My garden book library is extensive on two oak bookshelves my husband built. Winnowed down many times, there are some I’ve given away and regretted. Barbara Damrosch wrote one that I no longer own titled the “Theme Garden,” published in 1982. Barbara’s ideas for themes were simple, the fragrance garden, children’s garden, a butterfly garden, and a moon garden. This last theme was significant in my life as a gardener.
Over the years, the concept of themed gardens has come up from time to time; whether it’s a look or a connection to a plant’s botanical or common name, I’ve mulled over it. Too many landscapes are dull and repetitious, what fun they could be when themed to a place or business. The apparent reason for the lack of these conceptual gardens probably boils down to maintenance and maybe a lack of creativity or knowledge.
Some prominent examples would be specialized restaurants. An Italian restaurant might have eggplant, basil, tomatoes, rosemary, and thyme. Any two or three of these could be arranged with plants of ornament. Silver leafed perennials such as lavender, artemisia, or dusty miller could signify the Mediterranean region, a nod to their geographical region. A Mexican restaurant could have spiky leafed plants like yucca or hardy cactus and succulents. Hot pepper plants, particularly the small fruiting, multi-colored types, could be planted with cilantro and Mexican sunflowers for their summer and fall flowers. If an entire garden is impossible, a container will do.
The outside of a veterinary office might have catmint and horehound (supposedly a remedy for the bite of a mad dog). Put catnip in raised containers, to avoid the occasional dog urinating yet not decreasing the effect on furry felines. There’s also cattails and cat thyme or teucrium. If appropriate, turtlehead or chelone and black snakeroot or Actaea racemosa, both are native to Virginia. A brochure to explain the plantings might be helpful if staff are too busy to explain their theme to visitors.
The dentist’s office is not impervious, toothwort or Cardimine diphylla is a locally abundant wildflower with underground bulbs that look like a tooth. Botanically words like crenata or serrata mean rounded teeth or toothed. Attached as an epithet, you find them in holly and hydrangea (serrata). One of my favorite plants is the toothache plant or Acmella oleracea. A native of the Caribbean, when leaves are chewed, they numb the mouth, bitter as you begin with a slight lemony finish. In some regions, it is also known as the sore throat plant.
Lately, I have imagined a moon garden at the drive-in theatre and placed near the concession stand, a place for socially distanced tours during intermission. The fragrance would lure you in, a fun place for the family to learn about night flowers and pollination. Bring a flashlight.