This week, I have been poring over a fabulous new book, The Bold Dry Garden, about the magnificent garden of succulents and woody lilies created over many years by Ruth Bancroft in Walnut Creek, California. The garden is an amazing collection of plants from all over the world that are happy in this inland California climate, hotter and drier than we typically envision that state. Mrs. Bancroft’s garden was the spark for the establishment of the Garden Conservancy, started in 1988 to preserve and restore outstanding gardens for public inspiration and education .
The non-profit foundation that now runs the Ruth Bancroft garden has issued the book, which explores the story of the garden plus photos and reviews of the various plant genera it contains. Here are a few photos of the garden for your enjoyment on the garden’s website.
Mrs. Bancroft is now 106 and is still engaged with the garden, although she is no longer physically active in maintaining it. Reading her story, I was struck by the key idea of taking risks with your garden, something relevant for elderyarding® wherever you are.
To stimulate your own thinking, here are two things Bancroft has done that you could easily adapt for ageless excitement in your own yard.
She explores, and has gotten caught up in, the beauty of unusual plants by looking at the details.
If you think that spiky, thorny, cactus-looking plants from all over the world are actually cactus, look more closely. The arrangements of thorns on cacti are not the same as the thorn arrangements of spiky plants that do not belong to the cactus family. Bancroft discovered, collected, and planted differing plants near each other. She has also kept meticulous records, drawing her own illustrations.
When you look at plants that are superficially similar yet varied in detail, you have the opportunity to glimpse the wonder of the natural world around you. And when you draw a plant, even if it’s just an occasional exercise, you really zoom in on what makes each plant special and unique.
She uses trial and error to learn what suited the plants best.
Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Mail Order Nursery in Juniper Level, North Carolina, used to write in his catalog that he believed a plant was suited for his climate until he’d killed it at least 3 times. Trialing a plant doesn’t mean you stick it in the ground once and give up on it. It means taking time to observe, observe, observe to see how the plant likes to grow.
Using this approach, Bancroft started small, testing many plants by growing them from seed or cuttings. In doing so, she discovered that some succulents prefer partial shade or high shade rather than the direct sunlight that novices assume is the perfect intensity. And as part of her testing, she also trialed different ground conditions, eventually choosing rock from a nearby quarry as the best mulch for her drought-tolerant plants. Some beds get more rock, bigger chunks of rock, while other beds get smaller ones, depending on the plants’ preferences.
What can you take away from this?
The time and effort involved is a smaller investment, which increases your opportunities for garden success. And it is possible to experiment with creating perfect conditions for plant happiness with one kind of plant, in a small space, even a patio or porch. That connection with nature, that immersion in a fascinating activity, is what’s good aging well.
This week’s look back at previous blog posts: