Delusions of Grandeur?
What’s your reaction when you see fake plantation-style columns in front of a fairly modest home, or a circular driveway in front of a house on a quarter acre lot? Do a bit of eye-rolling, perhaps? Then I must tell you that when I saw the grand sweep of Salvia (known as the River of Salvia) at Chicago’s Lurie garden, I was seized by the absurd desire to imitate this vision.
Absurd because I garden on a slightly larger than average city lot. What I did was pull out the Wild Geranium (G. maculatum) that grew in a roughly 3’x8′ sweep along my sidewalk border, and replace it with a mix of Salvia xsylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ and ‘May Night’. This was last spring, and the first summer it looked like this. I like to refer to it as my Puddle of Salvia.
I knew I needed some perennials planted behind the Salvias, and settled on Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’. These really came into their own this year, making this part of the border look like this.
This makes for a nice contrast I think, in habit and foliage color, as well as flower shape and color. However, no one would mistake it for Lurie’s River of Salvia.
So is this the horticultural equivalent of fake plantation columns on a Chicago bungalow? I don’t think so. We can be inspired by an element of a garden far grander than our own, then translate that inspiration into something beautiful, genuine, and appropriate to place. In this case, a much smaller mass of Salvia is still beautiful in a city lot garden, especially if it is integrated into the whole and the scale is proportional.
One practical matter I should mention, though. I’ve been bothered the tendency ‘May Night’ has (and ‘Blue Hill’ as well, to a lesser extent) to sprawl and open up in the middle. It happened last year and as a result I cut back both Salvias in early May – but they sprawled again anyway. I’ve resorted to placing 9″ sticks in an X formation along the sidewalk to prop the plants up. This has worked OK without being visible.
To echo the Puddle of Salvia, I’ve put clumps of Salvia in some other beds near the sidewalk. However, I am using mostly Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’, which is purple but also seems more upright.
Have you ever tried to translate something you saw at a famous garden in your own, successfully or not?