Garden Diversity-Cottage Gardens
“I want more color.”
Most of my customers want more color, and they want it to bloom all the time. The problem with many of our landscapes now is the “cookie cutter” design. I can pick out most designers’ landscapes just by the plant selection. Shrub roses, hostas, cool season grasses, daylilies, salvia, hibiscus, liriope, boxwoods, yews, and junipers are the most common landscape plants used. Want season long color? Plant roses and re-blooming daylilies. Need color for winter? Add some yews and a boxwood hedge. We have forgotten wonderful cottage gardens of our ancestors that first farmed and lived in the Great Plains.
Plant diversity is key to more color in the garden. By designing around multiple plant species, you can have color from March to December. Yes, color in the winter! There are a myriad of choices out there for the plant lovers of this world, and many American natives can bring about that yearly color scheme. By planting for diversity we also plan for pest problems that can be more detrimental in a typical landscape. For example; suppose you planted 6 ‘Knockout’ red roses and 12 ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies in your border. Well, along comes rose mosaic virus and aphids. You have no color from your diseased roses and your daylilies look like they’re ready for winter. What happened? Here’s what happened: you relied on those two species to be immune from pests and still provide solid color through the summer.
If you had mixed up your border with 3 roses, 3 hydrangea ‘Vanilla Strawberry’, 4 daylilies, 4 echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ and 4 coreopsis ‘Mercury Rising’ you would still have color through till frost. This is what makes garden diversity so important. With multiple species, we get backups for our standard plants in case of sudden onslaughts of pests.
A well planned cottage garden will have multiple species and multiple cultivars to cover that year-long bloom time. Sure, we can expect most flowers to bloom after frost, but we can get color from chrysanthemums, witchhazel, Lenten rose, dogwoods, and evergreens after October. Early spring flowers come on forsythia, Korean Spice Viburnum, bleeding heart, violets, candytuft, and Lenten rose. And the list for spring, summer, and fall color is nearly endless. Mixing and matching will provide the maximum amount of blooms during each month of the year.
What about maintenance on these diverse landscapes? Most people think more plants means more maintenance. On the contrary, the amount of plants doesn’t make a landscape more intensive, it’s how well it’s designed that makes the difference. Plants that are planted closer provide shade to the ground below, eliminating many weeds that need light to germinate. Also, the weeds that do come up will be weaker and more spindly from lack of light, making them easier to kill. All landscapes need regular maintenance; soil testing and fertilizing, weeding, deadheading, and cutting back in fall or spring are some parts of it. These are regular parts of maintenance and need to done.
Two things that make diverse landscapes better than simple landscapes; one is that more diversity means more color year round and two is that more diversity means pests aren’t likely to wipe out all the color at once.
Think about it when planning your next landscaping project.