravel path below the containers one spring. They were replanted, make that the dreaded plopped here and there, all over the garden. At one time, they were used to fill the quadrants in the knot garden and almost became extinct in the hot, sunny dryness up there at the top of the property. This new space is much lower and the heavy clay holds water like an ancient hand made vessel although it is sunshiney bright. This is a good example of plants growing well where they are not supposed to, since plants cannot read. Added: This area has now been mulched with pea gravel, which matches the color of the Carex.


If you can tear yourself away from that impressive river, please come around the path past the newly renamed Gravel Garden, there are a few more things that would like to be shared.


Not really a river, more like a kiddie swimming pool, these babies make a parent quite proud. Here, come closer for a better looksee.


Watered, fed and protected on all sides by Rosemary, Marigolds, pots of Cuphea and a wooden six by six as well as grids of bamboo stakes to deter digging critters of all types, (Kitty, I am talking about you!), I am pleased to present the offspring resulting from an afternoon delight of the mixing of pollen by the Fairegardener herself. The Mama was Hemerocallis ‘Heavenly Treasure’, the Papa was H. ‘Dave Rhyne’. There was a posting about the seed sowing, germination and growing on under lights in the greenhouse last winter that can be viewed by clicking here. The precious parcels were planted in our most prized home made compost with loving care. Regular watering, liquid feeding of sea kelp and no weed had better even think about sneaking into this space has produced some fine looking specimens. There were no hopes of blooms this first year, but fingers are crossed that there possibly might be a bloom or two next year. If not, we will hope for the year after and maintain the high priority TLC regimen.


Dragging myself away from the progeny, there are a couple more things to be shared along the bodies of water made up of plants theme. We come around to behind the main house, yes, there is a lot of coming around here, to the Leaf Man Trough planter. Leaf Man is a favorite mythological figure here, the protector of the gardens. His post can be seen by clicking here. He has been planted with several low growers and is now home to Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, Armeria maritima ‘Nifty Thrifty’, Erigeron karviskianus, Thymus ‘Heigh Ho Silver’ and a small Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Pygmy’. The Sagina is loving these conditions and has formed a nice lake of chartruese, set off by the turquoise stones.


The last river is formed by the container plantings on the wall behind the main house. Something has happened in the last few days, a change is afoot. The sky is clearer blue, the humidity is lower, the haze is gone, the air temperature has moderated. But the most dramatic change seems to be the light. It is kinder and gentler. While sitting on the lazyboy in the addition, trying to capture the goldfinches feeding on the Echinacea and Rudbeckia, by the time the camera is on and ready the birds fly away with a haughty HA, a ray of sunlight was noticed. It illuminated the unknown Coleus in what seemed to be a magical spotlight. When the camera was brought outside, it did not spread wing and take off, but remained with a sweet smile while the shutter clicked.

*My apologies to Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It And Other Stories. The movie made by Robert Redford of the same title is one of my most favorites. We own it on VHS format. Thinking recently about Brad Pitt, who doesn’t?, it was decided that this was my favorite of his movies. Even though his character is tragically flawed, as the author explains in much more depth than the movie depicts, Mr. Pitt’s portrayal won my heart. The scene of him fly fishing in the river of the title, performing the impossible to not lose the catch, has to be one of the most wonderful and memorable bits ever filmed. Be still my beating heart. He is so young. Click to view it here. Perfection indeed.

Frances

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26 Responses to A River Runs Through It*

  1. lotusleaf says:

    A breathtakingly beautiful garden . The scene from the movie is perfect, like your garden. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi Lotusleaf, thank you. It is not the same as seeing him, er the scene on the big screen in a darkened theatre, but still perfect. :-)
    Frances

  2. Tiziana says:

    How wonderful that expanse of Carex!
    I love grasses and Carex in particular, and
    I would put anywhere in the garden!
    The Frosted Curls Carex is one of my favorites because it
    flicks making the plant very nice!
    You have a magnificent garden and the planting of carpet
    Sagina the rock is really interesting!
    Hugs!
    Tiziana

    Hi Tiziana, thanks. Frosted Curls is a favorite as well, but I thought it had died being in the container over the winter. I believe it lives on in the offspring! Sometimes our dry summers cause the sagina to go dormant then, but it usually turns golden/green again when the rains return. Hugs, or kram? back to you! :-)
    Frances

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Hello Frances, I do indeed see your river running through. I really like that grass that is sort of bronze and green. I have tried it here but it won’t return. It runs off (dies). I don’t have luck with scotch moss either. I like both so well. I haven’t put it in a trough as yet. Maybe I should do that. I love your leaf man. He has such character. Hope you have a great week.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for seeing along with me. I had trouble with the Frosted Curls, this seedling mix is hardier than some of its parents. I am hoping it likes the gravel, it should help with moisture retention. The Sagina can be tricky, no sun and excellent drainage. We have found it grows best over rock. Leaf Man is a good guy. You too have a wonderful week, my friend. :-)
    Frances

  4. Carol says:

    I squinted and saw the river, and a whole lot of other plants, too.

    Hi Carol, thanks for squinting, and visiting. We do have an abundance of plant varieties here, whether bodies of water or single fountains. :-)
    Frances

  5. Les says:

    I am glad your coleus had its moment in the sun. It seems that blogging gardeners are forming second opinions about the new generation of coleus. If its star rises too high, I may have to find another plant for my favorites list. Have a great week.

    Hi Les, thanks. This hot and dry year has found the coleus in containers, with extra water mind you, to be the stars of the garden. You too have a wonderful week. :-)
    Frances

  6. Donna says:

    I really enjoyed your tour. The river is such a creative idea and looks good running through the plantings. Carex is such a useful plant. My neighborhood and many of my clients have benefited from my cuttings.

    I like the fun little cat repellant nursery and a great job on propagating. I never tried pollinating, and like you, would be a proud, protective mother. You gave me some incentive to try it myself.

    Hi Donna, thanks. I am glad you enjoyed seeing a few things in the garden here. We use a lot of different Carex here as well. I love the winter interest they give. Keeping the cats, and squirrels trying to bury the many walnuts here from digging in fresh earth is a trial. Chickenwire, reinforcing wire, rosemary sticks and bamboo have all been put to use with some success. Do try the mating of the daylilies, and keep records! Good luck with it. :-)
    Frances

  7. Rose says:

    Ah, Brad Pitt…if Angelina ever decides to leave, as the tabloids suggest, my granddaughter and I would both welcome him with open arms… Oh, sorry, I meant to comment on the garden–yes, I do see the river running through your garden; a lovely use of this grass, Frances. You always worry about the little-leaf syndrome, but there is so much variety in color and texture in your garden that I can’t imagine anyone else noticing this. There seems to be something new to see around every corner. Glad the coleus found the spotlight–these hardworking plants often don’t get the attention they deserve.

    HA Rose, way better than Ringo, right! I appreciate your kind words about LLS. When I look out at the garden and wonder why the view does not please as it should, it is the lack of large leaves or a different color that seems to be the problem. I have recently moved a large chunk of Sum And Substance to the back of the daylily hill and even The Financier remarked on how good it looked. Note to self, lots of coleus for containers next season. :-)
    Frances

  8. Dave says:

    Hmm, I suppose if your hybrid lilies become something worth naming you will have no choice but to call them ‘Heavenly Dave’! ;)

    Make that Faire Heavenly Dave! I like it! :-)
    Frances

  9. Tatyana says:

    Your garden reminds me of a colorful quilt, Frances! Beautiful! That blood grass is oh, so pretty! Mine doesn’t have enough sun, I think, and spreads very slowly. As for Robert Redford, there is his framed letter on my husband’s office wall, the answer to the letter that Bill, a passionate fly-fisherman, wrote to him. What a great story!

    Hi Tatyana, thanks so much. What a lovely metaphor. We are mostly sunny here, although the shade is growing with the trees planted. The sun makes magic with the light for pictures taking. I would hang a letter from RR on the wall as well. Or from Brad, if he ever chose to correspond. :-)
    Frances

  10. Cindy, MCOK says:

    It’s all so very lovely … now I want a river of Carex running through Wit’s End. I’m off to scout for a site! And, mercy, I hope you are right that the light is changing and fall is coming. I’m thoroughly tired of summer.

    Hi Cindy, thanks. I hope you can find a spot for a river of Carex, or anything else for that matter at Wit’s End. I have always loved the name of your garden, BTW! I can definitely see a difference in the angle of the light, especially mid morning and late afternoon. It still seems to be directly overhead midday, and hot but not quite as hot as before. The days progress toward fall, no matter how we feel about it, at their own sweet pace. :-)
    Frances

  11. I love all the grass that you grow but especially the Muhly grass that you showed in a earlier web page. I was so impressed with it that I ordered some seed. Can I plant it now or do I have to wait until spring. If I have to wait, do I have to put in the the refrigerator over winter as I live in Florida in the winter. Will be growing it in North Carolina next spring hopefully.

    Hi Valerie, thanks. That is great about the muhly seed. We have always gathered the seed late winter and tossed it about in the garden, but the best results come from volunteers in the gravel paths here. We leave the spent stalks all winter for interest, cutting in March. It is native to the gulf coast so I doubt it needs a chill. Plant some now and plant some later would be my suggestion. Good luck with it! :-)
    Frances

  12. gittan says:

    Your garden looks beautiful as always my friend. Of course I can see the river running through your garden – it looks great! So many Hemerocallis babies you’ve got there. It makes me jealous since I didn’t get a single one even if I tried real hard to make the seeds thrive / kram gittan

    Hi Gittan, thank you. I am sorry about your daylily seeds. It may be that they must be sown very fresh, that is what I did, planting them the day that the pods opened. Yours had some traveling to do and may have dried out. Or that could be entirely wrong, I really don’t know. I am glad to have nice looking Astrantia babies though, and will always be reminded of your generosity, my dear friend.
    Kram,
    Frances

  13. The rivers are a natural on your hillside. It’s a great look.

    Hi MMD, thanks so much. We should do more of them.
    Frances

  14. Suzanne Holden says:

    Gorgeous photos, as usual, of a beautiful place. The flowing, cascading waves of plants are indeed impressive. As for the movie, I too am a huge fan of A River Runs Through It. The actors, director, script, scenery and cinematography, music, etc. all made it one of my all time favorites. Now I will have to locate the book and read it as well :)

    Hi Suzanne, thank you for those kind words. I loved that movie, it brought tears with the story and the scenery stays with me still. The book is actually a short story, quite sad. RR made it into something completely different and beautiful. :-)
    Frances

  15. I am looking forward to seeing those daylilies bloom. Plant breeding is not for the impatient. And I am becoming more enamored of coleus with these new introductions showing up. Don’t you feel good when you finally site a plant properly, so it thrives and contributes to the overall design?

    Hi Kathy, thanks. I am excited about the daylily crosses as well. If there are blooms next year, of any kind or color, I will be over the moon! We are taking cutting of our favorite coleus now to winter over. They are so easy to root and the plants need some pruning anyway. As for proper siting, I am never satisfied for long. HA :-)
    Frances

  16. Have you read the book Frances? I was struck by the liberties Redford took with it. MacLean was one of our greatest writers.

    Hi Susan, I totally agree with you about the differences between the movie and book. I saw the movie first and loved it. When I began reading the book, about half way through, I stopped because it was such a tragic tale and not like the movie’s bittersweet but beautiful story which I wanted to keep in memory. Wrong to do perhaps, but that is what happened.
    Frances

  17. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, First several of your photos are so nice I want to comment~a. Love the light on the coleus (not sure why I don’t use more coleus~It’s cheap and there’s so much variety); b. and the moss, leaf man with rocks needs to be duplicated here~Drainage is always an issue, though…but the contrast is super. I do like the river idea with sedges and grasses. The bronze foliage sedges are my favorites. Speaking of tossing seeds about~Do you need any Little Blue Stem seeds? xxxxgail

    Dear Gail, thanks so much. The light on the coleus was one of those miracles of nature, I was lucky to be there with the camera that day. I agree about using more of that fabulous plant. Why don’t we? The leaf man is a container, we get to control the drainage and everything else, the best of all possible conditions. His plantings need very little water and look good through the winter as well. The little blue stem is all over the garden here. I have been movin it to the lawn area when a nice seedling is found. Now if you are talking, the named variety, The Blues, I’ll take some gladly! :-)
    Frances

  18. Your garden always look so magical and I love the tours and inspiration. We had quite a rainfall last night, here. Welcome, too — but, now the drought-lovers like yarrow are looking a little black. Can’t win!

    Hi Cameron, thanks. How lucky to have a good rainfall, not so here and nothing in the future so says the forecast anyway. I know what you mean about feast or famine. We plant for xeric, then get a wet spell that threatens those plants. I guess only the strong will survive!
    Frances

  19. dirtynailz says:

    How lovely, Frances. I admire the many ways in which you push the design and plant envelope.

    Thanks so much. I am glad you enjoyed your visit and what we are doing and trying to do here at the Fairegarden. It is everchanging. :-)
    Frances

  20. Frances, I’ve enjoyed my squinting and looking and oohing and ahhing. L.O.V.E. this post. But what struck me most were your words: “Fairegarden is about sustainability and ease of maintenance for an ever aging gardener.” Yup. That is exactly what I’m all about now. Another reason why I really enjoy your blog! I’ll be back!

    Hi Meredihuit, thanks. I am happy you were able to squint along and SEE the garden as I see it. We used to think we could do it all, wishing for five acres of gardens. Now we see that is simply not wise. We want to continue doing it ourselves and finding ways for that to be possible for as long as we can lift a spade. It is neverending but we feel like progress is being made. I hope to see you again, soon! :-)
    Frances

  21. I don’t have any of the bronze Carex varieties, something I think I need to remedy after looking at your river. And I was amused by the Perilla self-seeders as they are everywhere this month in my garden!

    Hi Linda, thanks for visiting. That perilla is really everywhere. I pull most of it but love the dark contrast it gives and I don’t even have to plant it! :-)
    Frances

  22. Pam/Digging says:

    Having a river run through it is a lovely thing, as we saw in Chicago, right? But my head and heart are still filled with images from the movie; I watched your clip and several others that appeared in the sidebar. It’s such a bittersweet story with such a moving ending. I haven’t read the short story, but I believe I will, partly to see how it differs from Redford’s interpretation.

    Hi Pam, thanks for visiting. I did also love that movie, it is a masterpiece. I could not get through the short story, I wanted it to be like the movie and it was not. I would be interested in your take on it.
    Frances

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