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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Clean Up in Aisle 5!!

I always start with the best intentions.... Just last spring I killed an entire patch of rudbeckia by loving them to death. Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturn' don't actually need or want, for that matter, any extra compost, thank you very much!! I found this out the hard way and was almost rudbeckia-less last summer. A huge gaping maw where the rudbeckia should have been taunted me all summer and I felt guity and frustrated every time I walked past the void. Stalks of seedheads left for the finches reseeded the bed and it's flush with little green seedlings. Except for watering, I completely neglect them and they're thriving.

I am a methodical, research based gardener, an inept artist who paints with plants and enjoys the linguistic beauty of their Latin names. I don't see plants as disposable and by the time my new purchases come home to my garden, I am in love and committed to making sure they are happy. New cultivars are researched and Googled, the scientific and literary parts of my brain deciphering their Latin names as I contemplate where to plant them. Penstemon 'Sour Grapes' need sharp drainage and dry soil, last years clump rotting from over six feet of unexpected snow. Gaillardia 'Burgundy' want full sun and drainage as sharp as I can make it, no small feat in heavy clay soil. My head bursting with plans and solutions for the drainage issues, I head out to the garden to dig and dream.

Fast forward to this week: Two of the penstemon are miserable, the soil too dry and their sunny spot invaded by shade from an enthusiastic, fast growing ash tree. The 'Burgundy' gaillardia (Blanket flower) is suicidal, despite being surrounded by other thriving plants with full foliage and beautiful flowers. At the end of the bed my Maltese Cross (Lychinis chalcedonica) are laying flat, their heads turned upward, away from the nearby trumpet vine, their little red faces desperate for sun. I sigh and grab the shovel. If someone were to ask me if transplanting an established perennial in mid July were a smart thing to do, I would laugh until I cried. So what was I about to do? Transplant several established perennials in mid July. At this point, it was life or death, and no one's dying on my watch!! Except for the new hybrid gaillardia that died last week, but let's not talk about him....

I grabbed the shovel and started to dig. Up came they came, bundled into my hands and headed for a pot on the patio - a plant intensive care unit. There's hope for the penstemon, who already have new growth at their base, the maltese cross are thrilled and have full rosettes of foliage bursting from the soil, but I'm worried about the blanket flower. When I dug it up, it brought along a lone liatris squarosa but very little root ball and it's main root was rotten in the middle. Disease? Bugs? I just don't know....

The pot behind the Plant ICU holds a liatris spicata 'Kobold' (Gayfeather) and an agastache 'Ava' that was also being shaded by the ash tree. The better my soil becomes, the more the native trees grow, which causes a never ending shade problem.

What do you think is wrong with the gaillardia root? So far, it's doing well in the pot....


  1. I think caring for plants is in many ways like parenting - that is, striking a balance between attention and neglect - watching and waiting - but jumping in with TLC and support when necessary. I'm afraid I don't have the answer to what ails your gaillardia root but glad it's doing well in the pot. I just rescued a dianthus from a pot and put it in the ground. And I have also been known to transplant perennials in mid-July if I thought they weren't going to make it through the summer.

  2. Excellent comparison!! Like raising two teens, gardening is a combination of tough love and compassion. I talked to a horticulturalist at the National Botanic Gardens in DC (I live outside DC) and she thinks it might be a drainage issue. I'm hoping for the best and plan on giving it some homegrown worm compost to help it along. I really hate it when plants die. Thanks for your input!! I appreciate it!

  3. Heyo! Maybe earwings? Hard to say, but it looks similar to a peony that earwigs were attacking in my yard...
    Your blog is so cute! I love catching up with it.

  4. Earwigs sound like a bizarre ear dwelling creature armed with QTip swords and weird English law wigs!! Apparently they're not living in the ICU pot because the gaillardia is much improved!


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