Saturday, June 7, 2008
Evolution of a gardener, part three
This afternoon, Dick and I perused the garden, which essentially means walking in a straight line from point A to point B. Unlike the garden I created at my last house, this one does not wander anywhere. However, I have decided that this garden is an unabashed success and one reason I do so is because of the minor tiff Dick and I had over it after we sat down.
It is almost everything I've ever wanted in a flower garden. It has a good variety (though, of course, I want more), a good mix of bloom times and, most importantly, it is neither too formal nor too messy. It errs on the messy side, I must admit, but this is where it succeeds, I believe. It does not look planned nor does it look like any one put any work into it. I haven't put much work into it. It is my lazy garden and it works for me.
What our minor tiff was over is just how much work I did put into the garden. Dick thought it was minimal, at best. There was a lovely garden in this spot before, and it did have a stone wall in the front of it, but when the house was sold to me, the garden was destroyed by a bulldozer that was brought in to install a new septic system. It was supposed to be put back properly, but it was not. It was a rush job, finished not more than an hour or so before I sat down with lawyers and signed some papers. The stone wall was a mess, the flowers were all upturned and thrown back in piles and I knew it was unlikely we would see much bloom come Spring. It was October.
Some flowers did survive this upheaval and Dick did some rearranging of the stone wall. A truly magnificent hosta bloomed the first spring (last year) along with three perfectly healthy Lady's Mantle, both plants I had never fully appreciated before. Two other cultivars of hosta emerged, but only barely and the garden was overrun by violets and dead nettle. It still is, but I enjoy both tremendously. The dead nettle is easy to pull out, as it is shallow rooted, but the violets are really a bane to the existence of every thing else and I should do something about them.
But every thing else, I planted. It doesn't look it. It looks like an old garden, which is both fortuitous and a ruse. It is precisely because I am a lazy gardener that it looks this way. By leaving the violets and the dead nettle and a myriad of weeds I don't know the names of, but are actually pretty (I mean, who decided they were weeds, anyway?) I have created a garden that looks like it happened by accident. It most certainly did not.
I planted a very old fashioned bleeding heart which, of course, looks like it could have been here since the house was first built in 1850 (but surely it would have died off by now). I put in many cultivars of astilbe, and planted them rather haphazardly, so they look like they just happened to spring up here and there, as they please. This happened accidentally with some bargain bulbs I purchased at Marden's (Maine's crazy bargain store). The bulbs were rotten and, so, I got about three dozen or so for three bucks, as I recall. The bags read "Stargazer Lilies" and some of them did bloom last year, rather a surprise to me, and this year we've got dozen upon dozens of them plus some completely unknown lily to boot. I can't wait to see what it is. I planted hardy geraniums of many different varieties, one of which has grown like wild fire. It looks like it grows between the violets, which it does not, but the effect is lush and thick and truly wonderful. I bought some other bargain plants at Reny's (Maine's other not too crazy close-out store) which did not bloom at all last year, but have this year, and I have no idea what these plants are. I found the remnants of an old garden in the far back of my yard, which was leggy and sad on account of deep shade and brought those plants down just this Spring. They are doing fabulously: sedum (two different kinds, I think), a bit of columbine (which I keep pulling out, thinking it's a bad weed, and I should know this by now) and black cohosh.
There's more in this garden than I'm letting on, for as I said, I don't even know what it is. I did buy both catmint and bee balm at a garden center and they both are doing very well, as they are easy to grow plants (unless your bee balm gets powdery mildew, like mine did in my first garden, and I never conquered it). Now I think I know better; I've planted it not in the middle of the garden, but at the outer edge, where it can get plenty of air circulation. The plants that do get mildewed no matter where you put them (pulmonaria, for example), I've pulled out. Some of them are coming back in little patches and they are pretty plants, but here's the thing: I don't care what they look like. If they are a problem, I let them die. This is the secret I have learned. I have no desire to coddle my flowers. I do not enjoy weeding, spraying, picking off bugs or figuring out any garden problems. I want to do what I did this afternoon; simply watch the flowers grow. If I can throw 'em in and they survive, all is well. I'll pull out the occasional dandelion (which is a bad weed) and I'll pull out grass. I'll pull out obvious problems, like the small maple trees that are starting to grow, but otherwise, it's survival of the fittest in my garden, and that is the lesson I have learned. I love it. It's beautiful. It looks like it just created itself and for that I may have an occasional fight with someone when I take any credit, but some credit is due. But really, not too much. The flowers are doing all the work for me. I only made way for them.
Photo note: Pulmonaria. The perfect color to hide powdery mildew. If you like silvery mounds of foliage, spend the money on a good hosta or a mounding artemesia.
Addendum: I can not take credit for the absolutely heavenly peony that grows in the back of the yard under a tree planted by the last owner's son when he was a young boy, making it about 30 years old or so. I suspect that the peony is the same age. It is spectacular, and I promise to take a photo and post it when it blooms. I feel I should name this plant after the young boy whose tree it graces, Colin, but since I couldn't even bring myself to name my sheep when I had them, I will not start naming plants. They are not mine. They belong to nature.
Second addendum: For honesty's sake, I will name some plants that did grow last year that I had forgotten: Thread leaf coreopsis, a beautiful airy plant that looks like a miniature forest before bloomiing, which I planted more of for balance. Batchelor's buttons, which look lovely when blooming, which means a few days, and horrible the rest of the time. I waver every year as to whether to pull them out or not. Last year I did, This year I did not. One hardy geranium, probably "Johnson's blue". Hardy geraniums rule! Two stands of Japanese irises, which have not bloomed either year. Instead of dividing, I planted one new corm and this year it has yielded at least a dozen new delicate blooms. And lastly, over one hundred daffodils that are packed so tightly that only twenty or so of them have bloomed. I need to divide and conquer these, an exception to my lazy rule.