There is a new philosophy about plant choices that is part of the new design ongoing here at the Faire Garden. Our new guru in all things garden is Piet Oudolf and his book that we are inhaling, savoring and digesting is Designing With Plants. He says to look for plants that *live well and die well*. So out we bound with camera in hand into a garden that has begun its dying season. What we found was a pleasant surprise. Some colors shifting from brilliant to brown and as he says, * brown is a color too*. Above, fading with grace is Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Bressingham Doubloon’.
This idea of paying attention to the last gasping breaths of flower, seed head and foliage is new and exciting to me. As the camera was pointed at spent stalks we were thinking how never before has a shot been sized up to enhance the beauty of skeletal remains. It was fun, in a macabre sort of way. Above, the balloon like pods of Nigella damascena that self sow with wild abandon.
It fits the mood of the times, this search for structure over color. Above are seedheads of Echinacea purpurea, with seeds still left for now by the ravenous goldfinches. Mauve Phlox paniculata, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Dixie wood fern round out the shot.
Gothic in coloration is the spent flower head of ornamental oregano , Origanum laevigatum ‘Rosenkuppel’, above. This is a dark leaved evergreen groundcover during the winter that sends up spikes of dark pinkish blooms mid summer. The distinguished looking calyxes that remain after the petals fall to the ground certainly give the multi seasonal interest we are seeking.
Simple chocolate colored buttons perk up the fall and winter landscape after the black eyed susans, Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ lose their golden rays. Sedum ‘Matrona’ is trying to hog the spotlight here.
Ahhh, spikey. The black garden is home to upright narrow leaved plants, not intentionally but there it is in the photo. Somehow I had missed that until viewing this picture for the post. The lavender foliage and spent flower stalks, crocosmia fans, buddleia leaves and the object of the little green focus box on the camera, the Liatris spicata all share the same geometry. These buff beauties are stand outs as examples of dying well.
Ghostly white are the old flower stalks of the lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina, that is so prolific it is considered a weed here. The openings in the calyxes are left empty as you can see for the seeds were dispursed long ago. They are majestic sentinels in their coats of down fuzz against the evergreen Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Well’s Special’.
A favorite plant in all its forms is Eryngium alpinum. In the past the seed heads were left all winter in hopes of seedlings emerging eons later. That has finally happened and we now have a good supply of babies to spread in this area, some replacing their short lived elders. Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ has finished blooming but the newly purchased H. ‘Coppelia’ is showing burgundy brilliance without the need for staking. The gray green fans of blackberry lilies, Belamcanda, join their black seeded pods for fall amusement.
Japanese climbing fern, Lygodium japonicum was brought to this garden from our Houston yard where it was a naturally occuring verdant curtain hanging from the tall pines. It is slow to emerge in the spring causing us to wonder each year if it has not survived. But it has not only survived, it has spread throughout the property to the far reaches of the boundary lines. We do not consider it invasive here for it is easily dug and the leaf form is exquisitely delicate, even as it browns.
Perhaps the gold standard of death with beauty is the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, also known as the Pee Gee. These pom pom heads will bleed to pale rose before becoming a duller khaki during the cold months. Lovely in every phase this shrub meets the requirements and surpasses all expectations.
Prunella vulgaris which came with the property has the traits that define dying well. Backed by the Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ and standing above the ever present weed-bane violets with another of the millions of self sown Perillas that are appreciated in small numbers adding leaf interest this lowly medicinal plant displays all the tenets of the Piet design philosophy. It require no deadheading, staking, dividing, pest control or even planting by the gardener. It may be the perfect small statured member of the new dynamic. It has also been labeled a weed. Don’t you love irony?
What have we here in this post about death and transcendence? Not dying well, though black in hue, but very much living well in sweet revenge until the lack of daylight hours triggers these mystical leaves to dislocate from the dark stems is the one year old Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Underplanted with Hosta ‘Guacamole’ and Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ for perfect contrast in color, form and texture this replacement from Home Depot for the failed to leaf out expensive one ordered from White Flower Farm has grown, flowered and even berried although the birds ate those. Live well and die well, a criteria met.