If there is anything more enjoyable than an afternoon working in one’s own garden, it is spending an afternoon working with a daughter in her garden. Yesterday we visited Betsy for a garden consultation, nursery shopping and planting day. Betsy has done some landscaping around her house which is built on sand that hides many many stones. In fact the house is directly across the road from a granite quarry whose boulders form a major element of the landscaping. However, she has not really been a gardener. That is changing. We went to Mahoney’s huge nursery, which is overwhelming, but between us we picked out an array of plants that she likes – and that are suitable for different areas of the property.
This little sunny garden is not visible from the house and Betsy calls it her Secret Garden. It is filled with spring bloomers, Siberian and bearded iris, creeping phlox and ajuga. Quoting The Nonstop Garden: A Step-by-step Guide to Smart Plant Choices and Four Season Designs by Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner, I helped Betsy choose plants that would extend her bloom season. I was so happy when I saw her light up at the sight of a pot of daisies. “I love daisies!” she said. We bought daisies and pink echinacea, and a bargain pot of coreopsis, and a red bee balm I brought from my own garden.
One of the appeals and challenges of Betsy’s property is the little woodland. It provides privacy for the house – and is home to a number of pink lady slippers! Betsy is planting the western edge of the woods with shade lovers, like hostas and now a new bleeding heart with golden foliage, but the area between the woods and the busy road has been a bit of a desert wasteland. The soil is sand and stone in equal measure. The area gets shade from the quarry on the other side of the road and the woods. It only gets sun until about 1 in the afternoon at this time of the year. With Henry hard at work digging $50 holes, we planted a pink mountain laurel, a big pink astilbe and Walker’s Low nepeta. The lesson for Betsy was stressing the importance of $50 holes for planting, loosening the tight roots of the potted plants, and using a mixture of two parts composted cow manure, 1 part peat moss and 1 part of the removed sandy soil around the plants. Unfortunately, Betsy couldn’t find any commercial compost makers in her area and has to make do with bags of composted cow manure – and we used a lot! The final part of the lesson was deep watering and an admonition to keep watering these plants while they settle in and get established. This is especially important considering her sandy soil.
Our grandson Rory, 13, was the major waterer. He doesn’t like spiders, but he was fascinated by the mouse that he found living in the hose reel. He also helped moving loads with the lawn tractor. There was work for us all.
We left Betsy to plant her new herbs. She was delighted and amazed to learn that some herbs are perennials. She bought peppermint, sage, marjoram and thyme. And a pot of Italian parsley. I left her with two big clumps of forget me nots from my garden. It was a memorable day.
Naturally I could not go to Mahoney’s without buying something for myself. Today I plant a healthy looking Pinky Winky hydrangea from Proven Winners. This will finish my hydrangea hedge. It will take a while to fill out, of course, but the oakleaf hydrangea, Limelight and Pinky Winky will make a 25 foot long hedge, underplanted with barren strawberry and daffodils. The daffodils are already there and the barren strawberry is slowly moving across the area.
So it’s been a busy week with the purchase of astrantia, echinacea, heucharella, baptisia and astilbe for my own garden as well as the gift of Pocahontas, Excel and Maiden’s Blush lilacs from my friend Jerry. I am planting and weeding and fertilizing. It’s spring! More plant shopping at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale on Saturday, May 22 in Shelburne Falls! And more shopping at the Greenfield Garden Club Extravaganza on May 29. There is always room for more plants.