Gardening is art, science and philosophy all wrapped together in one mysterious and sometimes unattainable enterprise. But that has never stopped anyone from pursuing it.
A satisfying garden requires a basic knowledge of the science of horticulture in order to meet the physical demands of growing plants; sufficient knowledge of the primary principles of art to combine them harmoniously; plus your personal philosophy of what represents the ideal garden. And we are all eager to begin once again to combine these elements into the garden of our dreams.
Most gardeners are already aware of horticultural and physical requirements of the plants they wish to grow. If not, help is easily available through nurseries, catalogues, books and online. State or county extension agents and the Master Gardeners program are also useful resources. There is even a book entitled “Bulletproof Flowers for the South,” by Jim Wilson, former host of The Victory Garden, which features high-heat and humidity-resistant flowers. When searching these resources, be sure to seek information for your specific area and do not succumb to glossy catalogues from the Northeast and Midwest, which offer lilacs, peonies and heuchera.
But the most fun begins when you get to play with color, and assembling the appropriate climate-wise plants into a composition of beauty that continues throughout the year. The design principles of art composition are utilized, notably form and mass, unity embracing variety, harmony, focal point, use of color massed or in combination, and enclosure (the frame), formed by fence, wall or evergreen shrubbery. A focal point may consist of an item of your choice, such as a small water feature, a well-selected figure or statue, (no flamingoes please, unless you aim to expose your inner kitsch), or an elegant urn planted simply or with over-the-top exuberance. Here is where your personal philosophy of a garden comes into play.
Remember that use of contrasting color highlights plants more effectively, such as the pairing of opposites on the color wheel, like purple or blue against yellow. While white flowers serve to sharpen and heighten other colors by contrast, pale lavender or blue flowers become almost invisible against a backdrop of green. All pale colors tend to recede, whereas bright ones pop forward. Masses of one color make more of a visual impact than scattered planting of different sizes, shapes and hues.
The Internet is a vast source of information if you discriminate according to your area. All of the national plant societies promote new introductions for the coming garden year, but the most suitable for the Lowcountry is the Athens Select collection (www.athensselect.com), emanating from the horticultural proving grounds of the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. It has partnered with “Southern Living” magazine to introduce a Southern Living plant collection, and the offerings are enchanting. Others are All America Selections (www.aaswinners.com); National Garden Bureau Inc. (www.ngb.org), and Perennial Plant Association,(www.perennialplant.org).
Finally, make sure your soil is richly composted and tested by the county extension office before investing your time, energy and resources!