I was photographing in the new Herb Garden here at the Memphis Botanic Garden and I was marveling at how LUSH it is within just one year of being planted. Granted, some plants just 'go crazy' in one season and are big and bushy by nature, but this garden has a LOT of plant diversity. Some of these plants are finicky and delicate and are still doing well. I know that every garden needs continual care and that this nurturing helps it to thrive (this credit can be given to Sherri McCalla and volunteers), but I thought I'd interview the man who was in charge of selecting the plants, and preparing the beds they would live in, Chris Cosby. It turns out there is an art to re-creating the conditions a plant will live in.
Me: So, how do you get the plants in a brand new garden to look like this in just one year?
Chris Cosby: It's all in the soil preparations. First thing was getting to know the origins of the plants I was going to plant… where do they grow naturally? Are the conditions there sunny or shady, is the soil alkaline or acid, do they grow in a low flat field or a mountain forest? Basically, making the perfect soil preparation for each plant started with knowing that.
Me: Where did you look for that info?
Chris Cosby: Books, internet.
Me: How did you know which books were reliable sources?
Chris Cosby: …from use really, but I try to use multiple forms of info from multiple sources. I look at distribution maps of a particular plant and from that I can ascertain what the landscape is like where they grow. I look at nurseries and their catalogs because the good nurseries give tips for growing their plants; which includes plant origins, and that really helps.
Me: Can you give any specific books or websites you use?
Chris Cosby: For this garden, Peterson's Field guide, cutting edge nursery websites and catalogs such as Plant Delights, Garden Vision…it's a huge list. For common herbs most standard herbals are great resources. Maude Grieve's "A Modern Herbal" is great and now available online for free and searchable here. In short, you use all of the information gathered to come up with general rules for planting conditions.
Me: ... and a LARGE does of intuition?
Chris Cosby: Right.
Me: So, the plants are grouped into beds individualized by VERY specific conditions and soil preparations and therefore the plants are happy?
Chris Cosby: If I got it right. It's always a bit of a guessing game.
Me: What about the plant stock… did the quality of it matter, did it help your success?
Chris Cosby: Well, a lot of these plants were only available by seed so we had to grow them ourselves. I prefer to do that anyway because I can use a specialized mix to start them, grow them on and get the quality of plants that I'm looking for. However, if you prepare the beds just right, most plants will adapt to the new conditions and thrive even if they had a poor start in life.
Stephanie C. Cosby ~ Fine Art Photographer
Stephanie is a guest blogger who is blogging about the art and aesthetics of plants/habitats/gardens and reasons to conserve them.