Thursday, October 15, 2015

Clean Up in Aisle One: Redoing the Redo

I've decided I'm tired of learning things the hard way. From now on, I'd like all future mistakes to reveal themselves before they happen in order to make sure they never happen at all. The front butterfly garden I designed in fall 2012 has just been redesigned. While this may not seem like a big deal, it's at least the fifth design this spot has sported and I'm still trying to get it right.


It all started with the pink 'Rose Queen' salvia. Reported to be cheerful, resilient, and carefree, she was hard not to love. Spotted hanging out with all the other sassy salvias at the local hardware store, I bought every pot I could find and brought her home. She basked in the high heat of the back patio while I waited for cooler temps, a rotten flirt in her little black pot. She told naughty jokes and made the sedum blush. She was definitely my kind of plant.



'Rose Queen' salvia with orange milkweed and coreopsis in 2013


Young salvia nemorosa plants grow erect for the first few seasons and then begin to sprawl, suffocating everything nearby. As the plant ages, the foliage flops to the side while new growth emerges from the center. There are very few blooms during this period. Once I cut it back to speed up the process, the garden looks like it's been scalped.


Welcome to the Big Ugly!

But that damn salvia flopped faster than a cheap floozy so out she went. My garden is a high class joint! The salvia was suffocating the milkweed, which grew long skinny chicken legs as they struggled to grow through the mat of foliage. The coreopsis, feeling burdened by the demands of gravity, refused to bloom til almost September and then collapsed forward, exhausted from the rigor of standing erect. What had once been a beautifully orchestrated sweep of bright bloomers had become a hideous mess that left me cringing every time I passed. It was painfully obvious I needed to redesign this bed.... again.

Problems/Solutions:

The coreopsis are underwhelming, didn't bloom til late summer and are a pain in the butt to deadhead. Pawn them off on a friend. 




Beauty shot!


Harsh reality

There's too much salvia.  Keep the 'Caradonna', which is a much better plant than 'Rose Queen'. Plant swap the 'Rose Queen'.



The salvia looked good for about two weeks in early summer. 'Caradonna' is dark purple. Two huge catmint 'Walkers Low' anchor this hot, sunny, dry bed.

There are too many daffodils and the decaying foliage suffocates everything. Dig them up and find new spots, only to realize I don't have enough new spots.

The leaves and upright growth habits are all very similar giving the bed a boring, monotonous look. Add plants that don't all look the same.




Clockwise from the top left: 'Magic Carpet' super dwarf spirea, 'Phenomenal' lavender rescued from the back garden, 'Prairie Splendor' dwarf echinacea, a 2 ft tall cultivar that blooms earlier and longer than other cultivars, 'Moonshine' yarrow. 

The milkweed breaks dormancy much later than the salvia and doesn't grow well squished and shaded in between other plants. They need more sun to grow robust and full. Move them all into one spot away from the salvia.



I doubled the size of this milkweed patch by consolidating them all to one section.

There are no features connecting this bed to the rest of the front garden and the lack of balance and continuity bugs me. Add more spirea.



I added five dwarf 'Magic Carpet' spirea to the front bed to harmonize with the 'Little Princess' spirea near the front steps. Because I have the geospatial awareness of a rock, I bought a cheap little 30" hula hoop to help me visualize how large the spirea would be at their mature size. The orange flags mark the planting boundary so I knew how much space I had to work with.



Here is the redesigned bed. The design is basic but as long as it grows well, attracts pollinators, and is pretty, I'm happy. The milkweed went dormant as soon as I transplanted it but it will be back next spring.


Except for the spots where the text wouldn't show up against the fresh mulch, the text color matches the flower color. 


The two sides of the bed have more continuity and no longer feel like a disconnected mess. I'm hoping this is my final redesign! As for that sassy pink salvia, I saved a few plants for a bed on the other side of the driveway. It's hard to let a good jokester go. I tucked her in next to the sedum who immediately began to giggle and blush. Now if I can just keep her upright....

69 comments:

  1. I have a similar area in my back garden that I've redesigned at least 4 times in 6 years, including twice just this year. I pulled plants out in the spring and redid it, and then redid it again a couple of weeks ago. I'm beginning to think I'm hard to satisfy.

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    1. Maybe you should just hire the raccoon's to do the work for you. ;o)

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  2. I love how you redesigned a bed, Tammy. I think spirea is a bush that always looks well, may be pruned and blooms in summer. I have some of them -Grefsheim, Golden globe etc. and the front bed is looking tidy.

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    1. Spirea is a garden warrior so it made sense to put a few more in. 'Magic Carpet' stays small so it was perfect for this spot. Since this garden is in the front of my house, I needed a simple design that was easy to maintain and would look good all summer. I hope it works out as planned!

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  3. You have kept some cracking good plants. Caradonna and Walker's Low are beautiful and good do-ers. As for your flirty pink Salvia, she will have the most marvellous time canoodling with the Sedum. If you give the Sedum the Chelsea chop, it might just be strong enough to hold her up through the summer.

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    1. The sedum are low growers so I think they'll all be rolling about in the soil together. 'Caradonna' has proven its worth so there was no way I was giving her the toss. I'm looking forward to seeing how well this bed comes together next summer.

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  4. You design garden borders the way I do -- randomly, and over and over. Actually it's not random. As you document, it's a lot of problem solving, and I'm glad to know you are finally on the right track. I love coreopsis and salvias but always find I have to problem-solve around them -- they are never the solutions themselves! Love the hula hoop space visualizer : )

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    1. I spent most of the summer problem solving this bed and creating my design, as basic as it may be. But I feel like I've been trying to solve this puzzle for years. I've had so many plants here that I was pretty methodical about what would stay/be added and what would go. This bed does have some self-seeded coreopsis 'Sunshine Superman' that is welcome to stay.It's a low grower so it's no big deal if I find it laying all over the mulch. :o)

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  5. Your redesign looks wonderful! That's a great way to do it too - list the problem & solution. Although it seems logical, I think many people (including me) simply think in terms of plant substitution - don't like that plant there, move it and replace it with another. I have to redo many of my borders but it seems like such an overwhelming task. The fact that I have little in the way of ornamental know-how isn't helping matters much either ;)

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    1. Thanks! I've had so many plants in this spot that it wasn't as simple as just swapping one plant for another. I needed plants that were tough and drought resistant. I spent a lot of time researching because I had certain heights in mind, too. The only part of gardening that's truly easy is enjoying our hard work. :o)

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  6. Hi Tammy, the redo of the redo of the redo... sounds like my life as a gardener as well :-)! I think it requires so much plant knowledge to get things right in a bed. And plant knowledge means in this case, how will this particular plant do in your climate and in YOUR garden, not what is stated on the label that may or may not have come with the plant. That is one reason why I admire the English gardeners so much, because they always seem to exactly know how tall and how wide a plant will become in a bed. There is hardly any bare soil to see in their gardens.
    Anyway, I think your new design looks fabulous and I hope that for once it will turn out as you have envisioned it. And if not, you can always change it ;-)!
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. I'm excited about it, too. But I'm hoping I don't have to change it any time soon! I'm so tired of redoing this bed!

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  7. 1) The consolidated milkweed looks great -- stroke of genius!

    2) You said this is a really sunny bed? How does the yellowroot do there? I've heard it likes shady, moist settings, but I've also read it's quite adaptable. Does it try to spread a lot?

    3) Same question on the yarrow -- doesn't it try to spread a lot? I'm only growing yarrow for the first time this year (loving it so far -- especially in a full sun setting), but I've heard it will spread a lot. I'd think it would knit your bed together nicely?

    I'm guessing each time you redesign the bed it gets better and better as you learn more!! :-)

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    1. Thanks! The milkweed really doesn't like too much competition, especially from plants that sprout earlier than it does. The front garden is on a slight slope so the yellowroot is in a lower, much moister spot than the butterfly garden and is well shaded by the massive viburnum. It does spread but it's very easy to control. I wouldn't mind if the yarrow spreads. I like the idea of rivers of yellow knitting through the other plants. :o)

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  8. I have few (read hardly any) gardens that have not gonr through multiple design phases. Occasionally I wonder if I would even like gardening if every bed was beautifully designed the first time leaving me with nothing to do but deadhead, mulch and weed.

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    1. I love the problem/solution/design aspect of gardening so I might get bored, too, if I couldn't rearrange the beds sometimes. I only have one that hasn't been overhauled multiple times and it was just redesigned last week for the 2nd time in 12 years. But it was way overdue!

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  9. My garden is a high class joint! I'm dying with laughter here....Tammy you do crack me up.
    Don't stress about redesigning the garden bed so many times....you know that song "Do It...Do It....Do It till you're satisfied.".(B.T. Express)....let that song guide you till you get what you want.....we're here with you for the ride.
    I must say I'm impressed with your redesign skills....hoola hoop and orange flags and all!!!

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    1. Don't even think of asking me how many times I've redesigned my garden...........

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  10. I chuckled through this entire post. :-) When someone asks what is gardening all about, one would just have to show them this post. :-)

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    1. I would say that gardening is about always trying to get from point A to point B. Even if we're constantly repeating the same thing, we're learning by the minute. A and B are fluid and never quite the same as we imagine them to be if we soak up as much as we can about each experience.

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  11. I have never had any of these plants except for sedum. However, I have considered most of the ones you used. I have always heard that planting hosta in front of the daffodils works as the hosta hide the mess of dying daffodils.

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    1. This area is very sunny so hosta would fry. I do use the daylilies planted with daffodils to help hide the foliage but the bulbs increase over time so thinning them out when grown in a restricted area is always a good idea. I still have pockets of daffs interplanted in the new design. :o)

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  12. Beautiful! You still have so many colors on your garden. Your milkweed looks so interesting, I want to collect more colors of milkweed.

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    1. I love orange milkweed! It's incredible in full bloom and always covered with pollinators. :o)

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  13. "The geospatial awareness of a rock"---that made me laugh out loud, Tammy:) I knew we had a lot in common, and this is just one more characteristic we share. Not to brag, but I used to get high scores on all the standardized tests we took in school, except for some aptitude tests where spatial reasoning was involved; then I was in the dummy group:) Although I measure and plan and draw, my garden designs never quite look the way I planned at all. That's probably why all my garden areas look like a jungle now. Your new bed design looks great, and I am impressed at your perseverance in re-doing it so many times. I do like salvias, but I find unless I deadhead them frequently--which I don't--they tend to look pretty ugly mid-summer. Thanks for starting my day with a smile!

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    1. I'm always shocked when I pass the spatial reasoning tests at the eye dr's. I walk into walls, drive over curbs, etc. I tend to do well on tests that don't involve math. When I took my GRE, the questions become harder or easier based on whether or not you're getting them correct. I knew I'd aced the written/analysis, logic type sections because by the end of the test the questions were inanely hard. But by the end of the math section, the questions looked like this: You have three shapes. Find the circle. When I looked down, they were all circles. There's a reason I'm not a math teacher!! :o)

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  14. LOL. You are talking to someone who is currently painting the den its third color in four years. Fingers crossed we both hit the jackpot this time. You have a lot of good ideas, especially the hula hoop trick (so clever:-). I know the mulch is a must-have, but consider keeping the soil a bit lean if you can, it should help with the sprawl.

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    1. The soil in that bed is pretty lean. I think 'Rose Queen' is just a slacker. Maybe your third color will be the charm this time. If not, you can always try again.... ;o)

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  15. LOVE your Milkweed patch and I agree--that is special enough to let it be without somebody bossing it around and taking over. What is it with Salvia? Mine are taking over in the perennial bed too. But this time I don't seem to mind as they are winding all around through the tall(er) dahlias and accenting them. Gardening is always trial and error isn't it? You've nailed it. At least you have a plan. I wing it every year-:) You are so funny Tammy. You may have missed your calling as a writer of mystery and "dark women" novels. You've got all the language. Anyway, your garden plans look great. But we are totally at the whim of Mother Nature.

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    1. The salvia just had to go. Plus, they reseeded all over the place. I don't mind a few volunteers but ended up with an army of salvia babies I didn't have room for. I do write short stories but can't imagine writing a novel. So many pages....

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  16. Why don't plants read the same gardening books that we do ? Then we would all have the same expectations and be working towards the same end. As it is, they hardly ever do what it says on the label. The number of times I have to move things around because the final size is much bigger/ smaller than expected. I share your pain , and your utter conviction that all will be well in the end ! Bet the replanted border will look gorgeous !

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    1. I do think all will be well in the end. I'm an optimistic realist. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all turns out next summer. :o)

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  17. I'm with you - I need access to a garden seer who can foresee how plants mature, how the never-ending weather shifts will impact my garden, and where the dratted raccoons and skunks will dig next. As said seer has failed to make an appearance, I expect I'll be moving stuff around, bringing new stuff in, and throwing disreputable plants out until my gardening days are over. Your new butterfly bed holds all kinds of promise - sometimes you just have to let go of worrying about the future and just enjoy what you've created in the moment.

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    1. I could use a garden crystal ball, that's for sure! But with experience comes knowledge so theoretically I should make less mistakes each year. At least that's what I'm telling myself. :o)

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  18. I like your re-do very much Tammy, I have one bed I cant ever be satisfied with and the plants regularly get taken out and shuffled around. I really like your over lay of coloured text, thats very creative. I am growing Milkweed for the first time this year, its not a common plant over here and I have very high hopes.

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    1. Thanks! Even though the UK doesn't have monarchs, milkweed is such a great plant for all pollinators. :o)

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  19. Well, I'm giggling and blushing after reading this post. ;-) What an impressive patch of Butterfly Weed! Wow! I don't think I've ever seen such a robust, beautiful collection of this fabulous plant. Very nice. Your honesty and sense of humor is so refreshing, Tammy! I've had some challenges with Coreopsis, too, although I've never tried it in my own garden--just in gardens I've helped establish for other people. It lasted one year and never came back. Nice combination of plants that you show in the mosaic! And your plans seem solid--please keep us posted next spring on how it all comes together! My garden challenges always seem to be centered around evil, furry creatures with big teeth and tall, upright ears.

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    1. I just don't see the point in not being totally honest. I suppose I could boost my ego by pretending everything's perfect, but I don't have a problem admitting and owning my mistakes. We all make them. :o) I do love that big orange patch of pollinator love. It will be even more amazing next year. It loves a hot, dry spot and that's what I've got!

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  20. I think your latest bed is going to look fabulous. But I have found that different parts of the garden look wonderful for a year or two when you achieve a perfect balance and then its downhill. There doesn' t seem to be a way to preserve the look you want in aspic, there are always the thugs and always the plants that inexplicably sulk and then die. The picture never stays how it is in your mind. Lucky artists who deal with paint that stays exactly where you want it .Plants are just too recalcitrant. And they get eaten, or wilfully die just to spite you.

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    1. This bed was wonderful for two years and then everything just went to hell. I do wish I could just hit it with a freeze ray to keep it looking exactly the way I want it to just when it hits its peak.

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  21. Hi Tammy - dammit, I already wrote a comment but it might have got lost. Re-doing parts of the garden is a lot like interior decorating where the borders are like rooms; tarting up a colour scheme (with flowers), moving furniture (moving shrubs) and expanding borders (umm..house extensions). I hope your latest re-design at the front is a big hit.

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    1. Sometimes Blogger eats comments. I think the redecorating analogy is a good one. If my latest design doesn't work well, you may hear my screams of frustration all the way across the globe.

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  22. Your hard work will no doubt be rewarded. Gardens are funny things: my experience is that just about the time they achieve "perfection", some damn plant dies, or flops, or is overrun, or...something. Keeps us busy and out of trouble, I guess. Well, I'm not sure about the "out of trouble" part. Loved this post and your color labeling--nice touch!

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    1. When I started gardening 21 years ago, I had no idea how much money you could spend!! The price of plants always keeps me in trouble! ;o) I thought the color labeling would help everyone visualize what it would look like.

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  23. That's a great trick with the hoola hoop. I, too, am spatially-challengedm constantly planting things too close together, and then, yep, digging everything up to move them yet again later. At the end of every summer I usually have to totally redo at last one bed. It's a little harder with the trees, though, that are dangerously close to surpassing their allotted space in the short span of just three years. At least for those I have now learned to gather up my family and have them stand in the garden with their arms stretched out pretending to be trees. (Can't wait for when my kids turn into teenagers and I make them do this.) I have several 'New Dimension Rose' Salvia that must be the princess to your 'Rose Queen' - shorter but with the same floppy problem. It's so hard to pass up such a lovely color, though!

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    1. The hula hoop was a life saver! But I love the idea of using your kids as 'trees'! I think New Dimension is very similar to Rose Queen. I kept a few of my floppers just because I love the pink and so do the bees. :o)

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  24. I love your redesign and think the plants and colour combinations will be fantastic! The hoop is a great idea, I always overcrowd plants and spend my life digging them up...my coreopsis took an age to flower this year. You have inspired me to totally revise some of my beds!xxx

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    1. Hooray! It's always exciting to see how a redesign comes together. :o)

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  25. Looks like the redesign works well. I also find that 'Caradonna' is a superior Salvia. The big mass of butterflyweed looks great, but then I love butterflyweed. I have read that it is difficult to transplant, though. Did it sulk for a while after you moved it?

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    1. 'Caradonna' is a keeper. :o) My butterfly weed went dormant as soon as I moved it but several put out new growth from the thick roots. They'll be full of growth next spring after they've had all winter to sleep off their misery at being moved.

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  26. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who keeps ripping out plants and is never satisfied. I like your new design and I'm sure it will look great next spring and summer. And I like the way you have labelled your plants in the photo. Thanks for sharing your encouraging progress! -Beth

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    1. I take photos of the beds I've redesigned and I label where the new plants are. It helps me remember where everything is and I know how many plants to look for next spring. It's very helpful! I just use the text feature on Picasa.

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  27. This is gardening, we learn by trial and error. You new design looks good, next season you will see how it has turned out, I suppose it will be much better. By the way I love the Salvia ´Caradonna´, just bought it one year ago.

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    1. I love the 'Caradonna', too. Such a beautiful plant. Since we learn by trial and error, I should have a doctorate by now!

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  28. I have planted the same salvia in the front circle that is my problem area and it has flopped not to the side, but from the center. It is blooming again slightly. I suppose I will leave it. I such a large area to fill that I can't bear to dig anything out. You are a real trooper.

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    1. Mine flopped every which way it could. It drove me nuts! But the bees didn't mind. :o)

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  29. Look at you being all proactive in making a beautiful picture! There are several spots (the whole thing) in my garden that need a radical makeover but usually, I just wait until winter when everything dies back and pretend that the problems will go away. They never do. Why don't you live out west so that you could tell me what I should do? One does love a good dirty-talking plant!

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    1. My favorite problems are the ones that resolve themselves but the rest I deal with head on. Having a problem I can't solve and refuse to accept drives me insane. But most of the plants in your garden are unfamiliar to me so I'm not sure how helpful I'd be.

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  30. I can't grow a Salvia to save me. Except in a pot for a few seasons, if I'm lucky. Your new design looks really nice. I can't tell you how many times I've redesigned certain spots. There are so many variables and plants don't always do what we envision they will do. And the plant collector in me hates the idea of several of the same plant in a bed but I believe good design mandates it. I look forward to seeing photos next summer.

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    1. That's so strange!! Salvia nemorosa want to be dry, sunny, and hot. I'm not a plant collector at all. I like creating designs with 7 of the same plant. :o) But if my design looks like crap next summer, I may end up just stuffing that bed with annuals.

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  31. I had the same experience with coreopsis and 'Rose Queen' salvia. I love your new design. Best wishes!

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    1. That's interesting!! Both plants are overrated and underwhelming.

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  32. I love the way you bring plants to life with your characterizations Tammy! We gardeners all learn by trial and error. I am redesigning a portion of my own front garden too. So far I have cleaned the area out. New plants will have to move in next spring (It is getting rather late to be moving things here in Southern Ontario).
    I wonder if a Veronica might fit in to replace the Salvia in the redesign? Mine seem pretty upright, but they aren't quite so in the open as they would be in your front garden. There is a pink variety, but "Eveline' is my favourite should you want to give Veronica a try.

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    1. I personify everything. :o) I have a big patch of veronica 'Romiley's Purple' and 'Sun Queen' in my back garden that never seem to show up on the blog. The Sun Queen was super floppy and drove me nuts so I moved it to a sunnier spot, which is hard to find with all my shade.The 'Romiley's Purple' is a work horse so I need to show it some blog love. The first time I ever saw 'Caradonna' was on your blog!! :o)

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  33. so funny and entertaining, but masking a darker truth. I have the same problem even without quite such a sassy salvia. Why do we do this? Are we masochists? Couldn't the garden be predictable for just a little while? I guess the highs are worth it ...

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    1. Always solving the same problem drives me nuts! I just want to fix it and have it stay right until I choose to change it. But plants are uncooperative, beautiful beasts so I have to bend and adjust to their whims. It was embarrassing to have such a mess in the very front of my house. Ugh....

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  34. Your first graphic seems to be the way I learn too. I adore how the spirea bring it all together. A perfect redo. I have many redos this coming spring and especially the front garden. I may need to borrow that hula hoop....

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  35. The more you redesign, the more you learn. Until you get sick of the whole gardening thing and move to an apartment. ;^)

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  36. You haven't made mistakes Tammy girl ... you have gone through a "stepped" learning process and you are coming out the other end FABULOUS!
    A garden design guru girl ! ... finding out that naughty pink girl was a trouble maker .. well .. we all try to give plants a chance and then the hammer comes down. I wonder how many quotes I can squeeze in this comment ? snort !
    Seriously though this design looks super ... and keeping a visual tagged record is great so even if some tweaking has to happen you will have the best tool to work with in looking back at this.
    Spirea is one of my favorite shrubs .. my new fothergilla is a golden beauty this Autumn ... shrubs are indispensable in my gardens .. I love them!
    Brava girl ... well done !
    Take care
    Joy : )

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