Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
A Wild Garden has a “planted by nature” appearance. It is an informal style of gardening but one which involves thoughtful design and management. Arising from the Art and Crafts Movement in the latter part of the 19th century, the concept of the Wild Garden was popularized by William Robinson, an Irish gardener and writer who worked in England for most of his life.
Set in its hillside landscape, Wave Hill’s Wild Garden perfectly demonstrates this style of gardening. Rustic paths meander between irregular beds, each one filled with a fascinating range of plants. Evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs provide perfect conditions for shade-loving plants while more open areas keep the sun-lovers happy. Some of the beds are home to low-growing plants while others are filled with much taller species.
Plants are allowed a certain amount of freedom to spread themselves around and, with the right management, attractive effects result. One example is a particularly striking color combination seen along both sides of one of the paths right now: deep burgundy reds, set against pure white, are softened here and there with accents of pink and purple.
The dark-red foliage of red shiso (Perilla frutescens ‘Atropurpurea’) provides the burgundy backdrop, while the delicate, white leaf edges of snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) show up as pure as the snow for which the plant is named.
Both are self-sowing annual plants—meaning that they grow, flower and produce seed all within one year. Seeds germinate the following spring and the process is repeated. A little goes a long way and our gardeners—Gelene Scarborough, assisted by Christopher Bivens—artfully instill some discipline early on in the growing season. Tiny seedlings have to be identified and thinned so that just the right number of plants remain to achieve the result we see now, but without swamping the whole area with too many of one type. Indeed, shiso can be a very aggressive spreader and needs close supervision.
Also in the dark-red category is Korean angelica (Angelica gigas), a member of the parsley family (Apiaceae), with domed umbels of a superb, red-purple hue.
Accent colors are provided by some tall perennial plants. The pinks are courtesy of New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cvs.) and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)—shown behind the splashes of purple and white in the foreground of this last shot—while two ironweeds (Vernonia baldwinii and V. noveboracensis) and a bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) supply the purples. Some of these have spread themselves over the years, too, with volunteer seedlings being allowed to establish in suitable places.