By Donna Mallen and Karen England, for Let’s Talk Plants! June 2022. Editor's note: This meeting was not recorded at the request of the presenter.
When to Break the Rules (and How to Get Away with It)
Rebecca Sweet, of Harmony In The Garden, presented When to Break the Rules (and How to Get Away with It) at the SDHS May general hybrid meeting held at Congregation Beth Israel. Rebecca was Zoomed-in to the hybrid event which was attended in-person by 31 members and guests and 56 more on Zoom.
Left: Mexican Tulip Poppy, Hunnemannia fumariaefolia. Middle: Painted Petals, Freesia laxa. Right: Texas Wild Olive, Cordia boissieri.
So, when can we break (or at least cheat on) some of the rules that are dictated to us by plant labels, commanded by gardening books or advised by experts?
As Rebecca Sweet explained, we can, and sometimes should, weasel our way around some of these prohibitions by examining the reasoning behind the rule and adapting the rule to our plans, instead of altering our plans to comply with the rule. Experiment by shifting the rule’s boundaries where your own experience and common sense suggest a modification would work.
As a simple example, looking at a label on the plant’s pot or on a seed packet, you see the rule that this plant requires “full sun.” Well, you’ve been gardening in Southern California for a long time, and you realize that “full sun” in our hot, dry climate is not the same as “full sun” in Seattle. A “full sun” plant in Vista or El Cajon might benefit from a bit of shade. The term used by the grower is a general rule, written to apply to all yards across the country. Give yourself permission to test out other options that may actually work better in your particular micro-climate. Go ahead and plant that Elfin Thyme in bright shade - it will be happy.
Three of my favorite adaptations among the six rules she suggested that we consider manipulating are:
Rule 1. You must not plant succulents and roses together, due to their different water requirements.
Clever Adaptation: Plant the rose in a tall pot, where its roots will reach down. Plant a shallow-rooted succulent around the base of the rose at the top of the pot. Water with drip irrigation to trickle the moisture slowly down through roots to settle around the rose’s roots at the bottom layer of the pot.
Rule 2. Plant in sets of three of one plant to bring a visual sense of flow in the eyes of observers of your garden, avoiding a hodge-podge or awkward look.
Clever Adaptation: You can accomplish the same flow by “echoing” a color or shape in different, near-by areas, such as three single different specimens of burgundy-color plants accenting your green garden, drawing the eye from one to the other down a visual path. Or you can create a balanced view by “flanking” two identical items (plants or sculptures) directly across a path from each other, as with an arbor or arch, with identical plants at each base.
Rule 3. Use Bright Color Sparingly – Watch Out for the “Exploding Crayon Box” Look
Clever Adaptation: If you want more colors, pull out your color wheel and select three colors that are “analogous” (adjacent to each other on the color wheel), which will create a soothing, though varied, look. If you choose colors that are “complementary” to each other (opposites on the color wheel), they may wake up a boring color scheme, but you may need to calm them with an adjacent color.