In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2011
Regional Report

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Take gardener Pinky Riffle's advice to create theme gardens and have more fun.

Give Theme Gardens a Try

Do you ever come home from the garden center with a car full of plants, bought because they were beautiful and/or interesting? Then you wondered where to put them in your garden? One solution to this dilemma is to have gardens centered around one or more themes. Gardeners who specialize in growing herbs use theme gardens a lot. Or you might focus on plants of a particular color. Recently, I visited Pinky Riffle, a gardener in Peoria, Illinois, who has turned a flat, straightforward suburban lot into a wonderland, using a series of theme gardens. She's not only created a delightful garden but has also had great fun in the process. Following are some of Pinky's ideas for theme gardens. Use them as a springboard for creating your own unique garden space.

Butterfly Garden
There are innumerable articles on the best plants to attract butterflies, but here there are a few twists on the theme. For instance, because this is a relatively small area, the trumpet vine has been pollarded. This means it is pruned hard every year, keeping it from growing it's typical 25-plus feet. There's also the expected butterfly bush, bee balm, blue salvias, goldenrod, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, zinnias, echinacea, fennel, Joe-Pye weed, asters, and sedum. For fun, though, Pinky has also included an iris named 'Flight of the Butterflies', 'Madame Butterfly' snapdragons, and a gingko called 'Jade Butterflies'. Her favorite addition is a Clerodendron ugandense, a tropical plant with blooms that resemble little blue butterflies, complete with antenna.

Fairy Garden
This is perhaps the area most dear to her heart, as the fairies threaten to take over the whole back yard. Of course, there is thyme here. Victorian gardeners actually set aside a patch of thyme for the fairies to live in. Lady's mantle is another required plant, for drinking the dew from the leaves of this plant transports one to fairyland. Foxglove, feverfew, and Queen Anne's lace all have folklore associated with fairies. Since fairies generally like music, there are plants with bell-shaped flowers, and there is a fairy ring made of Irish moss. Then there are the plants with fairy names, such as 'Tinkerbelle' Shasta daisy, 'Raspberry Pixie' daylily, 'Tinkerbelle' and 'Fairydust' lilacs. A clematis also named 'Fairydust' is there as well, plus heuchera 'Petite Pearl Fairy'; hostas 'Blonde Elf', 'Sugar Plum Fairy', 'Elfin Power', and 'Thumbelina'; roses 'The Fairy', 'Mystic Fairy', 'Lovely Fairy', and 'End of the Rainbow' (there's also a daylily of the same name here, too); dahlia 'Autumn Fairy'; and eggplant 'Fairytale'.

Household Garden
On a more prosaic note, the household garden features herbs traditionally used around the home. Some of the plants found here include southernwood, fern leaf tansy, mountain mint, and costmary, all of which will deter pests and insects. There's also soapwort, yucca, and lavender for cleansing, plus roses, scented geraniums, and lavender for fragrance. The dye plants are represented by woad, gypsywort, petunias, flowering cabbage, agrimony, hibiscus, and amaranth.

There are other theme garden areas centered around herbs, including a fragrance garden, a culinary herb garden, a witches' garden, a tea garden, a medicinal garden, and a crafter's garden.

Booze Gardens
The theme garden perhaps giving Pinky the most notoriety is centered around drinking. It started simply enough with a cork tree and a bottlebrush buckeye. From there it went to a clematis variety called 'Pink Champagne', then hostas with names like 'Sparkling Burgundy', 'Creme de Menthe', 'Spritzer', 'Gin and Tonic', 'Tequila Sunrise', and 'Corkscrew'. Now there is a daylily called 'Winecups', heucheras 'Sparkling Burgundy', 'Creme de Menthe', and 'Southern Comfort', monarda 'Raspberry Wine', callirhoe 'Little Wine Cups', tradescantia 'Pink Chablis', and corydalis 'Raspberry Wine'. 'Margarita' ornamental sweet potato grows in a container, and, of course, there is a bottle tree. A Mormon friend suggested a twist of lemon, so daylily 'Lemon Lime' was added. With all that booze, shouldn't one have 'Buttered Popcorn' ranunculus? And that's just the shade booze garden, there's one for a sunny area as well.

Other Theme Garden Ideas
Many of the theme garden ideas that Pinky has created are small, but they still give her some buying focus, to say nothing of making garden shopping trips an extraordinary adventure. These include a Christmas garden, a moon garden, a cat garden, a saint's garden, a bird garden, a Japanese garden, a lady garden, and, yes, a John Wayne garden, complete with hostas 'Wide Brim', 'Stetson', 'Silver Bullet', 'Bulletproof', and 'Pilgrim'.

As Pinky has written, "I learn from growing the different varieties and enjoy the results. If you have an interest or hobby, just apply that subject to plants, and you will be amazed with what you can assemble and create. I recommend theme gardening as a fun practice and guarantee that the your garden will be unique and interesting."


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