This year’s progress in The Great Garden Renovation (a/k/a/ TGGR) can be summed up in only two words: “not much.” You’d think that the pandemic-enforced stay-at-homeness would have resulted in a windfall of weeding work, a torrent of tidiness, and an overall “Let’s get this done” attitude. Somehow, that’s not what happened.
Part of the blame is mine for not launching into online plant-hunting until early April. Silly me, I had no idea that personally visiting the local nurseries this spring would be a no-go. By mid-April, many plants were sold out online; almost all the nurseries that did have stock were running weeks or months behind on shipping because of (a) staffing shortages (b) contract-grower delays and shortages, or both. For example, my early April order of an easily-propagated hardy Geranium macrorrhizum cultivar did not ship until early July – and even then, 50% of the pot sizes were smaller than what I had paid for and expected (the nursery did adjust my credit card charge accordingly but I’d rather have had decent-sized plants.)
My gardening sanity was saved by my favorite (though not local; visiting entails a minimum of 5 hours’ driving because they’re in Connecticut) woody-plants nursery opening in mid-April on a contact-free basis. Visitors could not enter the nursery but could email their wants and, if available, pay for them by phone and arrange a pickup on a specific day in numbered sections of the parking lot. Although this eliminated half the fun of in-person shrub-shopping, at least I was able to acquire some plants! I eventually made five trips there between mid-April and late August as various shrubs on my want-list became available.
My promised-for-September-2019 courtyard-pavers re-do and crumbling-driveway replacement has not occurred yet, but through no fault of mine: Eddie, my masonry guru, is still battling serious health issues and so my fingers are now crossed for the spring of 2021. Why don’t I find someone else, you ask? Two reasons: Eddie does better work than anyone else I could find; and the courtyard situation is… “complicated”, through my own stupidity. That’s a story for another day!
Anyway, here’s this year’s TGGR progress (or lack thereof) in the front and back yards. Backyard areas first.
Four Seasons Bed
Late September 2019 in the Four Seasons Bed with three residents, two of which (Picea pungens ‘Blue Totem’ and an ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel) were new. The third is a group of peonies that were the only things from the former owners’ planting that I kept.
2020 progress: Added a Heptacodium miconoides in the center, three Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ between it and the witch hazel, and a half dozen daylily varieties, mostly at the south end although seven ‘Jedi Blue Note’ now accompany the little blue spruce. I spent days online, carefully selecting the south-end daylilies to bloom in succession from early June until early September. The result? Whatever flowers did appear, decided to pop out in early July all at the same time. In two weeks everything was done. Hopefully they will get their act straightened out for 2021. Many small early spring bulbs were planted around the oak stumps last month, so I am really looking forward to the Spring.
The Bridge Beds
The old rotting left-behind-by-sellers bridge was replaced in November 2019 by this cedar one made for me by my next-door neighbor who is a retired woodworker. The stripped flanking beds are the Bridge Bed East (with the lantern) and Bridge Bed West (with Denny the Crane.)
2020 progress: I now have some plants, even though three of them must be caged in their youth to protect against the ravenous rabbits. Nearest to the bridge on both sides are a dwarf evergreen azalea (Gumpo White), dwarf pieris ‘Bonsai’, and Nandina ‘Firepower.” The east bed has three dwarf shrubs (Prunus incisa ‘Kojo No Mai’, Ginkgo ‘Troll’, Chamaecyparis ‘Chirimen’) and a dwarf Japanese maple in the black cage, ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’ which supposedly doesn’t get much taller than 6 ft. We’ll see. The taller cage in the west side bed is another Japanese maple, ’Ikandi’, that has spectacular variegated spring foliage. There is a LOT to do in both of these beds in 2021 (I have a list…)
Stone Bench Bed
All that was here in December 2019 was the bench and a small yellow-leaf cotinus, ‘Golden Spirit.’
2020 progress: The cotinus was joined by dwarf Chamaecyparis ‘Blue Surprise’, and a half dozen tall yellow daylilies ‘Late Summer Breeze’ which aren’t supposed to start flowering until late August or early September. Two of them put up a couple of spikes in late June and then said “that’s it, we’re done, see ya next year, lady.”
Classic Bench Bed
Last year, this was called the Black Bench Bed for obvious reasons. The small skinny shrub is Disanthus cercidifolius ‘Rikyu’.
2020 progress: The Disanthus was moved to another bed that I hope it’s happier in (though the Japanese beetles find it no matter where) and its spot was taken by Rhododendron ‘Calsap’. The newcomer at the end is Enkianthus ‘Summer Hill’ which for some reason is thirstier than any enkianthus I’ve ever met before. Weird. The peeling black bench got repainted and moved to another spot, replaced by a cast stone bench which the manufacturer (CastArtifacts) sells as their “Classic Garden Bench” – hence the new planting bed name.
Greenhouse Bed, North
The north side of the sunroom (which may or may not eventually become a greenhouse of sorts) is almost perpetually shaded, damp, and grows a wonderful assortment of mosses and liverworts. There used to be a yellow chamaecyparis here.
2020 progress: Japanese painted fern, the white Dicentra ‘Aurora’ which went dormant before this November photo, and Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ changing into fall colors. Snowdrops were planted along the bottom of the wall a few days after I took this photo. I’m still battling the mosses and liverworts though.
This bed was called the crape myrtle bed until the Halesia carolina ‘UConn Wedding Bells’ went into it in July 2019; it then became the Silverbell Bed.
2020 progress: Not much, obviously. A dwarf spruce (Ruby Teardrops) that really should be moved elsewhere (again) because it’s not going to get enough sun after the silverbell gets any decent size to it. White daylilies (‘Clarity of Purpose’) which were relocated from a front “white” planting after the flowers were discovered to be more yellow than white. I have now reluctantly, but finally, accepted the reality that There Is No Such Thing As a Truly White Daylily.
Speaking of the front yard…
The bed in front of the entrance to the ‘courtyard’ gets major runoff from the downspout that you see on the right-hand side of this fall 2019 photo. Let’s put it this way: a small swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’) died from too-frequent flooding after less than six months in this bed. The downspout can’t be relocated, and a drywell installation isn’t an option. I got really tired of seeing topsoil continually washed away after every rain. And, English ivy coming over from my neighbor’s yard was swamping everything in the flood-free upper section.
2020 progress: In November I ripped out as much as I could, except for a rhody, the tall yew, and the privet which got a serious trimming-up. Out came the weeds, the poison ivy (I hope!), the overgrown shasta daisy, the invasive ribbon grass, and the unhappy heathers – all legacies from the former owners. Also most of the English ivy’s now out; my back gave up before the last of it. Final cleanup will be done in the spring. Because there are a bajillion rocks and stones everywhere in this soil, I used some to create a breakwater along the edge of this bed. Yes, it looks ridiculous but it actually does the job. The downspout water still ends up in the bed but the flow is dispersed rather than being a valley-gouging stream. The new and extremely vertical shrub is Cornus sanguinea ‘Compressa’ which can deal with occasional wet feet. This corner gets sun for more than half the day, so eventually it will get other things that don’t require shade and are fine with occasional overwatering from Mother Nature.
Front Walkway Bed
The main section of the bed on the street side of the front walkway looked pretty bare at the end of 2019. The weeping cercis (badly trained by the former owners, it leans at a 45-degree angle) only has some bearded iris foliage for company. The new cesspools are under there, so I can’t plant anything whose roots go down more than about 12 inches.
2020 progress: Autumn 2020 in the same area from the opposite angle. The iris is ‘Immortality’ which is a fall rebloomer. Along the outside edge is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides; inside edge is Iberis ‘Snow Cone’ which surprised me by putting out some flowers in November and December just because they felt like it. The bits of green are a fall shipment of Phlox ‘David’ which haven’t decided whether they are happy here or not.
Portico, North Side
The “front portico beds” flank the steps and face east, which means they get morning sun until between 1 and 2:30 p.m. depending on the particular spot and the time of year. There used to be a porch here. All plants in these beds must have pure white flowers (which is why the Clarity of Purpose daylilies got booted.) In this November 2019 photo we have only Camellia ‘Winter’s Snowman’, an evergreen azalea (Rose Greeley) at each end, and a Rhododendron ‘Cunningham’s White’ between the steps and the first column. This rhody tolerates lime better than most. Clearly, I needed to add more plants.
2020 progress: Iberis ‘Snow Cone’ along the edge, several white dicentra (D. spectabilis alba and D. formosa ‘Aurora’), white foxgloves, Campanula persicifolia alba, hosta ‘Half and Half’ and nine small, innocent-looking Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert.’ This was taken in late June.
I honestly forgot how big those little innocent-looking Japanese anemones can get in only two months. This was late September. Believe it or not, there is actually a 2-ft-tall white mountain laurel (‘Snowdrift’) in front of that column, being devoured by ‘Honorine Jobert’! Definitely too much of a good thing.
After the anemones finally got zapped by frost in late November, I tagged most of them for relocation in the spring. There’s plenty of space in some of the backyard beds for them to go hog-wild. Lesson learned.
Portico, South Side
The South portico bed is slightly smaller, gets sun until 2:30 pm in summer, and has even worse soil than its counterpart on the north side (which is saying something, believe me.) The only things there in late fall 2019 were another ‘Cunningham’s White’ rhody and Osmanthus ‘Grace Seabrook’ which has fragrant small white flowers in November and tiny but very bright white leaf sheaths in early spring.
2020 progress: A year later the bed looked like this. Iberis along the front, but also some hellebores (‘Ivory Prince’) along with the what-was-I-thinking ‘Honorine Jobert’. Yes, there’s also a ‘Snowdrift’ mountain laurel here too, frantically waving its branches and pleading for rescue. All of these anemones will be moved to the back of this bed in the spring, to be replaced by some nice well-behaved – in comparison! – Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White-Ness’.
What Didn’t Get Done in 2020
Sadly, my Didn’t-Do List is much longer; these are the things that have gotten pushed to (hopefully) 2021. In the front yard:
- the Driveway Bed did get two new shrubs (Rosa glauca and Daphne genkwa ‘Hackenberry’) in 2020 but I utterly failed to find what I wanted most to add, which is Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’. This is a tree that I would not trust to obtain via sight-unseen mail order, and no local nursery that I was finally able to visit in person had one in 2020. Other than that, nothing can be added to this bed until the driveway is replaced, because of the accompanying collateral damage nearby.
- the Mailbox Bed, most of which is on the other side of the driveway, remained untouched for the same reason. Well, yes, I could have added things to the other end but I’d rather work on that bed all at once. Call me lazy, I guess.
- renovation of the Giant Cotinus Bed and the String of Pearls Bed (there’s a story there) was put off until spring 2021
In the back yard:
- Patio Bed #1 got redone twice in 2020, courtesy of the poison ivy and wild garlic. Third time (in 2021) should be the charm. I hope.
- the Pinetum kept its 2019 status quo due a complete inability to find the other dwarf pines that I want, or a Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ whose size and shape I liked.
- the Chocolate Garden (a/k/a the Greenhouse Bed, South) remained with only one plant in it, for the same general reason. However, I do now have seeds of Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Chocolat’ and Aquilegia ‘Chocolate Star’ on order for sowing this spring.
- the Greenhouse Bed, West pretty much sat there growing mosses, liverworts, and a surviving baby tree peony. No, this is not a logical combination.
- the Center Bed remained 100% empty
- the Shed Patio Bed got some Narcissus ‘Actaea’ bulbs installed in early November but is still waiting for everything else.
- Marla’s Bed along the back property line remained untouched other than repeatedly having to zap weeds and poison ivy despite the dry shade.
- the Fall-Winter Color bed, as related here, was a failed experiment
- the center sections of the North Side and South Side borders remained in dire need of epimediums. Trust me, nothing else would do well there; tree roots galore!
- the Courtyard planting bed got one addition, against all logic and reason: Loropetalum ‘Zhou Zhou Fuchsia.’ Not only is it marginally hardy, there’s the possibly/hopefully-upcoming replacement of the pavers to consider. There’s a very good chance that it’ll be imperiled when that eventually happens. What can I say? It was a moment of 2020 madness.
But oh, that foliage and wowsers, those flowers!
Best wishes to everyone for a healthy and happier 2021. Onward! 😊