If you are sated with garden catalogs that came in January, but still haven’t made all your 2017 choices and plans, you are probably ready to hit garden centers and nurseries. There you will face ranks of captivating and irresistible shrubs and perennials. No matter how alluring the plants it will be worthwhile to read the labels, and think about your garden spaces before you buy.
I have had gardeners tell me about their failures and disappointments, asking why? Sometimes it is because they did not take into account the basic needs of the plant, for sun or shade, for dry or damp sites. And I do say sometimes this is the answer, but I also say there are many mysteries in the garden with no answers or explanations to be found. Cimicifuga or bugbane, a shade loving plant blooms happily in full sun on the Bridge of Flowers. How can that happen? I don’t know.
Still, it is best to begin with knowledge of the plant’s needs. As we have planned and planted our Greenfield garden I’ve taken into consideration the attributes of the different sections. Our house faces east and the small plot of lawn and the tree strip get sun in the morning. However there is a large sycamore tree at the southern end of the tree strip which means that the shade shifts and changes over the course of the morning, and the afternoon.
The tree strip gets morning sun. We removed most of the grass and planted perennials to provide bloom all season long. We chose really tough plants that would do all right in less than ideal conditions, support pollinators, and not require much labor for me. The soil there is dry, and we have improved it with compost.
The hellstrip/tree strip plant list includes daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, Sheffield daisies and astilbe. My neighbor has promised me some rudbeckia, black eyed susans.
The small lawn in front of the house is being planted with low growing conifers, as well as a small rhododendron, a deutzia which will have small white flowers and a heuchera which will also provide some bloom among the conifers. All are supposed to tolerate some shade which they will get.
The South Border is the first bed we planted with shrubs as well as perennials. The requirement for full sun translates as six hours or more of sun. There are many sun loving shrubs and perennials. This bed is also the driest in our garden. We planted three paniculata hydrangeas, Limelight, Firelight and Angels Blush. They share the bed with two lilacs, Beauty of Moscow which I think is one of the most beautiful white lilacs, and the deep purple Yankee Doodle, Korean Spice viburnam for its fragrance, and the first of two highbush cranberries which are also viburnams. Some of these can attain a height of 10 feet at maturity and we have given them plenty of room to grow.
At least we think we have. Calculating how much room any plant will need as it grows is about the most difficult task when planning to provide for a plant’s requirements.
As the South Border heads west it becomes damper, and finally wet. Swamp pinks were in place when we bought the house, and we added Lindera benzoin to attract the swallowtail butterfly, and a red twig dogwood for its tolerance to dampness and its brilliant red branches. We also planted four blueberry bushes. They do not appear to be thriving. I think the soil is too wet and they will have to be moved.
Since one of the reasons we left Heath is because the garden was too big and demanded too much work, one of the guiding principles of the Greenfield garden is that it must be less labor intensive. It is a lot of work right now as we layout and plant a blank canvas, but our strategy for cutting back on routine tasks is to plant shrubs. Since the back yard is so wet seasonally and after rains we began with shrubs that like sun and tolerate the wet. The list includes yellow twig dogwood which is just as brilliant as the red twig when the sun in shining on it, clethra or sweet pepperbush, buttonbush, winterberries, elderberries, and fothergilla.
We have also planted trees. We are confident about the water tolerance of the river birches, a dappled willow, and we have planted a weeping cherry and a pagoda dogwood in the closest we come to occasional damp. However, we have taken a gamble by planting two arborvitae in a seasonally wet spot. We wanted the arborvitae to block a view. So far, so good. I guess gardeners are among the world’s most eager gamblers.
Our layered garden will soon be less demanding. We have planted many perennial groundcovers like lady’s mantle and foam flower, and various sedums. Many perennials are very comfortable with wet spots: Siberian and Japanese irises, primroses, daylilies, mountain mint, culver’s root, Joe Pye weed, obedient plant, sanguisorba Canadensis, ferns, and cardinal plants.
Mine is a new garden; I still have bare ground while I wait for the shrubs to mature and the perennials to increase. I have been filling in with annuals like cosmos and zinnias that require little more than sun and mostly dry soil. Maybe I’ll try filling bare spots this year with summer squash, bush beans or pretty lettuces. Vegetables are beautiful (and delicious) annuals too. ###
Between the Rows April 15, 2017