With drifts of purple coneflower, spikes of orange Canna, and the spilling of yellow coreopsis morphing the straight edge of the border, a garden is formed. And not just any garden, but the garden of Dr. Dennis (Denny) Werner, plant breeder North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, NC.
Since 1988, with the support of his wife, Georgina and their children, Denny has been making a home garden similar to what might be found in an arboretum. “Our goal was to create an expansive border that would allow us to grow a large diversity of species, that would provide a regular supply of cut flowers, attract wildlife, and a border that would have high visual impact when in flower from March through frost,” says Denny.
His 160 foot border (2,800 square feet in all) has been tweaked, maintained, watched and wondered by visitors in flight and on foot.
The Werner’s like to entertain in the garden finding that even non gardeners gravitate to the border. As a focal point in the yard, “The border is a great way initiate conversation with visitors,” Denny says.
This border is a haven for wildlife, attracting an incredible diversity of butterflies, moths, birds, bees, and other insects. As visitors are drawn closer, they are inevitable amazed at the abundance of wildlife fluttering and flitting about. An Eastern bluebird above is eyeing yellow and black swallowtail butterfly larvae feeding on fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Monarch larvae munching on milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and spicebush larvae serving up on their namesake, (Lindera spp.) Later, as these larvae form chrysalis and the respective butterflies emerge, they don’t have far to go to find their favorite nectar plants waiting.
Watching the birds feed on the garden is also a source of entertainment. The goldfinches alight the flowers of tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis) causing the flower heads to sway as they feed on the seed; hummingbirds visit the Cannas, and towhees forage the ground. These birds share the garden with jays, robins, chickadees, mockingbirds, and crows.
More than wildlife benefit from the garden; the Werner’s share bouquets of fresh cut flowers – often times paired with a pint of blueberries – with friends and neighbors.
To others, the task of selecting the plants to go into a border this big might have been daunting. Not so with Denny. With his distinct advantage, selecting plants for his Zone 7b garden to perform well in the south’s hot, humid summers was all in a day’s work.
Working with clay is a common problem for gardeners in the south. Before the border could be built, it was necessary to improve the soil structure and drainage.
Deeply plowing and amending the soil by adding large amounts of compost and PermaTill to the site, prepared it for planting.
Some may find it surprising to learn the garden requires very little routine maintenance, “Weed problems are minimal, as the growth of the plants is so vigorous that annual weeds have little chance to compete,” says Denny.
In mid winter, the plants are cut down to remove dead growth. Then a covering of 1 -2 inches if shredded pine bark is applied to renew organic matter, control weeds, and to help retain soil moisture.
For most years in the Raleigh area, there is as little as three months between last frost and first flower. During this time, the garden sleeps. The Werner’s don’t have long to wait for the garden to begin again.
Gardening With Confidence