Gardening: Miraculous Plants 

Some plants can't stand to see you leave for vacation. But there are low-maintenance alternatives that just want you to send them a postcard.

click to enlarge garden100.jpg

So this is the beach issue, but as I'm still nursing a weird sunburn from my last trip to Virginia Beach, I can't in all honesty understand why a person would go to a place where you might end up with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe tanned into your back. (I suspect those wandering beach gypsies, who said they'd apply sunscreen on me for a small fee.) On the plus side, I am now a popular pilgrimage site.

But that's not the point. The point is, when talking about gardening and the beach, it's a simple matter of the haves and the have-nots. Driving back to Richmond, perhaps you notice all those fancy houses along the water, where people have machines that give them tans, or perhaps trained monkeys, a sure sign of wealth. But I bet all that time at the beach house plays hell on the plants left behind. Which is why you need to invest in a low-maintenance garden so you can head to the water and enjoy your daiquiri-making robots and floor-to-ceiling silk robes and all those other things wealth does for you.

The basic problem with gardens, for robot-owners and regular folks alike, is that they don't have an off switch. There's no way to stop their growing and that need for water while you're getting in your summer travel. So consider plants that aren't so needy, that just want a casual thing.

For keeping you from your summer vacating, your lawn is the absolute worst. I fail to see why people dump so many gallons of money into what is really uninteresting and ubiquitous stuff. Look instead to ornamental grasses — most need watering only about once a week, sometimes once a month, and they maintain seasonal interest throughout the year. They mix with perennials, make golf courses lively and give the garden some unique texture and color. Also, they sound pretty when the wind blows through them.

No one ever looks out over a lawn and says, "Listen to the wind in the grass." It's like complimenting a crew cut. Check out www.bluestem.ca for lists of good ornamental grasses and other independent-minded plants, but here's a few.

Consider blue grama, sideoats grama, bearskin fescue and big bluestem. These all have interesting profiles and can entertain themselves with sparse watering while you're out learning how to parasail or prepare blowfish sandwiches. Easier still, Japanese reed grass lives happily in rock gardens and can be mowed. Buffalo grass couldn't care less whether you stay a few days longer at that retreat where men learn to cry, as long as you get back to mow it once a season. Northern sea oats (or wild oats), which become bronze in the winter, have fairly low water demands as well and, with their zesty seedpods, are a good complement to flowering plants. They can be invasive, though, so you might have to cut short your trip to see the man with the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back in order to pull up some shoots.

Most have seasonal interest through the fall and into winter, when their gentle undulations under the first waves of cold air remind you — a tear running down your cheek, where it freezes — that you don't also have a winter home.

Weep only until early spring, when you must cut ornamental grasses down to six inches.

Hostas and hellebores are good pairs for your independent society of plants, lending shape and color to the ornamental grasses. As for low-maintenance trees and shrubs, look to the mimosa, juniper, butterfly bush and forsythia. Pack your bags.

And here's one more plea against what undoubtedly takes up most of your growing space: Sod is needy and selfish and will never let you leave. The road to hell is paved with lawn! Want to be like the wandering beach gypsies? Sedums! These great and versatile little succulents want you to have a life — they'll take care of the groundcover. Once they get established, just make sure they have a spare key, the emergency numbers and some travel magazines, so they can see how much better they have it than the beach flora.



So this is the beach issue, but as I'm still nursing a weird sunburn from my last trip to Virginia Beach, I can't in all honesty understand why a person would go to a place where you might end up with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe tanned into your back. (I suspect those wandering beach gypsies, who said they'd apply sunscreen on me for a small fee.) On the plus side, I am now a popular pilgrimage site.

But that's not the point. The point is, when talking about gardening and the beach, it's a simple matter of the haves and the have-nots. Driving back to Richmond, perhaps you notice all those fancy houses along the water, where people have machines that give them tans, or perhaps trained monkeys, a sure sign of wealth. But I bet all that time at the beach house plays hell on the plants left behind. Which is why you need to invest in a low-maintenance garden so you can head to the water and enjoy your daiquiri-making robots and floor-to-ceiling silk robes and all those other things wealth does for you.

The basic problem with gardens, for robot-owners and regular folks alike, is that they don't have an off switch. There's no way to stop their growing and that need for water while you're getting in your summer travel. So consider plants that aren't so needy, that just want a casual thing.

For keeping you from your summer vacating, your lawn is the absolute worst. I fail to see why people dump so many gallons of money into what is really uninteresting and ubiquitous stuff. Look instead to ornamental grasses — most need watering only about once a week, sometimes once a month, and they maintain seasonal interest throughout the year. They mix with perennials, make golf courses lively and give the garden some unique texture and color. Also, they sound pretty when the wind blows through them.

No one ever looks out over a lawn and says, "Listen to the wind in the grass." It's like complimenting a crew cut. Check out www.bluestem.ca for lists of good ornamental grasses and other independent-minded plants, but here's a few.

Consider blue grama, sideoats grama, bearskin fescue and big bluestem. These all have interesting profiles and can entertain themselves with sparse watering while you're out learning how to parasail or prepare blowfish sandwiches. Easier still, Japanese reed grass lives happily in rock gardens and can be mowed. Buffalo grass couldn't care less whether you stay a few days longer at that retreat where men learn to cry, as long as you get back to mow it once a season. Northern sea oats (or wild oats), which become bronze in the winter, have fairly low water demands as well and, with their zesty seedpods, are a good complement to flowering plants. They can be invasive, though, so you might have to cut short your trip to see the man with the Virgin of Guadalupe on his back in order to pull up some shoots.

Most have seasonal interest through the fall and into winter, when their gentle undulations under the first waves of cold air remind you — a tear running down your cheek, where it freezes — that you don't also have a winter home.

Weep only until early spring, when you must cut ornamental grasses down to six inches.

Hostas and hellebores are good pairs for your independent society of plants, lending shape and color to the ornamental grasses. As for low-maintenance trees and shrubs, look to the mimosa, juniper, butterfly bush and forsythia. Pack your bags.

And here's one more plea against what undoubtedly takes up most of your growing space: Sod is needy and selfish and will never let you leave. The road to hell is paved with lawn! Want to be like the wandering beach gypsies? Sedums! These great and versatile little succulents want you to have a life — they'll take care of the groundcover. Once they get established, just make sure they have a spare key, the emergency numbers and some travel magazines, so they can see how much better they have it than the beach flora.



And proving artists really are like gods…

This month at Quirk Gallery (311 W. Broad St.), artists Sayaka Suzuki, Kiara Pelissier, Oura Sananikone, Art Chadwick, Megan DeArmond, Renee Fisher and others gather their wits about them and craft intricate, delicate and nigh-adorable terrariums in all sorts of glass-sided objects, like a candy dispenser or DeArmond's bubble full of plants. "Pleasant Under Glass" considers the diversity of places where life can take hold, letting the viewer peer into that little world. The show opens with a reception Friday, July 6, at 6 p.m. and runs through Aug. 15. 644-5450.

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