A nationwide tour of gardening ideas, all in one spot


Sometimes, even the pros need inspiration. So the gardeners at the U.S. Botanic Garden invited a dozen other public gardens to show off their plant-raising talents.

There is a didactic aspect to the Botanic Garden's major summer-long exhibit, namely the importance of these institutions to our culture. But we already know that, so go instead to find some fun and creative ideas for your own little patio or deck.

Who knew you could hide an ugly black plastic pond without burying it in the ground? In the exhibit by the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, N.C., the pond liner has been obscured by simple pressure-treated pine posts.

Here's the clever bit: Each post is notched near the top, and the lip of the pond slips in the notch and is secured in place. The posts are also connected by hidden wire.

The rear of the pond is enclosed by dry-laid granite blocks, backfilled with earth for plantings that soften the edge of the pond and blend with the aquatic plants, which included a pretty, spiraled rush, a hardy waterlily and a tropical one. The tropical lily spreads far by late summer but is kept in bounds here by being planted in a six-inch pot.

The pond occupies about 10 square feet, and while it may be too heavy for a deck or balcony, it would be a good feature for the city garden on terra firma.

"You can still have a beautiful garden in a small area," said the Botanic Garden's Ray Mims.

An adjoining exhibit by the Denver Botanic Gardens displays mini rock gardens in craggy troughs, each featuring plants from different arid habitats.

Trough gardens are typically made in obsolete, carved-stone livestock troughs for dry-loving alpine plants. The ones shown here were made by creating wooden forms, lining them with plastic trash bags and pouring a mixture of portland cement, peat moss, perlite and nylon fiber mesh to add some cohesion. The fibers stick out from the dried trough and must be burned off with a torch, Mims said.

The containers are filled with free-draining soil. In the Washington region, alpines don't like the heat and humidity, but a large number of dry-loving perennials and dwarf conifers would work, including penstemons, dianthus, thyme and various lavenders.

Move along, and you find an exhibit of Hawaiian flora from the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Surprise: It's not hibiscus or oleander, or other homogenous tropical stuff seen the world over, but ethnobotanical plants that sustained the indigenous population of the Hawaiian Islands. The grass hut is simple and inviting. Every Washington garden should have one.

The display from the Norfolk Botanical Garden features a lot of pretty plants in even prettier pots, glazed, textured and hued in a way that makes the drab clay pot look pedestrian. The colors of the pots force the gardener to select the flowering annuals carefully. You will see some nice combinations here. Bring a camera and notebook. The pots were supplied by a wholesaler, the Pottery Market, which says it will supply retail sources (). Other pots at the show were from wholesaler Mid-Atlantic Pottery. (For a look at the company's catalog, go to /index4.htm.)

Carnivorous plants are beautiful, to us if not to their winged supper. The North Carolina Botanical Garden exhibit features three Carolinian biomes, none more engaging than a bog of pitcher plants, sundews and Venus flytraps. The pitcher plants are particularly attractive and include some hybrids of wondrous ornament. No room for a peat bog? Try the meat eaters in containers, but keep them moist.

Most of the exhibits are on the north and east terraces of the Botanic Garden conservatory, but other displays occupy the adjoining National Garden (including a rowboat brimming with Chihuly glass.) The rose garden, which is cleverly interplanted with perennials and annuals, is in peak bloom and alone would be worth a trip downtown.

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