Flower Garden Evolves from Trial and Error

Every day I look at a stunning flower garden that is an eclectic mix – some would say hodgepodge – of annuals and perennials. This garden was not planned out, but evolved capriciously in the manner that small backyard garden plots often do. There were several false starts and failures along the way.
In the beginning, a single plant took up the entire area where flowers now grow. It was an enormous specimen of pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), 8 feet tall and of an equal girth.
Impressive as a far-off specimen or erosion control plant, pampas grass can be a problem for home gardeners. As if size were not, by itself, enough reason to discourage its use, pampas grass does not welcome close contact or grooming either; unique among grasses, it has deceptively sharp-toothed leaf
margins that easily can cut the skin.
Today, in a circular bed of about 100 square feet, what used to be pampas grass is now a flower garden. This did not happen in one season; most of the plants were started from seed or shoot tip cuttings. Perhaps this is what makes it so satisfying, a throwback to that remote era of non-instant gratification.
Three falls ago, a packet of seeds containing California poppies and red
flax was spread over the bare ground. The following spring, seven poppies and three flax were counted. Last spring, the number of these plants more than tripled, and this year there are too many to count.
A year after the poppies and flax were sown, I received a packet of love- in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) seeds as a promotion from a mail-order nursery. About half a dozen seedlings came up the first year, and now, in its second year, multitudes of this distinctive annual have germinated. The foliage of love-in-a-mist is like a carrot’s, only more delicate; flowers are pale blue, and seed capsules globular and diaphanous. The latter are useful in cut flower arrangements.
A sage, a morning glory and a daisy make up the perennial force in this garden. Pineapply sage (Salvia elegans) has scarlet flowers just a shade less brilliant than the red flax. They grow – should I say glow? – well together. This sage has leaves that, when crushed, have a truly pineapplish scent. It can reach 6 feet in height and blooms heavily for several months at a time.
Bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) nicely complements the scarlet, orange and yellow flowers here. Its leaves are a shiny silver green that billow up from the ground to create a soft, cushiony look. Its flowers are white and have the gramophone look of the vining morning glory. Regular irrigation is the downfall of the bush morning glory, as it is for all the plants mentioned above. Water only when the soil is extra dry.
In Los Angeles, euryops pectinatus “viridis” is perhaps the most commonly selected perennial when yellow flowers are wanted in an area that receives little water. A profusion of lemon yellow daisies bloom amongst finely cut dark green foliage. In small areas such as that described here, it must be watched constantly and pruned carefully, or it will grow into a 5-foot sphere.
A final plant in this garden, Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), flowers continuously. Sweet William is a small scale version of the carnation, to which it is closely related. Its blooms are pink, magenta, red or purple; some varieties combine two of these colors in a single flower.

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