Nature is our primary source for knowing plants. All garden plants, from potted geraniums to clipped yews, originated in the wild. From a design perspective, the names are not important. Like streets and highways, you’ll know them when you need them. In nature, a plant grows where it can.
Sometimes, when I walk in the wild, I notice a plant or community of plants that I never see in cultivated gardens. A viburnum called “Hobblebush” grows on a steep hillside above one of my favorite streams. It is a sinuous shrub with broad spade-like leaves. The impression of hundreds of them growing waist-high up the rocky hill is lyrical. They seem to be the shape-equivalent of the flowing water. Their upturned leaves harvest the scattered light that falls through the maple and beech canopy.
I notice them because I am enchanted by them. I’ll remember them. Now, why do they grow there in such abundance? Simply put, it is because the conditions are just right for them. Perhaps it is because the stream-side hill has not been logged. Or the springs that seep out of the mountain provide the constant moisture they need. Or I can go to my wildflower guide and discover what botanists say about their habits. Ultimately, they remain in my mind as living forms associated with that beautiful stream. The association with the forest and stream broadens my vocabulary of form and habit. Although I may never transplant one of them into a cultivated stream-side garden, I have impressed my memory with one way in which hillside harmony can be created.