I am as attracted to beauty as anyone. Gardeners know that beauty is intrinsically subjective. It is defined by what catches the eye, what elicits a Wow!, by what is unique. Sometimes I judge beauty by what survives; “It lived! I love it!” We know that all we observe we judge – unintentionally, often unconsciously, but judge we do, nonetheless. Most gardeners have a favorite foliage color and texture, a favorite plant size, leaf arrangement, or blossom shape. Some have an intense attraction to or dislike of an entire genus, some seem to fall in love with each new plant on the market. We all have a weak spot, and mine is grasses.
Many years ago, I came upon a grass that was dramatic, bold, and in a color not (intentionally) represented in my garden. The grass was Carex buchananii. I was smitten with this plant from the moment I saw it. Because I had nothing else like in it the garden, I decided to grow it in a container so that it could be used as a focal point. I bought a large container with a deep red and green glaze, placed the grass towards the back and filled in the rest of the container with red Verbena, Lotus maculatus, a deep orange Calibrachoa, and Sedum morganianum. I placed it in the middle of the back yard garden where it could be seen from all angles. It was beautiful, it was exotic, it was exciting – and I loved it!
During the summer months my mother often stopped by for afternoon visits. We would walk through the garden, enjoying the breezes and talking about plants. Our approaches to gardening and plant preferences were quite different; her favorite plants were those with traditional blooms – roses, gladiolas, hollyhocks – plants from her childhood. When we came around to the back of the house, she stopped in front of the Carex container. She said nothing for a moment, then touched its blades. After a while, she turned to me and said, “Well, that’s different. Is it dead?”
Carex buchananii with Leucothoe fontanesiana in the garden.