April 28, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Flower Gardening

With the danger of frost now passed, I've been hurriedly moving plants around my flower garden. The garden consists primarily of perennials, but there are also ornamental grasses, shrubs and groundcovers in the mix.

There are some perennials that have exceeded my expectations so much that I'm trying to decide if this is a good thing or not! There are some plants that now fall into the "you only need one of these" category as you'll be overrun with offspring (either seeds, runners, or huge plants in need of division) very quickly. One gardener may find these a blessing while another may consider these plants thugs.

Salvia Ulignosia (bog sage). This is a gorgeous clear blue flowering salvia. It loves moist soil. Knowing that the description of stoloniferous should be taken seriously, I planted only ONE last year. This year, there are runners creating a circle out to three feet from the original. The runners are very shallow and easily pulled and pinched. Just stick the piece in the ground and it roots. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of challenging spaces where there is room for this bog sage. I have now throughly distributed it in moist areas where I was in need of some interesting filler. It won't take long!



Monarda (bee balm). I purchased only three plants two years ago. I have now divided and divided and divided the monarda and placed it where I again needed filler in that color scheme. In hindsight, only one plant would have been more than sufficient. It's a gorgeous color, so I'll be happy for a few more years.

That's monarda in front of a buddleia.


There is definitely a time when you get too much of a good thing. I was thrilled with hypericum calycinum as a lush green groundcover with pretty yellow flowers. It spreads faster than I could ever imagine. I spent a few hours last week taking it out of beds that I thought were isolated enough as to have no worries. But, then I worried. I rounded up those hypericum and let them join their kind in a bed out by the guest parking area.

My husband is just wild about creeping jenny. You see, he has a love/hate relationship with mulch. He wants the mulch to look newly spread, rich and brown. He hates weeds and he does quite a bit of weeding whenever he walks through the garden. In my opinion our mulch is deep enough, so I demonstrated to him how I can turn over the existing mulch and it looks like new (THAT was such a job!).

My husband talked me into using landscape fabric in a few places in the garden. Don't ever let anyone talk you into using that stuff, no matter how much you love them! :-) I've been raking back mulch and ripping that horrible stuff out. When I compare the fabric bed to the non-fabric bed, I don't see a difference in weed production. Back to the creeping jenny...when the ground is covered in creeping jenny, my husband knows he doesn't have to mulch that area. Jenny also helps suppress the weeds, although a few do sprout through it. As for me, I'm on "gold overload" at this point. I don't want it throughout the garden. He doesn't care about color scheme. He cares about the usefulness of jenny.

I've also found out that I should have identified plants more carefully at the time that I planted in the last year or so. Now...are those 'Sundown' or the 'Sunset' coneflowers? My husband had this wonderful idea to use golf tees (in colors) to discreetly identify plants and bulbs. I just didn't take the time to mark everything. I go back to last year's photos, but that still doesn't help me when I have two coneflowers that are very much alike.





Anyone who has heard anything about garden design has heard that planting odd numbers of plants is more appealing than planting even numbers. That's a wonderful design tip until you lose one plant. Then, you have an even number in the group. I've been moving plants around trying to alleviate the matched pairs. Some are still out there. If you see two coreopsis together instead of three, it was from attrition and not intentional. Of course, I did plant four nepeta along a section of garden path. I ran out of the plant. I know I can divide it next year and create an odd number. Therefore, if you see some even numbers together, it may be because it's still a work in progress. Why purchase the exact number of plants if you know you can divide them in the future?

In another section of my garden, I installed a sundial that I've had for over 20 years. It's been to a few other houses and gardens. Somehow, this little area has turned into a formal structure within the larger garden. I don't know if anyone will notice unless I point out the symmetry. The color scheme is based upon carmine (deep rose-lavender)echinacea purpurea'Rubinstern' Ruby Star and spirea 'Neon Flash'.

I spent a morning this week moving a small burgundy leaf crepe myrtle 'White Chocolate', pink muhly ornamental grass, and some of that bee balm to the area. I ditched a rosemary (out of a trio again) that had gotten too wet in the winter and replaced it with tranplants of my tall garden phlox and the new rose ascelpias. I also added two rose color nepeta subsessillis. Yes, I used pairs to flank groupings in this symmetrical vignette. I hope that the harmonic color scheme will keep the symmetry muted and understated. If not...I'll be moving some plants around again next spring!

The inspirational colors for the symmetrical grouping:



Then, there are the plants that still look like bare sticks. When they bloom, they bloom all summer long through frost. Right now, I want to put a dress on them to cover their ugly bones. These plants are in their third season with me and cutting them back this spring was a real challenge with their sturdy stems. I'm talking about caryopteris and lantana 'Miss Huff'. Of course, I'm seriously doubting that the plant that I bought that was labeled 'Miss Huff' is indeed a 'Miss Huff' lantana. The color is just pink and yellow. Doesn't 'Miss Huff' have orange? Did mine revert to some parent? Whatever! The butterflies adore this lantana, so I'll wait for June to see it flush with green leaves and flowers.




By the way, both the lantana and the caryopteris outgrew their original spaces so I decided to transplant them to large bare spots in the garden. My son moved the single caryopteris for me. I struggled with one of the three lantana and thought it would get the best of me. I succeeded in moving it, but gave up on the other two. Now, I have a pair, instead of a trio of lantana by our parking area. My apologies. Maybe I'll fix that next year. Or not.

If you've seen any photos that show an overview of our garden, then you must know by now that I'm a garden addict. I can spend every waking moment in the garden without any problem. Therefore, I just had to go out and buy some plants last week. I had planned to wait a few more weeks. I just couldn't.

I want to provide more Monarch butterfly host and nectar plants in the butterfly garden. By the way, the "butterfly garden" is really just an area of the garden where I went wild by including orange and red in the color scheme. In fact, the entire garden is pretty attractive to butterflies, not just that area. I purchased red asclepias, rose asclepias and orange asclepias last week. I also brought home some tithonia (an annual) to attract the Monarchs. Forgive me for not providing the exact names of these new purchases. You see, in an effort to remember these plants, I stuck their name tags out there in the garden with the plants.

I brought back a few more colors and varieties of nepeta as well as a yellow salvia and yellow agastache. I even added some red snapdragons below the red salvia greggii 'Navajo Red'. I only hope the red blooms will actually work together! I put the red asclepias above the salvia greggii, moved a pineapple sage and my crocosmia 'lucifer' to the red area. Here's the salvia on the slope. It's just a small little sloping space and I've already planted purples on either side to create a buffer between the reds and other color schemes. Maybe the next time I take a photo, I'll have more blooms since I have planted the bare spots above and below:



There's a forum friend on the Cottage Gardening Forum who is responsible for the inspirational envy of a "red bed" flower garden. I don't know if I'll come anywhere close to getting these reds to work together. I have no real experience working with reds in a garden design. My 'Navajo Red' salvias were planted last year and are a huge success with the hummingbirds. If the red design doesn't work out, I'll just mix it all up again in the butterfly garden.

Of course, I know my garden is never finished. I know that I'll tweak the design; divide and conquer rampant plants while cherishing special varieties. If it was all done, all perfect, what fun would that be? I'm not striving for perfection. I'm expressing my creativity. I garden for my own enjoyment. My family loves the garden, too. Therefore, I'm allowed to break design rules, experiment with color schemes, research deer and drought tolerant plants and even include a few rampant thugs among my selections. It's a lot of work, but it's just so much fun! Smiles!

Happy Gardening!
Cameron

PS Don't forget to visit Project Racing Home on Saturday, May 17th, noon to 4pm. I have ordered a mix of herbs, annuals and perennials to sell as my fund-raising effort to support the greyhound adoption kennel.

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Defining Your Home, Garden & Travel

Home, garden and travel tips by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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