Nursery School: Bring In the Zing

Photo by Ryan Benoit

When one of our flowerbeds was in urgent need of some sprucing, we acted on a tip from a landscape architect friend and headed east to a wholesale nursery. The place turned out to be a sprawling, plant-hunting goldmine.

The only hitch? We had to pretend we were in the biz. Art Vandelay on line one…

The nursery was 200 acres of landscaping heaven: rows and rows of crape myrtle trees, a rainbow mass of anigozanthos, and New Zealand cabbage as far as the eye could see. The nursery is so large that clients drive from section to section, getting out to hike through the outdoor aisles to select their trees, flowers and shrubs. (Its name remains a trade secret for now; perhaps we’ll spill the beans at a later date.

C almost fell out of the passenger door when she saw a crop of echeveria succulents, top. There were hundreds stretching toward the horizon. They were lavender, with powdery skin and generous, fleshy rosettes, and most were in flower. Yes, the sculpted look of them — and that of the black-leather aeonium zwartkop we also got, above — harmonizes well with our midcentury leanings, but in the end, it was their weirdness that won us over. Whenever a part of our garden’s in a rut, we like going weird.

 But balance was essential. And for that we needed a tallish shrub. (All of the above were destined for a box near the entrance to our house, outside our living room window.) Shrubs for us, though, are fraught — because RB is a shrub-hating averse Spartan, whereas C has never met a frowzy English yard she didn’t love, and is pretty sure she was a squirrel at Grey Gardens in a past life.

A pink melaleuca turned out to be a spectacular compromise. A member of the myrtle clan, it has smooth, graphic leaves that pop against the sky, and its inflorescences are adorable pink puffs. Check it out below: a cloud with a backbone. Exactly what we needed.

Then, for the assimilation. Positioning was tricky; which order had the best flow: tall, small, medium, or tall, medium, small? Or was it small, medium, tall!?

Trial and error yielded the view we have today, a line that transitions from green and pink and cloudy, and then to low, smooth and zombie-lavender, and then up to snaking branches topped by glossy, goth-black “flowers” with dark wine hearts. Hey babies, welcome home.