Planting Out

Sometimes the hardest part of gardening is deciding—or remembering—what you're doing.

I am standing in the garden, a plant in my hand, in a state of indecision. Where shall I plant it?

I have a new raised bed ready for planting. I have just read an article in an Illinois newspaper where Waid Vanderpoel casually throws out that he has many large troughs each devoted to plants from a single geographic region. The Japanese trough, the Western trough, and so on. What elegance! I have decided to reserve my new bed for European plants. I think my plant is from the Caucasus, or is it Armenia? Is the Caucasus part of Europe, or Asia, or would it count as Asia Minor? Shall I go indoors and check the atlas before I plant it? Shall I make sure it really is from the Caucasus by looking it up in Hortus or the RHS Dictionary? It would mean tracking a bit of garden into the livingroom, and it would certainly mean washing my hands. How important is this geographical segregation? Suppose a plant has a wide range that includes a bit of Asia and a piece of Europe too, does it have a choice of troughs? Or are we talking about endemics? Perhaps I had better forget about geography and think about the plant.

Better to have one unknown campanula than two campanulas with one label.

It is a campanula. I think it is a low one. But what if it is like C. alliariifolia or C. persicifolia. It would look ridiculous in a raised bed with tiny alpines. I eye the perennial border. But suppose, after all, it is low; then I can’t really put it with the peonies and the daylilies. Shall I go back to the library and look it up? I look at the name again. C. betulaefolia. Suddenly I remember; it is low and rather choice. I move towards a scree bed. Do campanulas really like scree? This bed is likely to get really hot sun in the summer; don’t all campanulas like a bit of shade? Maybe on the east side of the raised bed falling in an ethereal blue waterfall down the cool side of the bed. I chuckle at my inspiration. No: if I plant it there it will surely grow towards the sun and therefore into the bed, and I wouldn’t get the waterfall at all. How about a compromise: on the south side but near something large enough to give it a bit of shade? Oh, well, there isn’t too much room there; I’d better find a place with more elbow room—after all, most campanulas like to run around a bit. I cross to another raised bed with a large maple giving afternoon shade. Now what else is in flower at the same time as campanulas? Maybe a dianthus would be a good companion. Look, there is a place next to Dianthus alpinus ‘Joan’s Blood.’ But would that color rather obliterate the campanula? And what about next year? D. alpinus is notoriously short-lived, and so there might not be a color combination at all. In any case I see that this Alyssum saxatile will need all the space up to the dianthus before long, and it won’t leave much room for my campanula.

Finally I find a place that looks about right. I look at the neighbors. Bother, one of them is another campanula. C. turbinata! It will never do to have two campanulas next to each other. First, they will encroach, and second, there will not be enough contrast. Third—and this clinches it—if one of the labels gets broken I won’t know which plant belongs to the remaining label. Better to have one unknown campanula than two campanulas with one label. It is now 11:30, and the sun is getting high, if I don’t find a spot quickly it may soon be too hot to plant out, and anyway lunch break is imminent. I wander over to a new bed. No: never put new seedlings into new soil; they invariably winter heave.

I go over to a favorite old bed and find a good general area. I look over the possibilities for a particular spot. I crouch to pull out a Johnny-jump-up, and there’s another, and here’s a dandelion, for goodness sake. I just did this bed. These weeds grow overnight. Soon I am engrossed in pulling weeds and realize I need my favorite cultivator and a weeder. I return to the barn and get the tools. My hands are soon full of weeds, and I need a bucket to put them in. I go back to the barn to get a bucket and thoughtfully bring back a large can of water ready for the final planting in. I plunge into this weedy area, and before long I am weeding a path while the campanula sits on the garden waiting patiently. On my left is a real mess of dead leaves that need clipping. I go back to the barn, now trudging a little, to get the clippers and return to clip off the old leaves. Underneath the soggy mess I find a saxifrage kicked out by the deer. Enraged, I pick it up and look for place to replant it. It falls apart in my hands. My feelings are now a weird mixture of grief and greed: I can’t replant it, but I can pot it up into at least ten pieces.

It will be great to have extra plants for the next plant sale. I put down my tools and return to the greenhouse, holding the saxifrage in both hands and moving, arms outstretched, with almost a slight waddle. I pot up some of the pieces and quickly run out of pots. I look around the greenhouse in vain and find I must go back to the barn and search for more. By now it’s lunchtime, and after a quick bowl of soup I get back to potting saxifrage pieces. I water the divisions well, load the pots into a tray, and carry them to a cold frame. All the cold frames are full. These cuttings must have some protection for four or five days at least. I shall have to make room in the cold frame no matter what. I decide to remove a tray of plants and plant them out in the garden; this will give me the necessary space. I take the heavy tray and, now at full waddle, return down the garden looking for places to plant out my twenty plants. On the way I pass a campanula sitting on the garden.

Now what on earth is that doing there? How could anybody be so stupid as to leave a little campanula seedling standing in the middle of the garden? Look! It’s Campanula betulaefolia; one of the best! I must get it in right away. Now where shall I put it? .

From The Opinionated Gardener by Geoffrey Charlesworth. Copyright © 1988 by Geoffrey Charlesworth. Reprinted by permission of David R. Godine, Publisher.


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