I literally fell into gardening by accident. One morning, after purchasing an old farm in southern Indiana limestone country, I mounted my shiny, new lawn-and-garden tractor to cut the grass. While crossing the side of a hill above a rock ledge, the wheels skidded on the dew-laden green and the tractor slipped down to the ledge, coming to rest on an old cedar tree stump. As I hung there looking over the ledge, I resolved never to mow grass there again.
Since one does not usually have to cut grass in a forest, I made the decision to plant trees and shrubs on my rocky hillside. I started with fast-growing plants like dogwoods (Cornus spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 2–9) and redbuds (Cercis spp. and cvs., Z 4–10), and before long, I was considering a woodland garden to accompany the maturing woody plants. Looking to natural settings for guidance, I quickly became hooked on the blooming plants I found growing without care on the woodland floor. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum, Z 4–9) was one of my first successes, which quickly led to the planting of other native shade lovers.
While I am a plant collector at heart, I do not care for “collections” in the garden. I prefer to use perennials in combination with other perennials or flowering shrubs instead of grouping similar species or cultivars in one area. When chosen carefully, a mix of two or more perennials can be used to bring out the best in each other. Like all good relationships, the total effect becomes more than one plus one. The result is a cohesive partnership between plants with striking foliage, flowers, and sometimes even fruit.