The Cranky Gardener

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That Little Something Extra

I had a lovely surprise last weekend when my brother came to visit. He brought me a present for my garden - a seven foot obelisk. He built it himself using treated wood. It is just what I needed to add some much needed interest to a large daylily bed. And it inspired this week's column. Aren't brothers great?

Some gardens just automatically draw you in and make you want to linger. Others, in spite of healthy, well-tended plantings just seem to leave you cold. Over the years I have discovered that the surest way to wind up with a boring garden is to have your beds filled with plants of the same colour or same size. Neither do I like beds like my mother always planted - perfect rectangles with three straight rows of flowers, one variety at the rear, a shorter variety in the middle and an edging plant in front. The plants themselves were lovely, but the overall effect was so predictable.

When I married and had a garden of my own to do with exactly as I pleased, I was determined to have interesting plantings. So I started
visiting public gardens and botanical centers whenever possible in search of ideas. I also checked out landscaping books from the library (shameless plug), bought lots of gardening magazines, and started making a clipping file of pictures of gardens I admired.

One of the things that I learned quickly was to vary the height of plants in my flower beds. Don't tell my mother, but its ok not to plant in rows. Your beds will look much more natural and interesting if plants of different heights are planted together in groupings, rather than in rows. Plants of five or six heights work best. That way you can place some medium sized plants in the front.

We all have personal preferences when it comes to garden design. I don't like really short plants anywhere except in a rock garden. As a
consequence you will not find little neat rows of edging plants in my garden. I like plants large enough to be dramatic. Give me plants with
large, bold, variegated foliage, and tall spikes of blossoms. I like plants that force you to pay attention to them. And I hate straight lines in the garden. Give your beds some curves.

Whew! Got a little carried away there.

Sometimes you will want to stick with one kind of plant in a bed, however. Take the above mentioned daylily bed. Daylilies are one of my favourite plants. They are beautiful, low-maintenance, multiply well and, when you mix early, medium and late-blooming varieties, they give you a long bloom season. But they will choke out other plants, so unless you want to dig them and divide them constantly, you'll wind up with just daylilies anyway.

So I have this large bed of daylilies containing about 80 plants and 60 varieties. It is healthy and happy and blooms for nearly four months every year but it needed something extra. It needed a large accent. I considered planting an ornamental tree at one end of the bed, but I really didn't want to produce shade. When I griped to my brother about my boring bed, he told me he'd fix it. And he certainly did. The obelisk is just perfect. I may or may not plant wild river clematis to climb it. It actually doesn't need anything.

Using garden statuary, birdbaths, trellises, benches, urns, fountains, arbours and arches will give you instant interest in your garden. They will let you concentrate on single varieties of plants if you wish without producing a boring landscape. Let me give you another example. I have a shady corner near a large pecan tree that I have filled with hostas. Hostas are a good landscape plant because they are hardy, increase in size every year and have dramatic foliage. But despite varying the sizes of my hostas, I was in danger of the blahs. So I took a large clay flower pot and turned it upside down to produce a base and then set a terra cotta statue of St Francis on top. The foliage hides the base and gives some needed height to the statue, which is only 20 inches tall.

Birdbaths are wonderful accents for flower beds, plus the birds will appreciate having a place to drink and bathe. And you know that grungy water you keep dumping out of the birdbath when you clean it? Great liquid fertilizer. Really!

Now, don't get so carried away with garden décor that you buy several dozen plaster gnomes, a deer that is supposed to be an adult but is just three feet tall, or one of those awful fat women wearing polka dot knickers bent over weeding. I really hate those. If you are going to place a statue of a crane in your pond, make sure it is life sized. The same thing goes for geese or ducks or frogs or raccoons. I'd much prefer a life-sized St Francis, but have never seen one I could afford.

Large stones will give a finished look to your beds. Reflecting balls, astrolabes and sundials are other possibilities. Do you visit the beach or lakeshore? Driftwood makes wonderful garden accents. A bar stool used as a base for a pot filled with trailing plants would be lovely. Use your imagination.

Another simple way to give your plantings an added oomph is to mix flowers and vegetables. If you need some height, add a tomato plant, some chard or a bamboo teepee for pole beans. (Planting tomatoes and
marigolds in the same bed will benefit the tomatoes.) Ornamental cabbages and kales make beautiful, edible garden companions for white flowers. The possibilities are endless. There is no excuse to have a boring garden.

Neither is there any excuse for a boring menu. Mother Nature has given us thousands of wonderful vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs and spices. I once read that most of us eat the same few foods over and over. How dull is that? Try a new dish now and then. Life should be a wonderful adventure.

I made a wonderful stew over the weekend. It is delicious. Give it a try.

Easy Pork Stew


  • 2lbs - 900g - of lean pork loin cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 4oz - 100g - can of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 package of dry onion soup mix
  • 1 16oz - 450g - package of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 3 - 4 medium red potatoes cubed
  • 1 8oz - 225g - can of tomato sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of ground allspice
  • 6 - 8 whole cloves
  • 2 - 3 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 quart of water


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet or stew pot over medium high heat.
  2. Brown the pork cubes. Add the remainder of the ingredients except the potatoes; bring to a boil, then cover.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the potatoes and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Discard the bay leaves and the cloves before serving.

This stew is wonderful with corn bread and a spinach salad.

The Cranky Gardener


16.09.04 Front Page

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