A Garden Bed Grows Up: The Evolution of a Flower Border
It all started with some leftover manure.
Our house is built into a hill. The backyard is lower, making the back deck a half-story above ground level. The previous owners had stuffed some shrubs into a skinny little border along the back, which I had tidied up. But when my daughter created a potager on the south side of the house that extended beyond the deck, it created an awkwardly shaped space that was hard to mow and just didn’t look right. I wanted so badly to draw a line from the corner of the potager to the deck stair railing.
I expanded the back deck bed by laying cardboard on top of the sod, and then covering it with well-rotted manure. I had tried this technique once before at the old house, and it hadn’t worked. Two key differences: 1) I didn’t plant until the following spring this time, and 2) I wasn’t attempting to smother bindweed. (A friend once remarked that the best way to rid your garden of bindweed was to move to a new garden. She wasn’t joking. That’s how I finally did it.)
The following spring, I had All. That. Space. to plant in. I needed some sort of criteria to help me decide what to grow there. At the old house, there was a spot where I had wanted to grow a white heirloom rose like Madame Hardy, with apricot foxgloves and lavender-blue peach-leaved bellflowers. That never happened there, but I realized I had the bellflowers and I had an apricot rose (‘Crown Princess Margareta‘) from the old house, and decided I would go with that color scheme–apricot, lavender-blue, and white. This soon included yellow-green foliage accents as well, such as golden feverfew, golden hops, and hostas, and sometimes the apricot segued into orange and the lavender-blue deepened to a dark plum.
Fast forward to 2018 . . .
In late June and into July, the apricot roses have their first flush of bloom.
In September the roses bloom again and the ‘David’ phlox joins them.
I say “finally” because blanket flower is considered a summer-blooming perennial, but it doesn’t start until September for me. Many heat-loving plants don’t accumulate enough heat-hours until summer is almost over. (At least so it seems to me.) Hardy hibiscus is another one I have to wait until September to see blooming.
This spring: Editing and Rearranging
Can you tell I’ve had fun playing with color in this bed? To me a garden border is like a symphony with many players contributing to the work as a whole. Some, like the golden hops and the golden feverfew, add a background melody to the whole piece. Others, like the ‘Coral Charm’ peony, have a brief but commanding performance. Many, like the roses and the geraniums, repeat in several movements, but never with the same accompaniments. It’s all rather complicated, and the gardener often has to watch the garden bed symphony play out a time or two to understand where it’s not yet working the way it should.
So I have a list of things I want to change this spring. First, the ‘Alba’ rugosa rose has to go. It’s gotten huge, and yet doesn’t produce more than a bloom or two, when it should be covered with flowers. I suspect it’s not getting enough sun, and I know where I’m going to move it. I will move irises and salvias that are already there but getting swamped into the rose’s former space. Those lovely yellow foxgloves are so tall they are hiding the daylilies (most of which I didn’t show you) behind them. So I need to do a big switcheroo and have the foxgloves move back and the daylilies forward. I plan to move the pink foxgloves out and replace them with apricot foxgloves that I’m starting from seed. The dragon head is a spreader but I love it, so I’ll be digging some up to use in another bed.
I received one vine as a trial plant in 2012. It came in a quart pot. The first couple of years I coddled and coaxed it up the lattice. The third or fourth year I finally realized it was weaving itself through the bed and rooting as it went. I waded into the bed and started yanking. Rather belatedly I checked back at the Proven Winners website and saw that they advised cutting it down every fall. You can bet I do now! It’s a beautiful plant, but if you grow it in your garden be prepared to show it who’s boss.
I think I like the tinkering and tweaking the best of all garden chores, but the window of opportunity to rearrange plants without stepping on growing shoots or tying back neighboring plants is small, especially when the plants start growing before the ground is fully thawed. I’m looking forward to the challenge! How about you? What do you plan to change in your garden this spring?
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