More About My Garden

My garden is a work in progress. Well, mostly progress; sometimes it takes a step or two backwards. The first steps toward today's garden began shortly after I bought my home in 1994. The previous owners were well-meaning but did not have a green thumb anywhere among them! I discovered that the azaleas struggling along the front of the house could not tell the difference between the small clay holes they inhabited and a terra cotta pot. Have you ever seen a plant root-bound in a garden bed?

The azaleas shared the front bed with a dozen or more blue rug junipers. Nice enough plants, but not particularly exciting. Further, as I looked around the neighborhood, I realized that just about everyone had lines of azaleas across the front of their houses. Such conformance would never do! Change! Be different! Rebel! Gardeners of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but mediocrity!

Ahem. Okay, let's try that again, shall we?

At the front of the house were two fascinating upright junipers and a dogwood that connect the upright, formal colonial to the sloping lawn. I did not yet know that the previous owners also planted some quite nice daffodils between the windows of the living room (to the left as you face the house) and between the windows of the family room (to the right). Based on what I did know I decided that just a few more vertical elements would fit well. Thus began the effort.

My previous efforts at gardening had been limited to annuals and the occasional rhododendrun (a personal weakness). Such tentativeness was completely abandoned.

My parents have beds of azaleas in the back yard of the house I grew up in. They are so pretty in full bloom during the Spring I knew that a bed was much to be preferred over a "Harry Homeowner" line of struggling plants. Fifteen shrubs were moved from the front bed to a new home nestled under the tree line in the back. Most of the azaleas were lifted from the ground without the need for a single tool. Much effort (and a little swearing) later they found themselves installed in a new home under the outstretched limbs of oaks and maples. The new bed is at the lowest part of the back yard (the grade continues a gentle decline across the neighbors and a road to a local stream about 500 yards away) so water is rarely a problem. I refer to this place as the hospital bed, and the surviving azaleas (I have lost several) are doing well and may eventually approach the glory of my parent's established bed.

The rug juniper did not receive such care or concern. Into the chipper and on to the new compost heap. Flame me if you will, but rescuing those plants did not seem worth the effort. Unlike the azaleas, the junipers had embraced the clay soil and resisted all efforts to remove them. All save one entered the maw of the chipper and shot from the outlet as so much potential mulch.

At this point, sometime in August of 1994, little remained of the original planting. I devoured the Spring Hill catalog that magically appeared at about that time (I think they send a catalog to everyone that buys a house). Still a bit concerned about my ability to design an appealing display, I ordered a 'kit'. These consist of a number of plants selected to grow nearly anywhere with little or now attention. Theoretically.

The combination I chose included a miscanthus grass, a couple varieties of daisy, some oenothera, a yucca, and a nice dwarf dicentra. Pretty much everything looked nice that first summer, but Spring Hill mixed shade lovers and sun lovers in one combination that I plunked down in an area on the barely shady side of full sun. The dicentra struggled until I moved it behind one of the upright junipers. Interestingly (to me anyway), I must have left some crown behind when I moved the dicentra because since the grass has become fully established little bleeding hearts have popped up around its base.

The oenothera is a nice bright yellow variety I haven't seen elsewhere. Unlike the pink type it has not proved to be invasive. In fact it struggles a bit beside the daisy. I don't know if it really is well behaved, or the daisy is knocking it back, or if it just doesn't like that spot.

Other plants have found their way in over time as the bed (and my tastes) have matured. I have worked in some aster, more daffodils, grape hyacinth, a couple of lovely peonies I rescued from a friend's re-landscaping effort, and dicentra spectabulis to complement the dwarf variety.

Since my marriage there have been a number of additional changes. Jane likes gardening as much as I do, and we have been merging our holdings as well as our aesthetics. The two upright junipers grew dramatically over the years, and were approaching the roof line. With some tactful (mostly) encouragement from Jane, they came out. One was replaced with a Japanese maple we moved from Jane's old home. She and her Mom had planted it together as a twig; it is now close to eight feet tall and quite lovely.

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