Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2006
Regional Report

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Hostas and surprise lilies make excellent companions.

Happy Accidents

Vita Sackville-West, the grand dame of the famous Sissinghurst gardens in England, once said "Successful gardening is largely a matter of good marriages, albeit arranged ones for the most part." She went on to conclude, "There may, however, be difficulties because of the roving nature of some of the characters, regardless of the impeccable lineage. In this case, the only solution may be a divorce (commonly known as the compost heap)."

Happily, "mistakes" in the perennial garden are easily fixed. And occasionally, they end up being just right. My best garden mistake, one I've intentionally repeated many times, was to plant hostas in a spot where I had planted surprise lilies the year before.

The hostas were young and shallow-rooted, and I completely forgot that the surprise lilies were there. Surprise lilies send up their strap-like leaves in spring, which then die back leaving no trace. Then in late summer, flower stalks with lovely purple-pink blossoms emerge from seemingly bare ground.

Imagine my surprise when my 'Royal Standard' hostas began sprouting surprise lily flower stalks. This was at about the same time that the flower stalks emerged from the hostas as well. Now the lilies send up their foliage in spring, the foliage dies back as the hosta leaves emerge to cover it, and then both plants send up flower stalks together in August. Lovely!

Another happy accident that repeats itself with no help from me is the combination of morning glories and sunflowers. I started with sunflowers one year, and then the following year I put morning glories on a grape trellis nearby. Both plants reseed themselves prolifically, and now the morning glories have moved themselves over to climb the sunflowers. The sunflowers are sturdy enough to support them, and I have a delightful combination of dark purple morning glories and bright yellow sunflowers. Almost as if I'd planned it.

When you plan a flower garden, whether annual or perennial, keep companions in mind and you may find all sorts of happy accidents. Let plants drape themselves, cover other plants occasionally, and you just might find that you discover some perfect companions. And, remember, if a combination doesn't work, you can simply move part of the combination or send it to the compost heap!

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