Cliquez ici pour la version française
A few years back, visiting the Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, I saw some very attractive flower beds where garden flowers and native plants were growing together beautifully. It was a particularly good example of what Gertrude Jekyll calls "wild gardening," and I wanted to do something similar.
|Wild and cultivated plants at the Agawa Canyon|
I was also inspired by another example of "wild gardening" at the Métis garden in eastern Québec. It is made up, if I remember well, of native plants and a smattering of tough garden plants. Most prominent at the time the picture below was taken, was the native fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), its pink colour being echoed in the clouds above.
|Wild Gardening at the Métis garden|
In the last two years, I have attempted to create such a bed. I set aside an area where I put in some cultivated plants and let all the wild ones (weeds) grow. So far, it has not been much of a success. I now realize that the soil should not have been turned over before putting in the clumps of garden plants, because in so doing lots of buried weed seeds were brought up, and they all germinated. Things like sweet clover (Melilotus albus) and Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) quickly took over. As many of them as possible were removed last autumn. We will see if things improve this summer.
|A Few Rudbeckias lost in a sea of Queen Anne's Lace|
I should have paid more attention to the second part of what Gertrude Jekyll was saying: "Wild gardening is a delightful, and in good hands a most desirable pursuit, but no kind of gardening is so difficult to do well."
One type of wild gardening that is much easier to achieve is to plant a drift of a single garden plant in a "wild" setting. We have a border of Pheasant's Eye narcissus planted in the grass along a path, which does very well. When the bulbs come up in the spring, they are much taller than the grass, but by the time they have finished blooming, the grass is higher and hides them.
|Pheasant's Eye narcissus|
Along the inside of the same path, we also have small daffodils and short irises that take care of themselves.
Another good example of wild gardening with a single variety of garden plant growing among weeds, is a long stretch of iris sibirica I saw growing in a hay field. Presumably it gets mowed down every year at hay making time.
We have tried to imitate that as well, and it is working. However, it looks like it will take at least 20 more years before it gets to be an impressive drift!
To come back to the "wild garden" started two years ago, it looks good in some areas some of the time. But most of the year, it is a mess.
Over time, I hope some plants will do very better while others will disappear. I will have to interfere to slow down the most invasive weeds. Last year, in the second summer, golden marguerites (Cota tinctora) did better and was able to easily fight its way among the Queen Anne's Lace.
So did gooseneck (Lysimachia clethroides). Of course, both of these are thugs in regular gardens, so it is not surprising they can take care of themselves even in more challenging situations. Regale lilies and Ballerina roses have managed so far to survive and to bloom in the crowd. One advantage of Ballerina is that, more than any other rose we have tried to propagated, it comes very readily from cuttings. Besides, it has a natural 'wild' look to it.
One thing that was very attractive at Agawa Canyon was bracken (Pteridium) among the garden plants, mostly among phlox. We have patches of bracken elsewhere on the property, and moved some to the wild bed in 2013. Last spring, two or three very small bracken came up (out of perhaps 50 planted). I have since learned that they are actually difficult to establish (however difficult to get rid of once established). So there is some hope that more will come up in 2015.
Some native plants are growing, but not doing as expected. This is the case of the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum). It probably needs a few years to get established. Hopefully, it will eventually tower over the rest. Some unidentified cultivars of Rudbeckia are doing well, and so are of course oxeye daisies, which came in uninvited but are most welcome.