But I can't. Stubborn and tenacious, I'm determined to figure out how to get something, anything, to grow there. Thanks to a stand of mature trees, the soil is quickly stripped of its moisture and fertility, leaving whatever unfortunate plant has been stuck there to starve and dehydrate. Despite having soil amended heavily with compost over the years, the plants still died while the trees grew larger and fuller.
Last fall I worked in an absurd amount of peat moss and fertilized with Plant-Tone. I fertilized again in mid-winter and in the spring and just hoped for the best. In October I cleared the bed of its latest casualites and planted bare root native showy tick trefoil (desmosium canadiense), known to attract pollinators, populate waste spaces and tolerate dry shade. White Form ruellia and tough-as-nails native aster ericoides were added to fill in the empty spaces. By May, the desmodium and aster ericoides had sprouted, but the ruellia had died. Tough and versatile, dead ruellia was an ominous sign. Irritated and wondering when the rest of the plants would keel over, I stuffed in some variegated sedum just to make the bed look less empty, rearranged the soaker hose, and stomped off.
The Bed of Death and Misery
I fumed for a few weeks and then began planning my annual Bed of Death and Misery makeover. But in the midst of all my fuming and planning, something miraculous happened. Nothing died. Nothing at all! The desmodium, despite looking like an alpine ski jumper, was healthy and even bloomed for a day. The sedum wanted more sun and the aster didn't seem bothered by anything. Even the neighboring knautia shrugged off the dry soil and shade to self-seed with abandon, only to spend the summer lounging atop the 'Red Fox' veronica. By the time I cut back the knautia and excavated the veronica, it looked pathetic but was alive.
Self-seeded knautia invasion
Barely alive 'Red Fox' veronica
All the desmosdium needs is some snow and a ski jump.
This sedum only grows to 15" tall and has light pink fall flowers.
I cut several large branches out of the nannyberry. I kept the branches that grew to the side because I like the layered pagoda effect.
I moved the sedum in front of the asters so they could grow through them, since they tend to lean. This also gave the sedum more sun. 'Annie' verbena grows between the grass the sedum. The northern sea oats are in the very back by the black dog run fence and the false solomon's seal is in front of them.
I have a lot of amsonia 'Blue Ice' in my garden. It's incredibly tough and does well in dry partial shade. It has pretty steel blue flowers in the spring and is a host food for several spring butterflies. The two plants in the very front between the sedums have already started developing their yellow fall foliage. Solidago caesia (blue stemmed goldenrod) grows behind the amsonia.
I moved the veronica in front of a large stand of 'Autumn Joy' sedum. They'll form a large mat of little spiky pink flowers. Once I cut back the knautia so the veronica wasn't being suffocated, it recovered quickly.
I'm going to plant another 'Annie' verbena in front of the amsonia. Verbena rarely do well in partial shade, but this cultivar doesn't seem to mind.
The northern sea oats can be 3 ft tall and about 2 ft wide so I left plenty of space for them to grow. The false solomon's seal will also fill in quickly. False solomon's seal has pendulous creamy white flowers that bloom in the spring. The cultivar I planted has a creamy white margin around the leaves. Soaker hoses help keep the soil less dry but it will never be considered moist.
This pot of solomon's seal looks like it has a weird toe sticking out of the bottom. Maybe that's why it was a few dollars more!
This is a much better picture of variegated solomon's seal than the ones above. (http://www.naturalc.com/images/perennial/perennial29.gif)
Northern sea oats