Best garden plans should leave rooms for undiscovered gems

Erin Schanen

I enjoy the process of planning a garden, be it for vegetables or flowers or a bit of both. I pore through the Rolodex of ideas haphazardly cataloged in my brain in no particular order, finding ways to incorporate bits and pieces of them in a new garden or how to work them into the existing garden spaces. 

These plans don’t translate to paper too well, thanks to a lack of art skills, but I know what they mean. Plant lists come together over time, and eventually a two-dimensional garden gives way to the three-dimensional space that more or less resembles what I envisioned.

So it’s ironic that some of the best moments in my garden have come not from all those well-laid plans but abject panic.

When things don’t go as planned — a plant dies in prominent spot in the garden or an area I meant to get to was put on the back burner and looks horrible — a desperate gardener starts thinking out of the box.

I’ve resorted to this kind of thinking when other people will see my garden, right before a tour or, this year, before a pair of photo shoots happened in August. 

I was at the whim of garden centers when it came to finding annuals to fill in areas where something didn’t work, so it wasn’t a situation where I could decide what I wantedt. I had to pick from what the online nursery had (local garden centers were long sold out by this time). And I just happened to score some real gems that I obviously overlooked earlier in the season.

The first was Sunpatiens, an Impatiens hybrid bred for sun tolerance. I plunked a few bright pink Sunpatiens in the south-facing border, arguably the hottest and sunniest spot in the garden. They didn’t have a lot of time to start showing off before I needed them to look really good, but in a matter of a couple weeks they delivered and bloomed nonstop until a few weeks ago. For continuous, pure color, I’m not sure I’ve grown a better annual, and they certainly one-upped the petunias and zinnias. 

I also picked up a cute little plant to fill in some edges. Santivitalia procumbens has the misleading common name of creeping zinnia (it’s not a zinnia at all), and Proven Winners sells it as Sunbini, but either way it is a charming little plant with diminutive daisylike golden yellow flowers with dark green foliage that was flying completely under my plant radar. And since it was still available in August, I clearly wasn’t the only person who wasn’t paying attention to it.

Blue Felicia daisy, in particular a variety called Cape Town Blue, landed in my garden because I needed something blue and it was available. That’s hardly well-thought-out criteria for plant selection, but I lucked out with a plant with a natural feel, much like a wildflower with tiny blue daisy flowers with yellow centers.

All those garden plans didn’t have a place for these plants, and yet they were exactly what it needed. They will definitely show up on next year’s plant lists, which perhaps will also leave room for a few undiscovered gems.

Erin Schanen is an Ozaukee Master Gardener who lives and gardens in the Town of Belgium. She is the author of the blog The Impatient Gardener.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login