Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade” Kipling said, and I must add that they are not made by looking at a plan, even one as beautiful as the custom design I am holding created by Home Outside. Gardens are made by thinking and digging, moving compost, planting and getting very dirty. Lots of skull work, and lots of muscle work.
Let me recap our adventures of planting a whole new garden in Greenfield. We took possession of our house at the end of May. My first garden project was digging up the hellstrip, that bit of grass between the sidewalk and the road. I dug in compost and then planted astilbes, daylilies, bee balm, chrysanthemums and clumps of the annual salvia ‘Hot Lips.’ I was marking my space and also letting my neighbors know we had arrived.
The second project was planting a holding bed on the north side of the backyard to hold perennials that were being moved from Heath, or purchased before I could plant them in the garden. Using the lasagna method, we moved compost and loam on top of cardboard and created a 12 foot long raised bed that has proved very useful. Not much thinking but a lot of muscle work.
The third project was planting a shrub, rose and perennial border along the south property line. More lasagna technique, again moving loads of compost and loam, and planting hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnams in the ground. Now at the end of July, roses have been planted in front of the big shrubs, a few perennials have been added along with groundcovers. I keep telling myself it will look great next year.
In early July we began working with the two custom design plans that Home Outside created for us. Their designs were based on the constraints of the lot, and answers we gave on a questionnaire about the ways we use our garden and our wishlist. We found out that it is not always easy to follow a plan. New ideas of our own, prompted by the plan pop up, as well as delays and changes caused by unexpected events like a flood in the backyard.
But we are forging on. Over the past week or so we created more lasagna beds around the water tolerant trees and shrubs we planted. More cardboard, compost and loam. I also saw the need for more plants to put in the new beds. Time to shop.
Along with a new neighbor I drove off to Nasami Farm, the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society. I couldn’t resist buying another winterberry. Remember it only takes one male winterberry to keep several females in beautiful berries. I also bought another viburnam because these shrubs have lacy spring flowers, produce berries in the fall, and get big. The viburnam we have in Heath is about ten feet tall or more, and with a wide spread. That is a lot of plant for the price when you are trying to fill up a low maintenance garden quickly. I am celebrating my 75th birthday this week, so I am in a hurry to enjoy a lush garden, but one that doesn’t make me work so hard.
The perennials I added include butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberose, which blooms in a hot shade of golden orange. It is only one or two feet tall. While it does not demand a wet site, it is considered suitable for rain gardens which will periodically be very wet.
Culver’s root, Veronicacastrum virginicum, looks something like a tall veronica, and could reach six or seven feet tall. It tolerates wet sites and is suitable for a rain garden. The tall spires of pale flowers that bloom in July attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Another tall plant that doesn’t mind wet sites is Joe Pye weed. This tough plant often seen by roadsides attracts butterflies and other pollinators as well. The mounded pink-mauve compound blossoms bloom from midsummer into the fall.
You can see that many of the plants I am putting in my garden are plants that you might find in the wild. In fact, the driving motive for my plant choices, besides being wet tolerant, is plants that will feed the small wildlife of our region, birds, butterflies, bees, and all the other unsung pollinators that are so important to our environment.
The garden we are planting in Greenfield is different from any garden we have desired in the past. Originally I only wanted to grow vegetables. Then with my friend Elsa Bakalar I discovered the joys of flower gardening. During our two years in China I developed a whole new appreciation for the green garden where very few flowers were wanted or needed for beauty.
Broadening my view of what a garden is or could be does not mean that I dismiss all that I wanted before. A broader view means I can appreciate more kinds of plants and more ways of arranging them in the landscape. I still want some edibles like blueberries and herbs in my new garden. I still want flowers. I still want color. But I also want to know that my garden is benefitting the natural world in ways I had not actively considered before.
Now when I look out at the view from the bedroom window the planted beds still don’t have any grace. The meandering paths I demanded from Home Outside haven’t appeared, but I can see graceful, meandering shapes forming. I may be the only one who can see those shapes right now, but I know that gardens are not made by sitting in the shade, and we haven’t been doing much sitting recently.