Elegant Surprises

Over the years I’ve had happy surprises in the garden, and disappointing surprises. Today I have a composite. My initial puzzlement began when I saw this view from my kitchen window; back in the corner by the fence I could see two whitish flower stalks:

gl P1040703 foxglove view

I was confused, because they were of a kind I had not planted, so I went out to get a closer look, and it didn’t take many steps in that direction before I saw that yes, thegl P1040708 foxglove behind ribes 6-16y were lovely foxgloves!

I haven’t grown foxgloves for a good while, I did not save any foxgloves plants from my old garden, and in the past when I did grow them it was far from this area of the garden. However, close to this spot I had planted one of the Indigo Woodland Sage plants that I had carefully saved for months in an old watertrough. It was there a couple of months ago, and now it is  nowhere. Did a bit of foxglove come with the mulch, as I assume was the case with my surprise horsetail grass on the other side of the garden?

You may also be confused, seeing a decidedly not-foxglove leaf form here.  That’s because the foxglove is emerging from behind a currant bush and hiding all its own leaves back there.

I’m sadly surprised that the salvia didn’t make it. It was a vigorous grower under what I considered less favorable conditions in the past; perhaps it didn’t like the shade from the snowball bush, nor the pushy calla lilies. But I know where to get another one if I want to try it somewhere else in the garden.

gl P1040717 3 sagesIn the meantime, across the way I have three salvias growing in a sort of triangle: Indigo Spires is huge, the Clary Sage is growing very close to the ground so far, and a little culinary sage plant lives modestly.

Today is windy and cool. I was wearing my flannel nightgown last night and I was still cold. The morning was overcast, though, and not so windy, and that’s perfect for picture-taking. I got a good photo of my acanthus.

gl acanthus 6-2015
acanthus mollis




“My acanthus” sounds odd, because I haven’t wanted to take ownership of that element of my new landscape that was suggested by the designer. When I had met acanthus in the past I always thought it scraggly and too like a thistle; one I particularly remember by someone’s front door was huge and full of spiderwebs and litter besides. But a year ago I greatly lacked confidence and creativity, so I didn’t know what to suggest otherwise. I let several plants go in and thought without energy about what I might replace them with next fall.

My attitude began to change when a friend told me that acanthus leaves as a decorative form were common in ancient Roman architecture. Before that I was trying think of the plant as a representative of a Scottish thistle, which is also not beautiful to me, but it is meaningful historically, in several ways. Soldier and Joy featured purple thistle flowers as boutineers at their wedding. But honestly, that wasn’t doing it for me.

When the acanthus began to send up its elegant flower stalks, I softened. This morning after I took the picture, I looked on Wikipedia and found that the leaf form is ubiquitous in ancient architecture and popular in more modern art such as William Morris’s wallpaper designs.

And not only the Romans, but Byzantines and Greeks liked to use it.  Here is an example from the Hagia Sophia:

by Gryffindor, on Wikipedia Commons

gl Iceland poppy June 14 2016


So, I am surprised that I have changed my mind about acanthus. I’m glad I wasn’t in too big of a hurry to switch it out. I’m very pleased with my whole garden, actually, and I no longer feel that it belongs to someone else.

It doesn’t seem that most of it is taking three years to “leap,” and it really is full of delights every day. Those Iceland Poppies are certainly a wonder, how they keep blooming here in the middle of June! It’s strange to have the poppies right alongside echinacea; those two normally aren’t normally seen together.

gl P1040713 erigeron fleabane

gl P1040712 bindweed on ribes


To my consternation, the bindweed is more prolific than ever. I seem to be constantly pulling it out, but it sneaked past me and climbed to the top of a currant branch before I noticed. Very inelegant behavior, that.




gl P1040699

The hydrangea I was gifted has nothing in common with this succulent except that they are both in pots on the patio.

gl P1040714 yarrow fields

There are yarrow fields, a variety of achillea called “terracotta.” Beyond it you can see that I have finally got the olives into their pots, and if one is not level it’s actually the one in the foreground — I guess that means the photo is not level. Anyway, the garden is in pretty good order now, and when you come for a tour you may be surprised to find, no thanks to me, patches of elegance.

11 thoughts on “Elegant Surprises

  1. And maybe one will also find a dragonfly or two? You found a good architectural example of acanthus. I was surprised when I saw it in your garden too, but it looks good where it is and it will peek in the window.


  2. Your garden is looking fabulous, and it’s quite stunning for being so young. You must be quite pleased. I like the color of your yarrow – very nice. And if you’re sharing leaves with the Hagia Sophia, you’re in good company, lady! The foxgloves are charming – what a wonderful surprise!


  3. I love how your garden is growing! I love your surprise foxglove! It is a beautiful garden in every way 🙂 I am so shocked at your cool temps.


  4. What a wonderful melange!

    I love the way things pop up in the strangest places. My marigolds have scattered with the Oklahoma wind and I cherish them when I find them thriving in a crack far from the original bed. I love zinnias, but apparently my bunnies do too.


  5. What a lovely garden and lovely tour of it! I think it takes a while for us to feel that even our lives our ‘ours’ again as it were, esp. after big change of loss that you have had. … I am slowly feeling more ‘myself’ in my new local but it really takes time. And things are always changing or shifting a bit and a lot of mercy and patience are needed. I do love your garden and so glad you have it!


  6. Thank you for the education on acanthus! I was not familiar with the plant at all.

    My mother-in-law would love your hydrangea. She’s been trying to grow a pink one without much success (so far). I didn’t know you could keep them in pots!


    1. I’ve had two in my life, and they’ve both been in pots, because I could never figure out a good place in the garden for them. The only problem with them being in pots is that they need water even more often — and they are already hard to keep up with, they are so thirsty!


  7. “patches of elegance” – some of them largely by chance – like your combination hands-on and let’s-see-what-happens approach…looks like a wonderful sanctuary that truly does belong to you.


  8. It’s absolutely stunning, Gretchen! I’d love to walk through your garden and take my time, admiring each lovely plant and bloom. I like the Acanthus very much. It looks like the bloom is similar to a snapdragon. The foxglove is a stunner! I found a “stray penstemon” in my rock garden yesterday. I hadn’t seen penstemon in my gardens in a long time. I thought they kinda died out. What a delight!


  9. How lovely your garden is! Seeing it growing up, the plants filling in around the bones of a well designed space — wonderful. I love the yarrow field. When I’ve grown it before, it was a bit of a fly-magnet, but looks beautiful here in your garden. If you are ever in SoCal, do visit The Getty Villa, a replica of a Roman villa, where you’ll see beautiful examples of acanthus leaves in many decorative applications from pediments to tiles to painted ceilings.


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