Creative Staring

By Charlotte Vorstermans, Master Gardener, SCMG.

I am often asked how I decide to place plants and how do I chose these plants in the first place?  I do what I call “Creative Staring”.   That is, sitting in a chair or on the lawn just looking at the space I need to plant.  I may jot down some plant names, I may even design a bed, or I may just doodle.  I do this all over the garden many times per season. I also note down how much sun, shade, dappled light, etc. each space gets.  I note what lives nearby, the condition of the soil and most important of all, does my choice fit that space?   Creative Staring is not just for empty beds, it is very useful for making changes.  Two trees had to be removed so now these beds area really sunny and all the shade plants in them are not happy.  So there I am, sitting in my chair staring at these sections waiting for inspiration to hit.  Once you decide to move something, you need a place to put that something you just moved.  Most gardeners hate to throw anything into the compost, because you just never know…..

My next challenge is deciding on the plant or plants, maybe even a bush or two.  In the evening I go to my garden library and start hauling out the reference books so that I can make an informed choice.   Many times what I want is not hardy to our zone, or is too tall or it needs more direct sun and it may be classified as a garden “thug”.  I may still want it but I have to keep all these limitations in mind. So far so good but there is a big BUT coming.  Many nurseries do not carry these wonderful plants that you often see in beautiful garden books.  They need to be specially ordered and naturally, it will cost more.  This is the time when you sit down and do what I call “creative substitution”.  What will work the same, almost look the same, but is available locally and can I actually afford it?    Then it is time to go to the computer and “google” all local nurseries within a 60km radius.  I then break down my list into “must haves” as my basic plan dictates this particular plant.  Once I have my list, I am ready to go and believe it or not, it is not always a fun excursion because you have your heart set on a particular cultivar and it is all too tempting to make do that you may come home with only a few of your choices. 

When you still can’t find what you want, it is time for step three in the process.  Grow the darned plant yourself.  Yes, from seed which you have to order in January and baby it until it is big enough to be on its own. Perennials need a long time to bloom and develop, so that little baby you are holding in your hand will need to be watched over for the next year and then you have another year to wait until it blooms and it is still a baby!  It will take you a good three years before that plant you so desperately wanted in your garden looks like its advertisement.  But, despite all that, it is worth the effort because you will have a plant that hardly anyone else has and isn’t that a good thing?  Gardeners love to show off their gardens and their unusual plants, it’s what we do.  If you’re lucky, we may share.

So, go out there, sit on a chair, and stare at your garden, preferably with a suitable libation in hand.

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