A Designing Couple's Cottage Garden
The favorites in this Georgia garden range from dwarf meadow rue to Chinese stonecrop.
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The cottage garden created by Caroline and Darryl Riggins in Tucker, Ga., occupies a large, fairly level suburban lot. Screened from a noisy street by Southern magnolias and other evergreens, the stunning, one-acre garden features many different garden rooms that are cleverly separated by hedges, trees and other plant groupings.
Caroline and Darryl work together as a garden design and installation team. Darryl structured the various garden rooms while Caroline organized plantings of a variety of shrubs and perennials. A beautiful vegetable garden is lodged in containers set in a pattern on a former car turnaround. Caroline has added flowers to the lettuces and other edibles, which are all planted in well-camouflaged black plastic pots.
Across a wide gravel walk is "compost mountain," a small hill that was once a compost heap. The story goes that Caroline and Darryl could not remove the decomposed mound of garden trimmings, so they made a path across the top and planted the sides of the heap.
The various garden rooms all have a story. For example, the rose garden came about when a large tree fell and opened up a patch of sunlight. The "anniversary garden" was built by Darryl on the hottest day of the summer as a gift for his wife. Other areas are a pond and beach (a sandy spot beneath a beech tree for a play on words), a container collection of Japanese maples and a "rust garden," inspired by a large, wire cage that was a piece of salvage.
The Riggins' garden is full of interesting plants, including:
Dwarf meadow rue (Thalictrum kiusianum). Meadow rue is a shade-loving perennial wildflower that often reaches seven feet tall. The delicate foliage resembles that of the maidenhair fern. This miniature woodland meadow rue consists of tiny clumps of fernlike foliage that form rosettes to four inches tall. In late spring and early summer airy purple flowers rise just above the leaves. A native of Japan and Korea, this dwarf woodland plant spreads by stolons and forms a mat on the ground. Hardy in Zones 6 to 8. (An intermediate-sized meadow rue, Yunnan meadow rue (Thalictrum delavayi), blooms in late summer, is four feet tall and is hardy to Zone 5. )
How to use it: Put this along a path or in a shady rockery. Use as a groundcover (remember that it's deciduous) or in a woodland trough.
Cultivation: You'll need part shade and woodland soil that's well-drained.
Source: Arrowhead Alpines
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'). This selection of the native species forms an informal shrub that is three to five feet high and just as wide. In May in Georgia (June or July further north), lovely fragrant, six-inch-long racemes of white flowers hang from the branches of the deciduous shrub. The dark green leaves become reddish purple in fall. Native to pine barrens and along streams from New Jersey to Florida and west to Missouri and Louisiana, Virginia sweetspire is a taller, looser plant in the wild but gets denser in the landscape. 'Henry's Garnet' is a selection from the prestigious arboretum at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. The plant is hardy from Zones 6 to 9.
How to use it: Virginia sweetspire looks great hanging over a pond or stream or along a woodland path. This is also a good plant to grow in a cottage garden. The flowers are lovely in the late spring, and the leaf color is outstanding in fall.
Cultivation: This semi-evergreen plant can be grown in wet spots, but it will also work in ordinary garden soil that is not allowed to dry out (although it has also shown some drought tolerance). Plants have been known to survive -20 degrees F and to tolerate the heat of Zone 8 as well.
'Excellenz von Schubert' rose (Rosa x 'Excellenz von Schubert'). One of several roses that served as predecessors of the hybrid musk roses, this polyantha has burnished, olive green foliage and long clusters of small, full, highly fragrant flowers. After the first flush in early summer, flowers appear sporadically throughout the growing season.
How to use it: As a shrub rose in a garden where the plant can ramble without pruning. Place where you can appreciate the sweet fragrance.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun in well-drained soil that has been amended with organic matter. Prune out dead canes only.
Source: Vintage Gardens Antique Roses
Dissectum Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum 'Red Filigree Lace'). The pendulous habit of this Japanese maple is consistent with other dissectum types. The big difference is the very lacy leaf that is hardly wider than the central vein. Discovered as a chance seedling in an Oregon nursery, 'Red Filigree Lace' grows more broad than tall and has a uniform deep purple-red color. The foliage turns bright crimson in fall. Although the plant looks very delicate because of the extremely lacy foliage, it is actually quite sturdy. Hardy to Zone 6.
How to use it: This Japanese maple can be used as a specimen in the garden or as an accent plant next to a pond. Japanese maples are popular bonsai plants.
Cultivation: In hotter climates, Japanese maples need protection from burning sun and winds. These trees should be in well-drained soil that's kept evenly watered. Stressed trees will produce brown, curled leaves.
Source: Mountain Maples
Chinese stonecrop (em>Sedum tetractinum). A low-growing (three inches tall) sedum with round foliage that is green in summer and reddish bronze in fall. In summer, bright yellow flower clusters rise just above the foliage and cover the plant. This is a hardy, spreading, vigorous grower that doesn't require a lot of water. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9.
How to use it: This is a great choice to plant between rocks or to cover a large space in full sun.
Cultivation: Full sun and well-drained soil are musts. Sedums won't do well in soggy places.
Martha Tate is co-executive producer of Gardener's Diary.
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