One of the passions I developed as a fairly young man was ornamental gardening and light landscape designing. I have lived at four different houses over the last thirty years, from the most southern to the most northern sections of the 7b agricultural zone, and have had the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of plants. My wife and I currently live in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains where the Piedmont shifts into the Blue Ridge. The southern Appalachian region is one of the most diversified botanical places on the planet, with rich soil and enough rainfall to support lush, thriving ecosystems.
We were fortunate to find a house two years ago with previous owners who were just as passionate as we are about surrounding the house with beautiful plants. They had done a lot of work with the structure of the property, especially in the front of the house. They had established two beds in front of the porch, split by a brick walkway and steps. Short to medium-sized shrubs are spread out on either side to complete the dressing of the house, and a large island is positioned between the house and the street, which has a nice and expanding collection of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials. Among our own additions to that island is our favorite container, the large concrete planter with a “face” in full relief (visible in the background of the photo above). We call her Annabel, named after Annabel Lee, the poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe, because she has a melancholy face reminiscent of the poem’s theme. We usually plant something each year in Annabel that will make her look like she has hair growing from the top!
I am by no means a Master Gardener, nor am I much of a purist when it comes to plant selection. I have a growing appreciation for native plants and received a book on native plants of the southeast as a Christmas gift. I hope to incorporate more native species in our garden in the years ahead. I love annuals and typically fill the front porch beds with New Guinea impatiens and coleus. We have to be very diligent in spraying most of the plants in the yard with deer repellent, and non-native plants are much more susceptible to damage from animals. Still, I love the big bang of color provided throughout the growing season by imported and hybrid annual cultivars.
For Father’s Day many years ago, my sons gave me a mortar-fabricated flat stone engraved with the following words: “Gardening comes second only to reading.” The stone is still a permanent fixture in our garden, as it has been in every garden I have tended. In many ways, this statement could easily be adopted as my philosophy, with the possible addition of family, music, and a few other passions. I have savored countless hours in planning, designing, planting, and maintaining shrub and flower gardens. It is another one of those activities that is so restorative for me. It grounds me, with no pun intended. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “the earth laughs in flowers.” What a wonderful way to express the joy experienced in nature’s palette displayed in the beauty of plants.