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Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Final Gift - Accidental Enlightenment

This post is dedicated to all the gardeners who survived the hellacious droughts of Summer 2011, even if their gardens didn't.

My final gift is indispensible to any gardener and must be had in quantities guaranteed to burst any stocking or box. If I could wrap resilience and faith, I would package them up and pass them out to everyone I could.

I am an optimistic realist and love the challenge of identifying and solving problems, even when they're my own. As my garden grew this summer, I began to realize what a complete wreck several beds had become and stopped posting pictures of them. Ragged seedlings I hadn't pulled hid disasterous design and a giant, shallow rooted rudbeckia that demanded constant water and a rampaging white gooseneck loosestrife dominated several other beds. Meatball shaped barberries looked ridiculous under a huge viburnum and a few areas were packed with disjointed planting combinations while others stuggled in bone dry shade. Tired of killing plants on my shady front porch because I forgot to water them, I finally stuck a few sacrificial heuchera in a pot and called it an experiment.

Birdhouses, when potted correctly, are tremendously xeric. Creeping bramble has been planted in front. It's a tough evergreen groundcover that is supposed to have beautiful fall color, although mine are still mostly green because this spot only receives morning sun. It will eventually cascade over the sides of the pot. A massive, but winter dormant, clematis thrives in the moist soil to the right.

I wonder if any birds will move in?

Creeping bramble is in the raspberry family and should be fruiting this summer.

By mid-July, it had become screamingly obvious that major work needed to be done to most of the garden. While the observation was easy, the realization wasn't. It forced me to see my garden as it was, not as I imagined it to be. The problem with mistakes is that we become so used to seeing them, we simply stop seeing them at all. They blend like leaves into the landscape until we only see the completed scene, not the individual leaf.

I redesigned a large portion of the garden near my dogwood tree in the fall 2010 and loved the result.

Buoyed by the success of several beds that had been redesigned the previous fall, I began making a massive To Do list of autumn projects. I gave myself a few days to wallow in my embarassment and humiliation, then got over it. I became almost clinical in my approach, which wasn't always easy. The peonies in my front garden had to go, a decision I wrestled with all summer. While gorgeous and easy, they had been planted in a miserably hot, dry spot, and were mildewy by mid-summer. Despite the various contraptions I employed, they flopped every year, their stems bent at the edges of the hoop, the grass littered with petals.

Several beds, one 20 feet long, were emptied, the soil ammended and lifted by up to five inches, and then redesigned and replanted. But the more I worked, the more my faith that I was making the right decisions grew. Gardens, like life, are fluid and needn't be defined by the mistakes of the gardener. I could be as resilient as my garden, which despite its problems, was full of wildlife and moments of beauty.

 Blue veronica grew squished in between coneflower and phlox seedlings, daylilies, a giant rudbeckia triloba to the right, and a 'Chocolate' eupatorium. Most of the coneflowers developed aster yellows and were pulled and the phlox seedlings were transplanted to another bed. The rudbeckia and eupatorium, which needed more moisture, were removed. 'Chocolate' grows all over the garden and reseeds like crazy.

By midsummer, the veronica was in sad shape after growing in almost near darkness thanks to an enormous rudbeckia.

Seed grown rudbeckia triloba grew to almost five feet in just two months. It shaded out everything around it, nearly killing several plants. Wine cups, callirhoe involucrata, continued the destruction by almost suffocating the thyme and orange milkweed seedlings growing nearby. I dug up the winecups and gave them to a friend with a hot, dry slope. 

Cute, but not cute enough to make up for its evil ways. However, this would make an incredible plant in a sunny, moist meadow.

By the time I ripped out the rudbeckia, the veronica looked like an octopus. This spot was packed with pathetic little seedlings, which I pulled after cutting the veronica back. It rebounded once it began receiving more sun.

Rudbeckia triloba is incredibly shallow rooted and demanded constant moisture.

I replaced it with well behaved rudbeckia fulgida 'Deams'.

Knautia 'Macedonia' was growing in too much shade and had collapsed onto a different patch of veronica. While it was pretty at first, it became an ugly fight for survival. Much to the relief of the veronica, I relocated the knautia.

I truly love the striking flowers of white gooseneck loosestrife. However, it invades moist garden soil like a virus and is hard to erradicate.

This picture was taken in mid-spring before the Loosestrife Crusades hit their stride. I'm convinced the flower heads are pointing in the direction of their next take over. By the end of the summer, loosestrife filled the bed and I had to dig up the entire bed to hand pick every root from the soil. I did not succeed and the battle continues. However, 99% of its forces have been destroyed. Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', assorted phlox, and Maltese Cross were among its victims.

I managed to cut the loosestrife back before it completly edged out the Maltese Cross, which I moved to a different bed.  I've saved the most hideous pictures for a Before/After post I'll publish next summer.


  1. What a huge amount of work to remove all the plants from that border, fix the soil and replant. You deserve a giant congratulations for taking that on. You've obviously learned a lot from your garden though so I'm sure the new design will be wonderful. That really is the joy of it though isn't it? we get to learn so much along the way.

  2. Gardens are always evolving and so are the gardeners. As we learn, we help our gardens to become better...and hopefully we do too :-) I know that I have learned some things from this summer's drought, and I have used that to tweak my garden for hopefully a better result next summer. The "I" word cannot live in my garden anymore (like your gooseneck loosestrife). I learned my lesson on Eupatorium coelestinum. Love the bloom, love the Monarchs it attracts, but it eats everything in its path. There have been others -- that has the makings of a good post, now that I think about it. But, hey, I learned something from it, and my garden is all the better for it. The creeping bramble looks cute :-) Love the color coming on the leaves. I'm sure a wren would love to live in one of those birdhouses :-)

  3. Casa Mariposa, I definitely could need some resilience and faith as I am facing some tough challenges in my garden right now without having the resources to fix them. Well, I guess I have be creative and come up with something... Sound like you did a lot of work in your yard and I am eager to see the before and after photos. The flowers of the white gooseneck loosestrife are so beautiful, too bad that it has been invasive in your garden. By the way, I also have put your blog on my blog list ;-). Looking forward to the next posts of you!

  4. Oh yeah, resilience and faith are in great supply in my drought stricken garden! Thank you for more...can never have enough! I'm actually totally falling in love with my garden all over again this fall...the maples have been glorious and I can't quit photographing them. Their branches are nearly bare now and I'm not sure where I'll go with my camera from here but can say I've thoroughly enjoyed this fall season. Your tenacity to improve and evolve along with your garden is an inspiration, Tammy. Wishing you a blessed Christmas season. Cat

  5. You have really made an about face in your garden. It sounds like a lot of change is in store. This was the first year my peonies got mildew, so I guess it was pretty common all across the country this past dry summer. I like the looks of gooseneck loosestrife but will never plant it for the invasive quality. We can only hope that next year does not try our patience where we need an extra dose of resilience and faith.

  6. I love the gooseneck, too. However, mine is located in a spot with lots of rocks and borders. So, while it's really crowded right now, it can't go anywhere... ;-)

  7. Great post! I completely enjoyed reading about and viewing your journey, and that of your garden. Happy Holidays!

  8. This is a great post. Gardens change. And it's sometimes hard for us realize the reality has not become what we dreamed. Resilience and faith, and all your hard work, should pay off well this next year.

  9. While we didn't have the drought that you had, I can certainly appreciate all the hard work, in dry hard soil to boot! I am sure your efforts will be amply rewarded next year and I look forward to seeing them. Best wishes and Merry Christmas.

  10. An exhausting yet inspiring post!

  11. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    Hi Tammy, This major overhaul is bound to produce beautiful results in spring. I laughed at your comment about the Loosestrife blooms pointing in the direction of their next takeover. The flowers do seem to point! LOL!
    I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. Hopefully you have a good few days off with the school holidays. All the best for the new year my friend!
    P.S. The boys send their regards to your four-legged members of the family!

  12. Tammy, very enjoyable post. I understand you pain. This is the first year Rudebeckia goldstrum has been somewhat of a beast in my garden. It's amazing how they can engulf overnight it seems. Asters are my great floppers even after pinching. Have a great break.

  13. Wow, that is the tallest rudbeckia I have ever seen. It would be a great one for the back of the loft garden, next year. I love the idea of planting birdhouses. This is an idea I will definitely steal for next years heat garden. Merry Christmas to you, Casa Mariposa.

  14. Hi, Tammy. Just wanted to wish you and your pack of dogs a Merry Christmas. We're up to four now!

    Kelly (formerly The Sorry Gardener)

  15. Thanks for sharing your gardening year with us - I learnt a lot, especially that I can expect the unexpected, even when I gain more experience.

    I wish you and your Family (doggies included) a wonderful 2012!

  16. I'll take a double helping of resilience and faith, thank you. You put lots of work into your garden and it shows. Your post is a good lesson for all us gardeners! Hope you had a merry Christmas, and hope you have a great 2012!

  17. What a lot of water i.e. perspiration you put into your garden this fall. I am sure many of your plants will thank you for all your efforts. I know it is a difficult decision to pull out plants, especially when they are still alive but it sounds like you gave them good homes. I am looking forward to seeing your garden photos this summer. Hopefully 2012 will be filled with lots of exciting adventures!

  18. I have the exact same problem with pots - I just don't have enough time to water them... I like your ideas for them, you inspire me to do something about mine. You put a lot of work into the garden last year, I hope you like the result, I know I will enjoy seeing pictures of it next year.

  19. At least the Loosestrife is giving you some warning about where it's headed next. It is very lovely but I've always been wary of planting it. Thanks for the tip about the birdhouses. :)

  20. Came via plantpostings Lessons learnt meme.

    'The problem with mistakes is that we become so used to seeing them, we simply stop seeing them at all. They blend like leaves into the landscape until we only see the completed scene, not the individual leaf'.

    Having to learn to look at my garden with honest eyes and see what camera says IS there!


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