You move into a house all hopeful that this time will be different; this time you’ll keep your shit together. Be organized. Keep from amassing crap. Next thing you know, you’re pulling a snowman-building kit (complete with plastic carrot) from your coat closet and a bunch of burnt-out light bulbs from your laundry-room cupboard.
Keeping the house decently clutter-free is my constant mission. It’s the outside that’s problematic.
Because, friends, I buy plants. A lot of plants.
I buy them, plant them, move them from bed to bed. Only the strong survive. After five years messing around in the yard, things finally are looking good. Here’s what I mean; here are my most beloved plants. The ones that are blooming now, anyway. This would’ve been a whole different list two weeks ago.
1. Clematis*. This is how it looks when it’s tired. Can you imagine this thing when it’s in full bloom? No. Unless you have a brain made of fairie dust or have been to my house in early May, you cannot fathom the gloriousness of this abundant bloomer. (Haha. Abundant bloomer. Like your mom wears.) Also? Purple, which as everyone knows is the most majestic of flower colors. I cut this thing nearly to the ground in early spring. It requires nothing else. It is the plant version of a perfect child.
2. Astilbe. Is that not striking? It does this in deep shade. It does it in part sun. Look at those architectural branches, the proud plumes. They want a fair amount of water, but why not? How else does one get color in shade? If I had to choose just one plant to garden with, I think it would be astilbe. Unless it was clematis.
3. Endless Summer hydrangea. That name is no lie. This came with the house, too, which makes me feel less self-conscious about the fact that it took me three years and a bout of laziness to figure out that I shouldn’t cut it back. Pruning is one of the best parts of gardening, right? It is equal parts destruction and encouragement. You hack back branches, shape, guide, and are rewarded by renewed growth. Ampler, fuller plants. And in many cases more blooms. Not so with this sucker, which I didn’t learn until the year that I was writing my thesis and couldn’t be bothered to prune. Inertia brought reward. (Let that be a lesson?) Oh my god the blooms that year. The blooms!
4. Knockout shrub roses, sedum. I’m not much of a designer, but would you look at that combo? The blue sedum and those fuschia blooms? Finally, I got something right. And although certainly those roses are striking, it’s the sedum I most heartily adore. You can’t kill ‘em, for one thing. Give them your driest, most barren soil—sedums laugh at pain. They are the Gary Oldman of plants—each one interesting, tough, kind of hideously attractive, especially when their alien-looking blooms arise in late summer. If I had just one plant to garden with, it would probably be sedums.
5. Contorted filbert. If I were a decent photographer, the beauty of this tree would make you weep. It’s one of those twisty-branch dealies, so it looks amazing even when its leaves are gone. They come out purple, the leaves, and then green up a few weeks later. I bought this one on the orphans rack at Meier for, like, 125% off. It was so sad and neglected, and now look. What is my secret? Compost and water. Gardening is very complicated.
6. Husker red penstemon. Four-point-five years ago, I bought this plant in a three-inch pot. I have moved it three times, divided it at least that many, and it’s still…robust, to say the least. I like its tall, complicated flowers and broad red-tinged leaves. I also have a purple-flowering penstemon that came with the house but has much less attractive leaves. There are a lot of good-looking penstemons out there. If I had to garden with just one plant, it would probably be penstemon.
* This plant came with the house. I can’t possibly know which of the gazillion types of clematis it might be, and anyway I am not one of those people who memorizes names of plants. I work and eat and work out and live my life. I move plants around. I do not have energy to devote to such nonsense. Figure it out on your own. Or don’t—just go buy stuff you like and, for the love of birch, plant it where it gets what it needs.