Growing Plant Communities

Growing Plant Communities

Part of Ep. 1303 Plant Communities

At Northwind Perennial Farm in Lake Geneva, Roy Diblick is an advocate of successful gardening through plant communities and plant relationships. Find out how it all works and get tips on how to garden according to personal time commitments.

Premiere date: Oct 05, 2005

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're at Northwind Perennial Farm near Lake Geneva. I'm with one of the owners, Roy Diblik. You have such a beautiful setting here I just love coming here and visiting.

Roy Diblik:
Thanks, Shelley, we're glad to have you.

Shelley:
Tell me a little bit about your nursery.

Roy:
We started in 1991, and I have two partners, Steve and Colleen. Steve does the hardscaping here. We have a lot of retaining walls and stone paths, and he enjoys that; he does the woodys. Colleen, when you get here, she's all the charm. She runs the charm department.

Shelley:
The antiques part. I'm going shopping! We're standing here in one of your babies because you're the plant person.

Roy:
I've been doing it since 1978, and I love it.

Shelley:
Well, it shows. This is a new concept, though. This is one of your demonstration beds. This is something new for most of us.

Royt:
We're looking at putting plants in communities. Actually, it's done quite frequently in Europe. The Germans do it. They put plants in communities based on cost and maintenance so that if they have a large site, they can predict for ten, 15, 20 years the cost to maintain the site. Plus, they want esthetics. They don't want things in big drifts, like we do here. They want things to look good but minimize the monotony of it.

Shelley:
And the labor, it sounds like, too. Make the plants and us happy.

Roy:
Predictable cost, efficiency, maintenance and management.

Shelley:
What a great idea instead of overextending myself like I usually do too. What is it that makes these plants a community?

Roy:
The first thing you look at is the site. You evaluate the soil conditions and the sun. Here, we have full sun. But you look at how fast does your soil drain, is there a slope, and when does it stay wet and when is it actually dry out. Then, we simply pick plants that fit the site conditions. Most plants here are very giving. They're not specific for wet or dry.

Shelley:
Where it's dry now, it may be wetter in the spring.

Roy:
Right, and we look at plants that live well together. So, if you look at all these plants if they could talk to you, they'd all be pretty happy.

Shelley:
Let's talk to some of them, because they look great. I'm just a sucker for ornamental grasses. I love this one. What is it?

Roy:
This is Sporobolus heterolepsis 'Tara', it's Prairie Dropseed. It's a selection I made in 1994. I found it in the Kettle Moraine. It's very short and compact. I've been trying to get it to grow bigger and it hasn't. So, I've introduced it to the trade, and it's great for small scale gardens. It's a great filler grass for small-scale gardens, and for large sites too.

Shelley:
It's small, but has an airiness, the feathering is beautiful.

Roy:
It moves nicely in a slight breeze.

Shelley:
You've got a nice salvia here. I don't recognize this one.
Roy:
This nice selection from Germany is called Salvia 'Wesuwe'. It's selected for it's early bloom. It stays fairly upright, it doesn't lean over. When you prune it, it reblooms quickly. If you don't prune it it reblooms through it's old flowers. It's a very structurally sound plant.

Shelley:
This actually bloomed earlier in the year and now it's much later in the summer and look at it!

Roy:
It blooms the first week in May till about the end of June. If you shear it back, it quickly reblooms. If you don't, it reblooms through the old flowers.

Shelley:
This is the rebloom without deadheading, low maintenance. I like it.

Roy:
Very easy to grow.

Shelley:
This purple coneflower is shorter than ones I know. What is this one?

Roy:
This is Echinacea tennesseensis, it's the Tennessee coneflower. This starts blooming around mid-June. It blooms into September. It does excellently in well-drained, dry soil. It tolerates moist soil, but it will be short lived maybe five years in damp, wet soil.

Shelley:
We're planning ahead, to replace these.

Roy:
There's a possibility in five years you need to replant them or put other things in.

Shelley:
And that's looking ahead. What a novel idea! And what's this? I don't recognize it at all.

Roy:
That's really a wonderful introduction we got out of Germany, it's Kalimeris incisa. It has beautiful blue daisy flowers. It starts to bloom in early to mid-June, and flowers through July into September. It keeps a nice shape, beautiful foliage. And it's also sterile because there's concern about invasive plants from Europe.

Shelley:
This is one we don't have to worry about. That means less weeding because it's not going to run all over the garden.

Roy:
That cuts your labor by not chasing plants in the garden.

Shelley:
I like it. And then of course, back to my favorite, grasses.

Roy:
This is something really special out of Germany. It's Molinia, this one is called 'Haydenbrot'. There's a whole selection of Molinias in different sizes. They have a very airy look. They get a super fall color.

Shelley:
Very upright, too.

Roy:
They stand very structurally vertical. But you can see through them, which allows you to see other plant material. You can float plants through them like Echinacea 'Hearts Pride', the orange coneflower and it looks like it floats through the grasses.

Shelley:
It's just kind of hanging there.

Roy:
We have many selections of this excellent plant.

Shelley:
I like this. If we're looking at this and planning ahead how many hours a week would I have to spend on this?

Roy:
For this garden segment about two to two-and-a-half hours a week. You'd need to commit to this.

Shelley:
So, that's planning ahead.

Roy:
It can be any time, it doesn't have to be one day. Whenever you want to come out with your cup of coffee and just enjoy gardening.

Shelley:
Let's look at one more community.

Roy:
Sounds great.
Shelley:
This is a different plant community from the one we just looked at Roy, but what makes it different?

Roy:
Well, we have the same soil conditions, but what we did, we introduced more diversity. We didn't use the same plants over and over again.

Shelley:
So, just variety of plants, they still like the dry soil with a little bit of wet in the spring.

Roy:
They enjoy the same conditions the other garden did but we've introduced more diversity so they're not too repetitious with the same plantings.

Shelley:
It’s more fun looking, too. Let's talk about some of your favorites. I keep looking at this; the blue of this is beautiful.

Roy:
Well, that's a new introduction out of Germany also, it's a chives and everybody's grown chives but this is a selection called 'Forescate.' It has blue foliage and pink flowers in late May and early June. When you shear it back, the highlight is blue foliage and it remains blue till October.

Shelley:
It looks like a blue grass.

Roy:
We actually use it for a grass. We've drifted it though the garden here.

Shelley:
Am I cutting to the ground after it's bloomed?

Roy:
About halfway, three to four inches from the ground. It responds quickly, the new growth is very quick.

Shelley:
It won't look like stubble.

Roy:
For about a week, it looks like you cut it back then it comes back beautifully with nice new foliage.

Shelley:
Can I use it like a normal chive?

Roy:
It's edible, and has the same flavor.

Shelley:
Double duty in my garden, then. This looks like a small shrub. It's pretty.

Roy:
That's called Calamintha nepeta, and sub-species nepeta. It's a selection that's sterile. Calamintha nepeta from seed would reseed all over and create a lot of labor.

Shelley:
Yeah, I've had that problem.

Roy:
So this actually has glossy foliage and the flowers turn blue as it gets cooler into September.

Shelley:
So we're extending the interest again for our garden.

Roy:
Right, it has beautiful, soft texture from late July into October.

Shelley:
The bees are having a party on it! We talk about extending the season-- Allium I love the seed heads. You've got one here that's a little different.

Roy:
The selection I found in the mid-'90s, Allium angluosum and has beautiful green, slightly twisted foliage but it's a shiny green. It flowers in early July with round, lavender flowers and in the fall, the foliage turns a nice yellow and the flower stems turn a bronze-red color.

Shelley:
You get fall color from an Allium. Almost four seasons of interest.

Roy:
Good structure with the plant, also.

Shelley:
So, to create a happy plant community, I have to start paying more attention to my plants.

Roy:
The key is learn and understand the plants. When you understand their structure and growth habit, you can combine them well so they live well together.
Shelley:
And then, the gardener's happy.

Roy:
You manage your time better, too.

Shelley:
Great idea. Thank you Roy.

Roy:
Thank you.

***

Shelley:
What a wonderful idea, designing a garden according to your ability to actually maintain it. That's a lesson I'm going to take home to my own backyard. I just wish I'd done that a long time ago. For more information on any of the topics we've discussed today check out our Web site: wpt.org/garden I'm Shelley Ryan. Thanks for watching the Wisconsin Gardener.

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