I’ll admit, it wasn’t the snakes keeping me out of the garden this last week so much as it was a little R&R. Just before I left town I went to Lowe’s to see what they had available in the way of bulbs, and wound up walking out with an armful of $1 mums. The mums have been doing great in my side garden all year, and now are finally ready to reveal their yellow and copper blooms, so I’m working to expand this little patch.
Before I describe my next course of action, though, I wanted to show some of the many transitions my side garden has taken since I moved in. It’s been my absolute favorite and also most hated patch of soil since about day one. Part of the reason is that it was, essentially, the one flowerbed that existed when I moved in, and a scraggly mess it was.
The bed was bordered by two gorgeous crepe myrtles, one of which was in desperate need of pruning to allow its branches to grow thicker. Then there were a few shrubs that are healthy and quite nice but had really no rhyme or reason. Then there was some messy fosythia throwing out a tangle of roots and a few spotty February flowers. There was no border, just a place where there was even less grass. The whole area is largely shadowed thanks to a combination of oaks and hickories, and the crepe myrtles when in season. All of it is across from the garage, so you really can’t even see this area from the street, which makes it an odd location indeed for a flowerbed. Still, I was determined to make something of it.
The first thing to go was the scraggly forsythia, relocated to the back of the house where I thought its early color would help brighten the winter view from the kitchen window. The next step was to begin to give some definition to the bed. I decided to go the free route, and dug up bucket load after bucket load of monkey grass from my mom’s house. I planted it in an undulating border, punctuated by variegated liriope transplanted from the front of the house. Later, during our pond production, I would cap the ends of each bed with clusters of red stone that seem close in color to the crepe myrtles’ roots.
With the bed defined, I began the fun work of filling it in. I knew I wanted something to anchor it, something green but fun, low growing but taller than the flowers I wanted to plant in layers in front. I settled on frostproof gardenias, which I was absolutely thrilled to find. I had planted dwarf gardenias at my last house, and those little guys still created an out-of-this-world amazing smell every June … and then croaked every December. On a side note, I had a tough time with these frostproof ones the first year, but better mulching and regular fertilizer have since helped these beauties grow big and healthy.
I added hydrangeas to fill in the odd space left behind a full grown but lopsided pieris, figuring they would do well with that shady spot.
Last year, I added a few stepping stones and a second hydrangea, and the first of many bulbs to come.
The problem I began to face with the bed was that, for the longest time, it was my only flower bed.
Whenever I found something I liked or was gifted bulbs, such as the dozens of peonies my mother-in-law gave me, I slapped them into this bed because I had no other options – no matter whether the plant was suited there or not. The peonies, hating the shade and tangle of myrtle roots, have refused to bloom. The tall starburst-like lilies looked horribly misplaced and awkwardly tall next to the small gardenias and the irises didn’t seem to fit in with the waxier, lighter green plants around them. There was simply no order.
So this year I’m going for more, and for less. I’m going to transplant at least half the peonies to see if I can find a spot that works for them, where I can transplant the rest. I’m going to plant rows of bulbs (more on that next week). I’m going to move the lilies and, now that I know they’ll make it, add two more gardenias to create a more solid row. And I’ve begun creating circles around the crepe myrtles, with rows of irises, that I hope to supplement next year with simple, bright annuals. A good cover of mulch and a few more stepping stones ought to finally get this bed in shape to show off. As for the rest of the side yard, well, I’ll save that for another post.