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Putting Down New Roots

Libby Dornbush June 1, 2012 Garden No Comments

When we moved to an old farm property in Wanup, we brought from our former garden cherished roots, all with their own stories: daylilies, bellflower and peonies, delphiniums, columbine and phlox, seeds of poppies and Queen Anne’s Lace  and, most precious, a clump of wild orchids that had moved several times from their original home in my parents’ garden in southern Ontario.

They all thrived, and we dug more flowerbeds and divided the roots again.

New neighbours gave us cuttings; a white Finn rose bush, foxglove, lady’s mantle, larkspur and sweet william. The swamp across the field gave us marsh marigold and Solomon’s seal, and the rotting ruins of an abandoned farm house yielded a still unidentified phlox-like plant that spreads a mass of reds and pinks from July to October.

We took a trip to the ghost town of Burwash; all trace of buildings have been eradicated, but great stands of old lilacs bloom each May. We brought home little saplings, offshoots of shrubs planted with hope and dreams so many years ago.

But still the word comes, “Buy the new! Must have the improved!”

Even worse are the pronouncements from official gardening experts. Not only must we lug home carloads of these wondrous new cultivars, we must tear out the old, dig in the new; the familiar plants so lovingly tended for so long are to be as disposable last year’s kitchen appliances.

And truly, in the dark days of January, the news that my old echinacea now comes in five different colours does seem rather marvellous.

In March, looking at the strip of mud that may hide dozens of tulips or some sad, rotted bulbs, the promise of a Mad Mix of Vari-Coloured Astilbe can make this gardener’s heart beat a little faster.

But where can it all go? Will the Mad Mix blend with the familiar shades and tones or will it try to outdo the old, take over the colours that have developed from years of quiet mutation and metamorphosis? I resist.

But a  friend brings a new variegated iris, and it climbs happily into bed beside a spreading lady’s mantle.

On a trip through southern Ontario, the sight of fields of blooming lilies drag us into a nursery, and several new daylilies make sharp stabs of colour in borders that might have seemed a little monochromatic.

A seed catalogue tempts me and I throw some brilliant new poppy seeds in near the old reliables. Each year now, with the aid of bees and birds, mingled colours drift through the gardens.

I will never tear out the old faithfuls to  replant with great swathes of new. Big business will have to find different gardeners to make their profits.

But gardens, like minds, must keep growing. New ideas must be considered, evaluated, found room for. The brilliance of the new daylily shocks me, and makes me see the surrounding colours differently; the green and white of the iris leaves play a delightful counterpoint to the spreading roundness of the lady’s mantle, some pale peach poppies suddenly pop up to contrast with a deep blue veronica.

The garden is growing. It is quietly new, improved in small ways.


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