It is a joy to grow certain plants for the memories they invoke and the anticipation of their familiar scent, sight, taste, and other beloved qualities, as well as the pleasure of seeing them expand and perhaps self-propagate in our gardens.
However, it is an equally delightful experience to find or make a place for a new plant, unfamiliar except in books, photos, or maybe just an alluring catalog blurb.
I remember the first time I tasted a serviceberry. Each description I read of its flavor heightened my curiosity. It was only satisfied when I was able to savor and analyze that taste for myself. Now I look forward to the unique mix of cherry and almond every June… but as no supermarket carries the berries, I couldn’t have that experience if I didn’t grow the shrub (mine are actually a tree form, Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) in my own garden.
Serviceberries have moved from the “new” category to the “must-have” category for me. I have already planted a couple of them in my new garden, and I wouldn’t want to be without them in a future garden.
Of course, the size of your garden does limit how many plants can become must-haves. And chances are, the longer you have been a gardener, the longer your list of must-haves. So it follows that, the smaller your garden and the more experienced you are, the tougher it can be to get that “new plant” experience.
That is one reason I love the strategy of vertical layering. Adding groundcovers under a hedge, or woods’ edge shrubs under a mature tree underplanted with shade-loving perennials, or letting low running plants surround the feet of leggy flowers, are all fun ways to bring new plants into a seemingly full garden.
I also find great pleasure in temporal layering. It’s a little tricker since the timing doesn’t work the same every year, but what an engrossing game it is, trying to make a combination that remains effective despite yearly variations. Some ways to extend the season include planting bulbs and spring ephemerals that emerge and bloom earlier than their companions, and adding late-emerging perennials to cover fading foliage of the first bloomers.
As an additional benefit, vertical and temporal layers increase plant diversity, which increases wildlife diversity, and diversity fosters interspecies connections such as predation and mutualism, and those connections strengthen the stability and health of the garden.