If you love to garden, then you should be getting the most out of every square foot in your garden. Once you dig up a space (and aren’t we all continually adding beds?), plant it cheek to jowl. All sorts of reasons stand behind that practice. Plants love to live in communities and they are particularly lush and prosperous when allowed to interweave with other botanical brethren. Each plant makes its bedfellows shine. Plus, it looks incredible. The interweaving of plants is fascinating as one shape leads to the next and they all form a dialogue together.
What’s Beneath It All
You’re wondering: How can you achieve this look while keeping the whole scene happy and healthy? The answer is always to begin building up from a strong base. Start with underlying soil beneath the beds to deliver nutrition to each individual plant. Every spring, I shovel on a layer of Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost or Schoodic Blend Organic & Natural Composted Manure Blend. Basically, this delivers to the root systems all the nutrition each individual plant needs to perform to its fullest. With this underground dose of goodness furnished, the plants are strong, vibrant, and poised to perform.
The Layered Look
The concept works most efficiently if you layer the garden to utilize all space. Remember that your first layer of compost is delivered at ground level. Then, plant as you normally would with perennials and low-growing shrubs filling space in the garden. But then, tuck in ground-covering plants like sedums, bulbs, lady’s mantle, low-growing geraniums, creeping and woodland phlox, ferns, and epimediums below. Avoid aggressive plants such as ajuga, violets, and lysimachia to make for peaceful coexistence. Continue to fill the space until you’ve created the look you’re striving to achieve. And maintenance is diminished when weeds cannot find space to set up housekeeping.
How to keep the beauty over the long haul? Of course, dividing perennials is often necessary as they grow robustly and encroach on their neighbors’ space. To an extent, interweaving looks lovely and natural but it can begin to feel overwhelming. To tell the truth, I only allow overly energetic plants like erigeron and anemone to rush around in spring while they are in flower for the benefit of pollinators. Then they are removed (and they blithely return the next year, nonetheless). Shrubs are pruned into shape and transplanted when necessary to give each perennial the space it needs to perform to the max. Often, I remove shrubs that are crowding out neighbors. But the goal is to look over the beds and see no soil whatsoever. Instead, you see lush plant life. And I am continually filling in with plants that will complete the picture. Foliage colors, flowering hues, even stem shades are balanced in the picture so that each plant complements its peers. Often, “happy accidents” occur as plants scatter seeds and pop up in fun places. If they end up muscling out neighbors, the wealth is dug up, divided, and redistributed.
Shorter Waiting Period
Years ago, we used to say that a garden required seven years to reach maturity. But part of the beauty of this layered method is that gratification is a much more rapid process. Your garden begins to look quite swell in just a few years. It’s almost like a social club or a singles mixer. You watch while the plants interact with one another, you notice their traits when their neighbors bring the hues on leaf undersides and bud colors into focus. You are going to have so much fun playing mix master. But remember, the chemistry underground is what is making this whole extravaganza work. Feed your soil every year.
Written by award winning author, Tovah Martin. Photos also taken by Tovah Martin. Find her books and more information on her website: tovahmartin.com.