In the Garden:
Middle South
April, 2012
Regional Report

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Similar bloom color but contrasting form and foliage create a striking plant combination.

Pretty in Periwinkle

Garden wise, there's a lot to be said for living in an older neighborhood. Take spring, for instance. Instead of a lonely Bradford pear in each yard, gardens are filled with gracefully tiered dogwoods, both pink and white, and Yoshino cherries dressed in barely-pink blooms that dance a shimmy with the slightest breeze.

Old-fashioned azaleas, like flower-packed Kurume hybrids (imported from Japan in 1915), rub elbows with newer kin, such as repeat blooming Encores (developed in Louisiana in the 1980s). In garden beds, Lenten roses relinquish the stage to daffodils and then coral bells, as the season tiptoes through decades of flower fads.

My own garden is no exception. It's been mesmerizing to see plants I've added in the past year bloom in unison with those nurtured by previous gardeners. Sometimes, quite by chance, the layering creates a striking vignette.

One winning combination is the juxposition of 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga (A. reptans) against Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which together make a very pretty spot of periwinkle in the front garden.

The ajuga was a spur of the moment purchase last May. I was attracted to its small leaves, tinged with bronze, and the label information which indicated the cultivar flowers best with a mix of sun and shade -- perfect for the spot I had in mind.

'Chocolate Chip' has been an enthusiastic grower, but better behaved than its species parent. The small 3-inch wide plants added almost a year ago have already quadrupled their coverage, but should only spread another inch or so.

Sources say this ajuga, like others, requires moist soil. It's flourished, however, in an area with quick drainage, adjacent to a low stone wall. There's no set irrigation in this part of the garden either, so only occasional hand watering provides relief in the blazing months of July and August.

Despite this limitation, a great number of bloom spikes began to appear in early March. Now standing 6 inches or more above the plant's sprawling foliage, each stem is covered in swirls of tiny flowers that are a deep shade of lavender-blue.

The nodding flowers of nearby Spanish bluebells are a slightly softer hue. But their form and strappy spears of foliage offer a bold counterpoint to the dainty ajuga.

I have no idea when these eye-catching bulbs were added to the garden, or whose hand fixed them here. Arranged in small sweeps, they grow in various beds in front of the house, without rhyme or reason. Even so, they are a welcome boon to the early garden and I'm pleased to have them.

Though I had no inking the 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga and Spanish bluebells would bloom at the same time or make such agreeable bedfellows, I'm delighted to applaud their show and collect more than a justifiable measure of credit.

And that's the way it should be. Isn't it? Despite many failures and disappointments (or perhaps because of them), occasional good fortune is the happy reward of the persistent gardener.

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