CHOOSING PLANTS, arranging them in the ground and keeping them alive, is a challenge even in our mostly benign and encouraging climate.
Just think of all that comes into play. Plants are change agents; they morph not only through time but with every season. They grow, peak, spread about, decline and die. Every time you put a plant into the ground, you must consider soil composition, drainage, elevation, low temperatures, humidity, wind, rain, storms and sun in all their variability. Then there’s color and leaf, size, shape and scale to take into account. Let alone plants in relationship, both visually and logistically, to every other plant around them.
How about all the interactions with diseases and insects, plus predation by rabbits, slugs, snails and deer? Gardening, and not just for newbies but for all of us, is often more luck, experimentation and disappointment than it is joyous pursuit.
Which is why nurseries and marketers are selling ready-made seed mixes and “gardens in a box.” They make money from our insecurities, our lack of time and knowledge. We end up with a prettier view out our windows. Maybe.
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There have been problems. Some seed mixes include invasive plants that can prove difficult or even impossible to eradicate. By their very nature, prepackaged gardens aren’t suited to specific climactic and soil conditions — how could they be?
Yet it’s a tempting concept. Years ago, overwhelmed at planting my first garden from scratch, I ordered a collection of perennials from White Flower Farm (www.whiteflowerfarm.com). I remember my relief as I followed detailed instructions, unpacked all those carefully wrapped baby plants and nestled them into the soil. The border that grew from that expensive box of plants gave me a boost of confidence so that the next year and the next I began tinkering with it, adding more plants and moving things around. I had a reasonably attractive border long before I could have figured out how to make it myself.
It’s good to buy locally whenever possible, especially with wildflower mixes. Ed Hume Seeds (www.humeseeds.com) sells Pacific Northwest mixes that include specific sowing directions for our climate and flowers that thrive here, like poppies, godetia and perennial lupines (note: not necessarily native plants). But I’ve succumbed to themed mixes packaged in California, too, like the ones sold by Renee’s Garden Seeds (www.reneesgarden.com), including the nectar-rich “Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden.”
High Country Gardens (www.highcountrygardens.com) is known for tough, hardy, drought-tolerant perennials — and the tagline “There’s nothing wrong with being the envy of your neighborhood.” Its prepackaged gardens come with a map and instructions. All you have to do is dig the hole (another effective tagline). “My Soil is Like a Brick Collection II” sounds designed for the conditions so many of us struggle with. It features three each of three long-blooming perennials that thrive in clay soil. Many of the collections sell out early, so you may have to check back in early spring to order them.
White Flower Farm sells more collections than ever. You can buy astilbe quartets or dinner plate dahlia collections. Or selections of annuals, perennials or bulbs based on color or growing conditions, like the “Crescendo Collection” of daylilies that bloom over a long season. Or the pastel-toned “Afternoon Tea Annual Collection,” complete with planting diagram.
If not exactly a bargain, you can count on good-quality plants from White Flower Farm. When I moved away 15 years after planting my prepackaged border, the daylilies, many times divided, were still blooming strong.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.