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Ideas to reimagine your garden

Alpine trough garden with Chick Charms Sempervivum Hens Chicks and drought-proof, hardy succulent SunSparkler Sedums. Photo courtesy Chris Hansen

One of the reasons I go to garden-related seminars is to learn something. During “The Garden Reimagined,” a recent horticulture symposium at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, I got a primer on magnolias; some rock garden basics and recommended plants; design tips for a gravel garden, and what it means to plant in a post-wild world.

I have a love-hate relationship with magnolia. I had Jim Wilson (Magnolia virginiana ‘Moonglow’) for more than 10 years and it bloomed twice. I eventually pulled it out. Aside from its sporadic flowers, I was concerned the plant would get too big for my small yard, where each plant has to earn its keep.

I love magnolia flowers, especially their exquisite, clean pinks, creams, whites and yellows. Then there’s the fragrance. Known as the queen of blooming trees, magnolias tend to run large, but they don’t have to be mature to start their bloom cycle, frequently sporting flowers when the trees are very small, said speaker Andrew Bunting, assistant director at the Chicago Botanic Garden and author of The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias (2016, Timber Press, $24.95).

Rock gardens are the next big trend, perhaps because of concerns about drought conditions and perhaps because gardeners are looking for something different. If you want to grow hardy alpine or succulent plants in a hypertufa or concrete trough or other all-weather container, the bottom inch should be filled with organic matter, covered with 6 inches or more of a 50-50 mix of small, sharp gravel and sand, said speaker Joseph Tychonievich, author of Rock Gardening: Reimagining a Classic Style, (2016, Timber Press, $34.95).

‘Spring Symphony’ foamflower is an excellent plant for covering the ground. Photo courtesy TerraNovaNurseries.com

One way to get a feel for plant forms is to look at black and white versions of your garden photos, said speaker Lisa Roper, the horticulturist responsible for the Gravel Garden and Ruin at Chanticleer, a public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania. You’ll easily see how many rounded, pyramid or straight plants you have, as well as textures and where blank spaces are, she said. This technique works for any kind of garden.

Two things I learned from speaker Claudia West: That HTH is a disease that afflicts many gardeners, and that plants are programmed to cover soil. Plants, such as wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) or foamflower (Tiarella spp.), can do the job of hardwood mulch to control weeds, said West, ecological sales manager at North Creek Nurseries in Pennsylvania. Her award-winning book, Planting in a Post-Wild World, (2015, Timber Press, $39.95) co-authored with Thomas Ranier, offers an ecological philosophy as a guide to plant selection and more.

The disease? HTH, as in Have to Have that plant, West said, and the audience burst into knowing laughter.

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