Time In A Garden

I was reading an interesting post by Nancy Ondra over on the Gardening Gone Wild blog about how one of the hardest things we gardeners do is try to predict the future.  You may not realize it but you do it all the time.  Exactly how big will that Kousa dogwood grow in my garden?  Will this rose and that rudbeckia complement each other?  Would a conifer look better here than a broad leafed evergreen?  The decisions we make about the future when designing a garden totally impact what our gardens will look like for years to come.

In her post, Nancy asks a philosophical question about individual gardening styles.  She writes, ‘Are you a “now” gardener or a “later” gardener? Do you prefer to pack plants in for an immediate effect, then deal with moving, removing, or replacing them often? Or do you plan your plantings for the long term, giving them all plenty of space to reach their potential and finding ways to fill around them in the meantime?’.  I am definitely a ‘later’ gardener, as you will see from the photos of a new sunny perennial garden I started last fall.

First a bit of perspective on this new sunny perennial garden.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you probably already know I have lived in my home in Stamford, CT (zone 6) for almost 20 years and I have two sons, who up until a few years, ago used my yard as the local ball field – football, kickball, wiffleball, etc.  While I certainly enjoyed having the neighborhood kids around all the time, that left me with a fairly boring garden because I figured there was no sense having lots of perennials or tender shrubs that got trampled on regularly by a bunch of sports-crazed boys.  I also had a husband who thought when it came to lawn area, more was better.  (FYI…I still have the husband but he’s changed his views on the need for an expansive lawn!)

As the kids grew up and played in the yard less and less I started to devise a plan to expend an area by our raised terrace that had been home to a bunch of strawberries & cream grass (Phalaris arundinacea) that I had begun to resent simply because they were planted in the prime location for a full sun perennial border which could be filled with colorful flowers that I no longer needed to worry about getting trampled on because 2nd base was located less than a foot away. 

Here’s a photo of the bed in October 2008, after the strawberries & cream grass had been cut back and some of it dug up and given away.  If you look closely you can see that my husband agreed to enlarging the bed by about 18 inches all around (yeah! less grass) and he had removed about half of the unwanted grass when this photo was taken.  What you probably can’t tell from the photo is that the new border is about 35′ long and about 12′ deep.  That’s a lot of space to fill with new plants.

The beginnings of a new sunny perennial garden

The beginnings of a new sunny perennial garden

What is not included in the photo are the approximately 35 perennials I bought  in early October 2008.  Since the pickings were slim at that time of the year, I basically chose anything that didn’t appear dead and that I thought would not be deer candy.  Most of the plants looked OK but some I knew I was taking a real chance on, even though they cost me only a few dollars each.  The following spring and summer I would also come to realize many of them were mislabelled.  There’s some serious transplanting in my future this fall!

Here’s what my new perennial bed looked like in late March 2009.  If you noticed in the first picture, I already had two large ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus anchoring either side of the new perennial bed.  I left them up over the winter for seasonal interest and to provide cover for any small animals that were still living in the garden at that time.  In this photo they’ve been cut back and the entire bed has been cleared of any debris – very boring but my anticipation was starting to grow!

The bed looks so bare after a spring cleaning.

Not only does the bed look so bare after a spring cleaning, I'm anxious to see if any of my bargain perennials, planted just 5 months earlier, survived the winter.

Here’s  photo of the bed as it looks today.  Like I said earlier, I am definitely a ‘later’ gardener.  Between leaving space for mature perennial size, mislabeled plants that meant I ended up with different cultivars than I thought I had, the deer ‘pruning’ plants I thought they would leave alone and not eating the ones I thought I was taking a chance on (obviously I am not reading the same list of deer-resistant plants as my deer read) and the addition of a few new plants from a local plant swap, I am actually quite pleased with the progress to date.
Not bad for these than one year's growth...it's still a work in progress

Not bad for these than one year's growth...it's still a work in progress

Looking at these photos is a great excercise in designing my garden.  For one thing, this recent photo shows me which plants need to be moved to a new location in the bed this fall.  I love the Agastache in the rear of the border – one spot has two planted together and the other has only one plant – and to my eye, it looks best planted in mass rather than singularly. 

I also like the bright yellow of the rudbeckia and want some yellow on the left side of the bed too.  Actually, there are several yellow ‘Full Moon’ coreopsis sprinkled around the bed that should have pick up on the yellow of the rudbeckia but the deer browsed them in the early summer and they have not bloomed yet.   Time will tell if I should plant more rudbeckia or if the coreopsis will do the trick of carrying the yellow throughout the bed. I can also see that I really need to divide the ‘Morning Light’ on the left (we divided the one on the right in May but never got around to the other one). 

Basically, the list of design ideas I get from this series of photos of the same spot in my garden over the course of almost one year is too numerous to discuss here but fills me with lots of inspiration. I encourage you to take a few photos of your garden during the year and compare them side by side to see what you learn.  Remember, as Nancy Ondra so aptly put in her post that inspired me to show you my ‘later’ gardening style, gardening and predicting the future of our gardens is a learning process that lasts as long as are gardens do.

To check out more  ‘Time In A Garden’ stories from other gardeners, go to the comments section of Nancy’s original post or visit the Gardening Gone Wild  blog on August 29th for Nancy’s overview.

7 thoughts on “Time In A Garden

  1. Hi Debbie! Sorry it took me so long to get here. I’m delighted that you joined us for the GGW Design Workshop this month. Your post is an inspiring example of how great a garden can look in just one season, with the potential of an even better show to come. I too hope you get to see your ‘Full Moon’ coreopsis bloom this year, because it’s such a pretty yellow. It can get big and sprawly, though, and I had to cut mine back twice this summer because the deer didn’t help me out. It finally came into bloom about 10 days ago and is a real beauty!
    -Nan at Gardening Gone Wild (http://www.gardeninggonewild.com)

  2. Nan,

    I’m so pleased you got a chance to stop byand I’m so honored to know that you’ve taken a peek at my blog. My Full Moon is finally in bloom and even though the shade of yellow is not the same as the orangey-yellow of the rudbeckia I still like the way the two perennials look together. I think I may have to trim my Full Moon back myself next year (and not just let the deer do it for me!)because as you mentioned, they are big and sprawly and I think they would make better companions if they kept to their own allotted space in the garden.

  3. Ooh, yeah – the two yellows aren’t nearly the same, but they work from a distance, at least. And after this rough summer, any color is welcome!

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