Recently, Nancy Ondra, at Gardening Gone Wild, discussed time and the ability to predict a plant’s behavior as one of the skills gardener’s use to design their gardens. She asked, “Are you a “now” gardener or a “later” gardener?” Me? I’m a “later” gardener. Actually, a more accurate term would probably be “infant” gardener. I’m only just getting started and there is so much to learn.
Since buying our first house last year, we’ve had many ideas. The good news is that my husband, Kirk, and I seem to have relatively similar styles when it comes to design. At the very least, we appreciate each others’ ideas and design well together. There is so much we want to do, we’ve decided to take on one major project a year. Last year was the vegetable garden. I’ve always wanted one. This year was the front walk. Next up is Kirk’s pond. Someday, we’d like to level the backyard and terrace the hill.
So far, flower gardens haven’t been a priority. I don’t know much about flowers and how to care for them. I know most of them need more sun than I can provide. That’s a shame, really. There are so many interesting flowers that need full sun. I’m sure the neighbors will not think highly of me if a storm ever knocks down my tress, because I’ll be out there celebrating the expanded plant palette I’ll have to choose from.
When we bought the house, I knew very little about gardening. I had no idea what plants I was inheriting with the house. Well, it was February in New England. I don’t think anyone could have told me what plants were here. I made the decision to spend the first year observing the yard to learn about it’s current inhabitants. Spring soon arrived. As each new plant poked it’s head out of the ground, I’d email photos to my aunt, who is currently president of her local garden club. What was it? A plant to be cherished? A weed? She and my step mother helped me to identify the current inhabitants. Even Dad was called on to identify the potentially venomous inhabitants. So far, one harmless garden snake, more afraid of us than we were of it.
Even still, I have begun a couple of flower bed projects. They are very much works in progress. First is the heart garden. There was a vague shape, possibly kidney, in the middle of one side of the front yard. It was inhabited by a weeping cherry, a small azalea, and a rose, which has yet to bloom. With the arrival of spring, lamb’s ears began popping up in the yard. I dug around the edge to define the shape of my new heart bed, expanding it slightly. Then, I transplanted all the baby lamb’s ears around the border. Several of them had to be replanted multiple times. Something, possibly a wild bunny, was digging them up. They were pretty sad looking last year, but I hoped they would fill out a bit and they have. I added a bleeding heart, one of several plants from my aunt. This must be my garden fairy’s favorite plant. It has baby hearts for her to pick so they can be her friends. A small sage and a mint that I started from seed also found homes here. Come fall, I edged the bed with some of the small rocks that had come out of my veggie plot.
As invasive as I have heard mint to be, I was very surprised that mine did not survive the winter. This spring, I added a few things from the local garden club’s plant sale. I enjoy the club sale. I get to support a local club and there are more experienced gardeners to answer questions and share ideas. Although, I tend to have my own ideas when it comes to color and design. I think one of the ladies was unhappy to see me put down a yellow sedum she thought would go well with some others I had picked up. I don’t like yellow. The forsythia pictured here? It survives only because it blooms only a short while when it’s still too cold to garden much. When I am working full force on outdoor projects, the yellow is but a memory and no longer offends me. It’s too bad I don’t like the yellow blooms. It’s an otherwise gorgeous specimen, pruned just the way my grandmother describes as perfect for a forsythia. This may be why she hasn’t come to see the house yet. I’d like her to see it in bloom. Once she does, its life insurance expires.
Anyway, from the garden club sale came a few baby plants, lavender, columbine, and jack in the pulpit. From my aunt, I added three small astilbe and a solomon’s seal. I seeded the bare areas with aubrietta, dianthus, and peace pipe nicotiana. None of the seeds grew. Other seeds that I started indoors and transplanted seem to be doing well, but I won’t know how well until they survive the winter. I’m almost certain to try again next year. The other addition was a pair of spindly looking summer daffodils that sprouted and then promptly lay down to die. I don’t know if the soil isn’t rich enough, although I did add compost when I seeded, or they drowned in the excess rain. It may not not be sunny enough. I don’t know. This is part of why I am a “later” gardener. I just don’t know what to expect. I read the books and articles online, obsessively even, but I have no first hand experience. So, I’m starting small, with just one or two of anything to see if it will be happy with the conditions I can provide, mostly shade. Some plants will do better than others. Some will die, some will do okay, some will thrive, and some will threaten to take over. It’s not always predictable.
Last year, I got a very late start. I was still digging rocks out of the veggie bed into June. Everything else was done later than that. Along the border of the veggie bed, I planted marigolds and petunias from purchased transplants, that spent at least a couple weeks next to the driveway waiting to be planted, and bee balm I started from seed. It filled in nicely, as can be seen in this photo taken August 7, 2008.
This year, the bed was already prepared. The transplants were planted right away. The bee balm had already returned much larger than expected from last year. The end of the season is nearing and the same area has not filled in at all, as seen in this photo taken yesterday.
To be fair, I did remove a couple of petunias that weren’t looking well. Still, this strip is pretty bare. The marigolds had to be planted twice. The first batch was completely devoured, most likely by earwigs, maybe slugs. They weren’t a problem last year because the garden didn’t exist until after the rainy season. This year, they were already attracted to the area and the excess rains left them feasting and multiplying right into August, in the middle of the day even. The bee balm is actually new growth. When the rains finally stopped, I thought the plants were lost to the powdery mildew and hacked them to the ground. I thought they might return next year, if I was lucky, but here they are growing back already. Who knows, maybe they’ll even bloom before frost hits. What I do know is that I’ll be prepared to defend my babies from the slugs next year.