Plant collecting takes front row center in this Long Island garden
Plant collecting has taken front row center in the Dennis Shrader/Bill Smith household on Long Island. The steps from the deck are an extension of the garden, where containers of various sizes and materials are used to good effect. Some hold individual specimens of plants that being nursed along for possible propagation, while others hold mini-landscapes of varieties seen throughout the garden. When growing a container garden, be sure to feed regularly as watering quickly leaches nutrients from the soil.
Photography: Matthew Benson
The old design principle of keeping formal elements of the garden close to the house while the more natural and informal planting schemes are furthest away is one that works in any garden, no matter how big or small. The clipped knot garden at the entrance to Dennis and Bill's home is typical of the sort of formal feature that can be used to achieve an orderly yet picturesque effect. Design your own knot pattern based on a motif in a carpet or other décor feature.
The so-called tiki hut is an open-sided garden building at the heart of the garden; its walls are made from the dense planting surrounding it. Outdoor spaces like this are like secret gardens within the garden, offering a quiet refuge. Find a quiet corner in your own garden and with tall-growing plants and evergreen shrubs surrounding a small carpet of close-clipped grass, carve out a tiki-like island of calm. Furnish it with a comfortable deckchair and a few scattered cushions and take a 20-minute vacation!
A wet, marshy area surrounding the pool near the garden's edge has been planted with a variety of native and ornamental grasses, including the reed Juncus stygius ssp. Americanus, Pennisetum villousum 'Feathertop' and low-growing Festuca ovina. A simple dogleg plank bridge gives focus to informal scene, as well as keeping feet dry. Adding a variety of small habitats like this to a garden will attract an assortment of wildlife, adding another layer of interest—and beauty—to the garden.
Weeds are plants in the wrong place, it's said. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you're nuts about plants, a double-flowered rose plantain (Plantago major 'Rosularis') is a lovely thing. With its bottlebrush shaped blossom, it is a decorative version of the common—and reviled—lawn weed. There is also a purple-leaved version of the weed that is good foliage plant for groundcover, though seedlings of R.m. 'Atropurpurea', can become invasive.
Water features are an integral part of this garden, and here the watery course of the rill pool unites two garden rooms that sit opposite each other along a main axial pathway. Each end of the rill is enlarged to form the small pools that serve as reservoirs for the recycling pump that keeps the water circulating along the length of the rill.
Alocasia amazonica, popularly known as the African Mask is a tropical plant admired for the bold white veins etched across the dark green leaves. It is not at all hardy and the tubers from it grows can be preserved over winter if kept in a dry compost in a cool, dark place. As the spring advances, bring the pot into light and begin watering to kick-start the plant's growth cycle. When the soil begins to warm and there is no further danger of a cold snap and frost, it can be planted out in the border or as the central feature in a container.
One of the tricks of plant combining is to match leaf shape, but contrast scale. Here the giant taro leaf dwarfs the heart-shaped leaves of an annual verbena. Look for similar contrasts of scale among other bedding plants when composing a summer display—tropical plants provide some of the most dramatic counterpoints in size, shape and color, too.
The leaves of Cristia, a distinctive tropical plant, are shaped rather like a swallowtail butterfly, hence its common names, swallowtail or butterfly plant. Christia obcordata is typically found in southeast Asia, but has spread to south America. And now, thanks to nurserymen like Dennis and Bill, is appearing in gardens and specialist nurseries in the USA.
On the principle that "too much is never enough," a regiment of urns planted with Agave desmettiana, gray-leaved Lampranthus deltoides, and chartreuse green Sedum repestre 'Angelina' lines a gravel path against a hedge of American hornbeam.