Water garden inspiration

I visited a garden center the other day that had a very humble water garden–just 4 x 4 timbers stacked into a large box, basically, and lined with EPDM rubber. But water gardens enchant us, regardless of design.

This simple water garden was constructed by layering 4 x 4 posts , installing a pond liner, securing it to the top post, and covering the rim with 1 x 4 trim.

This simple water garden was constructed by layering 4 x 4 posts, installing a pond liner, securing it to the top post, and covering the rim with 1 x 4 trim.

It wasn’t the aesthetics of the garden that appealed to me, but the simplicity of the construction. Water gardens don’t have to be elaborate, in-ground structures with lots of expensive stone work and magnificent waterfalls. Just about anyone can build a box like this, and the height makes it safer and more accessible. While the fountain the nursery used doesn’t suit my personal style, I could easily envision other options to keep the water aerated.

What I really loved, though, were the plants on display.

water lettuce

Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is a floating aquatic plant. I find its almost succulent, fuzzy leaves charming, but it’s a plant to be cautious with. It’s not on the US Federal List of Noxious Weeds, but it is problematic in Florida, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and a few other locations. It can rapidly cover lakes and as a result, may hinder boat navigation and reduce oxygen levels in the water. In a small water garden, a few plants can provide cover for fish and landing spots for insects. If they reproduce too rapidly, compost them. Never dispose of them in bodies of water or in sewers.

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), as lovely as it is, can be a real nuisance.

Water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

Water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, can be a dangerous weed if it gets into natural bodies of water.

Water hyacinth is also a free-floating plant. It is not cold-hardy, dying off at 54 F (12C), but it grows quickly, doubling in population in less than a week. To combat the problem this plant poses in tropical climates, some artisans use water hyacinth to weave baskets that get sold in tony home stores. The downside of this lemons-to-lemonade approach is that the baskets get marketed as being made from a “rapidly renewable resource,” implying a sustainability that isn’t really genuine. A market for what is essentially a recycled waste product is wonderful, so long as it doesn’t encourage people to grow more of the stuff.

Many more wonderful water plants exist, most obviously water lilies and lotuses, but because it’s the end of the season they weren’t on display and I don’t have photos of them.

If you’re toying with the idea of installing a water garden in the upcoming growing season, consider some ways you can use water plants responsibly.

Playing catch-up

What a busy month October has been! With moderate temperatures and low humidity, it’s been delightful to be in the garden.

My visit to Montrose at the beginning of the month for a Garden Open Day yielded (of course) a box full of plants.

Trick or treat? Treat, definitely.

Trick or treat? Treat, definitely.

I came home with:

  • Edgworthia ‘Snow cream’
  • Saruma henryi
  • Iris unguicularis
  • Zephyranthes drummondii
  • Zephyranthes ‘Capricorn’
  • Cooperia ________ ( I’ll look this up later)
  • Cyclamen hederifolium
  • Cyclamen coum ‘Lake Effect’
  • Sternbergia lutea
  • Two seedpods of Aesculus parviflora, bottlebrush buckeye, that I found in the parking lot of the school next door.
  • A part-time job.

Well, nearly. I casually asked someone working at the Open Day if they ever needed any help, and coincidentally, they do. It’s time to get all those tender plants in the greenhouses, you see, and down into the cellar and in cold frames. So I came back a few days later to have a proper conversation/interview about working there, and I guess I looked sturdy enough to be of some use.

So I work two mornings a week there, doing what needs to be done and learning everything I can. I hope to have lots to share with you.

 

 

Bug watcher

Montrose last Saturday was a great place for insect watching.

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Pollinators were out in force, making the most of the glorious fall day.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)?  on butterfly bush.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)? on butterfly bush.

I particularly enjoyed watching these bees, their pollen sacs full of neon-orange pollen, coming in to feast on the dahlias:

honeybee with full pollen sacs coming to a dahlia honeybee with orange pollen sacs landing on dahlia DSC_6805 multiple bees landing on dahlia

Counting my summer successes: Ceratotheca triloba

About this time last year, I made my first visit to Montrose. On a tour of the gardens there, I became bewitched by Ceratotheca triloba, sometimes known as South African foxglove.

Ceratotheca triloba

Looking something like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove, Ceratotheca triloba grew tall and elegant in bare gravel and gracefully entwined with a nearby red-foliated cotton plant. Seized with plant lust, I promptly went home and scoured my seed catalogues. I found the seeds in a catalogue that promised they were rare, but since the seed pack only cost $2, I’m guessing what they meant was “rarely purchased.”

That’s a shame, for Ceratotheca triloba has been perfectly charming for me this year and would probably be equally well behaved in others’ gardens, should they learn about this under-the-radar gem. I started some of the seed at home and planted out two sturdy seedlings. They grew for me, flowered for perhaps three months, and produced seed. I cannot ask for more.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove

In dry, light shade it performed well, if it sagged a bit in its old age. (Who doesn’t?) I might have done a better job pinching it early in the season to coax it into a more shrubby form. As you might imagine, bees love the long, drooping tubular flowers. My form is more lavender-colored than the pink one I saw at Montrose; I don’t know if the color is impacted by pH or sun exposure, or if it just naturally varies a bit. Next year I’ll experiment with its placement and see what I can learn.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

On my desk sits an envelope full of homegrown little black seeds, waiting for their chance to fill the abundant vacancies in my garden. I allowed some seed to sow itself naturally; if I remember not to mulch over the spot too heavily, perhaps I’ll see Mother Nature’s design work next spring.

Ceratotheca triloba is an annual, and there’s no excuse for not trying it next year. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove