Plant Form: Evergreen Shrubs and Perennials

I haven’t posted much on garden design in my first year of blogging but I am constantly thinking about it and its equally as important to me as having a functional edible garden. A lot of the time I am thinking about which evergreen shrubs and other plants I can use which will form the body and shape the spaces in my garden.

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I spend equally as much time thinking about what spaces I want in my garden but I don’t quite have this figured out yet. If you’re designing a garden I highly recommend reading Michael McCoy’s The Gardenist. I can’t recommend it enough and I’m glad I read it before I started planting my garden. I love it so much I’m going to do a post on it soon. It doesn’t focus on edible plants but the principles are the same. And if classic garden design is not your thing, maybe you’re into permaculture, I think it’s still useful to get you thinking about the spaces and the structures which create those spaces, in your garden.

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My garden so far: all space and no form or structure at all yet.

Anyway, while I think yes, it’s probably best to have a better idea of the design – ie. the voids and the masses as Micael McCoy would conceive of them – that I want in my garden, before I choose the plants, I can’t help but pop a few plants in here and there as I go along. I sneak them into spots where the immediate design is sort of settled and  I know if they work out there, they can stay. And I just plant one or two to see how they fare in that spot. What I’m somewhat obsessing about is what plants will form the body and structure of my garden. What evergreen plants – edible or otherwise – I can use to be the walls around the spaces in my garden.

And here’s what I have been enjoying since spring.

Acanthus

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This acanthus was here when we bought the property and it used to be really shaded – from the north and west all year, and even from the east in winter. Now it’s getting a lot more sun but doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve barely watered it intentionally at all, but it may have got a bit in passing while I was watering nearby plants. I love how full it is, how lush and green it looks, and the shape of the leaves. It did flower but it wasn’t anything to get overjoyed about. I know they can be beautiful but this one just had one or two. I just love the form and colour and texture so much I didn’t think the flower added that much more.  Now I’m waiting to really pay attention to what it does over winter.

Agapanthus

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I was a bit biased against agapanthus when I moved into this house. It had been officially declared a weed in Victoria.  And I feel I have to read up more about this before I decide whether it’s ok to use. That’s a fairly large caveat but many gardens will have established clumps. I also associated it with an uninspiring old style of garden, not a more modern and exciting form of edible gardening designed for tough Australian conditions. And so I promptly dug out a few of them that were in the wrong spots, without saving and replanting elsewhere. They are really tough, require seemingly no watering once established and seem to create their own moist microclimate – I found two frogs in and around one plant. And they have an interesting form with long strappy leaves and a lovely globular shape.  I haven’t ever watered the plants in the photo above. They get hot summer sun and shade in winter. Got to love a plant that can withstand those conditions. But my job is to research what the deal is with plants declared weeds, and if there are exceptions. Stay tuned!

Wormwood

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I got this from Diggers and I think it’s Wormwood Powis Castle. People into edible gardening will have been encouraged to plant wormwood. It’s supposed to be a good companion plant. Keeps away the baddies maybe? I’ve heard you’re supposed to plant it near your chooks for a similar reason. This one is low, and compact and dense, and spreading out nicely.  It has good form, and that beautiful wormwood silvery blue/green colour.

Echium

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Another Diggers purchase: Heronswood Blue.I planted this as a small single stemmed plant in spring, and it’s really taken off. No flowers in its first year. It is apparently slightly frost tender, so I’m interested to see what happens with it over winter. But it is full and big and upright and suggests movement and has a beautifully rounded form. They don’t live forever. I’ve read about seven years. But given the rate it grows at here, I’m definitely going back for more next spring.

Purple Sage

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A perennial, so maybe not really evergreen. I’m yet to see how much it will die down over winter. But it’s won me over since spring. Growing quickly, spreading out thickly, flowered in its first summer, edible, and beautiful purpley-black dark hues mixed with that silvery blue-green. It feels cool during a long hot summer. And, does not seem fussed about water all that much. Unlike its cousins in pots who go weepy very quickly in hot summer weather.

Rosemary Tuscan Blue

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Not the best specimen but you can see how the new shoots reach uniformly straight upwards.

Look, this will be no surprise to anybody. But rosemary Tuscan Blue is so beautifully structural, such a lovely colour green, so useful in the kitchen garden. I love hedges of it that are kept clipped to prevent from going woody. I don’t think I will ever look back and think “gah, what a fad”. It’s timeless and beautiful in any garden. Tuscan Blue is supposed to be the most upright form, as long as you clip it fairly vigorously once or twice a year I think. I have a few bushes in my front garden, getting the hottest summer sun, that have not shown signs of needing watering once in the two years we’ve been here. I am planting it all over the place this autumn, including a hedge of them on my verge.

Curry Plant

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Small, bushy, dense, fast growing, gorgeously silver, and aromatic smelling (although not commonly used for cooking). These three little plants have grown with no fuss and I love the smell and the hedgy look. I think I’ve read that they too require clipping to stay bushy. Not sure how and where I’ll use these. Maybe I’ll observe them a little more. I think they need some friends – some low growing ground covers or something taller – to give them some balance.

So there are some water wise ideas for planting up my, and maybe your garden. Now I just need to think more about the design. A good job for the imminent arrival of winter.

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