These days there are heroes everywhere in our lives. We’re talking about the everyday kind here – like the smoked salmon in an omelette or the glossy red fridge in your new white kitchen. And guess what? Gardens also have heroes dotted amongst the plantings. Here’s what makes a plant heroic, and why we should use more of them in our gardens…
THE ROLE OF THE HERO: The first thing we need to remember is that a garden is a created thing. It might be filled with Mother Nature (aka plants), but the garden itself is there because we gardeners have made it. It’s this making part of gardening – the design of a garden – that involves the plant heroes. When we decide what to plant where, what garden picture we’re hoping to create, that’s when feature plants step in to do their work. These are the plant heroes and they do fabulous work.
THE HEDGE HERO: Hedges are a good example where the right hero plant can make all the difference. By definition a hedge is a line of the same plant deliberately planted close together so that you get the effect of a green wall. Low or high, hedges do good work in the garden. Knee-high ones are useful for running alongside a path to direct foot traffic; shoulder-high ones are a great backdrop for a flower filled garden bed; and house-high hedges can be used to block ugly views or create private outdoor rooms. Usually a green dependable plant is selected, and once it’s grown into shape, no one really notices it. But what if you chose a heroic hedging plant instead of something ho-hum? Like a Fairy Magnolia to sweep up alongside your front drive? Instead of just a clipped line of green you’ll have a hedge that stops you in your tracks when it covers itself in a mass of lovely mini magnolia flowers. That’s the difference a hero hedge plant can make.
THE TREE HERO: Just say you have a space in your garden to plant a tree. If you stop and think about it, this is an opportunity to add a whole new dimension to the garden with just one plant. Clearly a hero is called for, like any of the Jury Magnolias. On the one hand you could plant a classic tree, which can be depended on to look classic – an evergreen conifer, or something that loses its leaves like an oak or a plane tree. Or you could plant Magnolia Felix and be astonished and captivated each spring when it produces its hot pink flowers that are larger than a man’s hand. That’s the difference a hero tree can make.
THE FRONT-OF-HOUSE HERO: Everyone has a front door, and it’s a gardener’s duty to make sure it’s as welcoming as possible. Usually the job’s considered done if there’s a matched pair of evergreen bushes flanking the front door, which is a shame because this is an opportunity for so much more. Can you imagine how much more impact you could create with something like a colonnade of standard of tree roses? Something likes the Flower Carpet roses, which are so easy to grow and smother themselves in blooms for most of the warmer months. That’s the difference an entrance-hero plant can make.
THE OUTDOOR ROOM HERO: Does every gardener have a few plants tucked into pots? Of course they do. Do they often set a pot – like a living bunch of flowers – on the outdoor table? Yes. This is the moment when we put pressure on whatever is growing in that pot because it needs to look absolutely gorgeous. If the plant in the pot is a hero plant – something like a Sweet Spot* rose – then your table is well decorated and ready for a sunny lunch. That’s the difference a heroic decorator plant can make.
*If you’re in the United States you’ve already seen Sweet Spot (released last season) and been captivated. Now it’s the Australian gardeners’ turn and they are the lucky ones to spot these extraordinary roses in garden centres for the first time. Lucky them, lucky everyone.
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