Garden Walk of Shame, July 2021 (Part One)

You may have noticed that I haven’t added many garden posts recently; since May, in fact, and the last ‘overview’ of things here dates from the tail end of last year. I had planned to post a spring update of TGGR (The Great Garden Renovation) but several things conspired to keep me from doing any garden work during almost the entire month of June. And we all know what happens to a garden when nature is left to her own devices during peak growing season, don’t we…?!

This post is thus a ‘walk of shame’ as well as a cautionary tale about the dangers of Not Doing Things in a Timely Manner. The biggest problem is, of course, weeds. Long story short: For the foreseeable future, my gardening time will be limited to only the one hour before sunset. If I am lucky, this will allow me to weed either ONE of the normal size garden beds, or TWO of the small ones (of which there are only five, of the 27 individual planting areas here.) This means that assuming the weather allows such work to be done every evening (ha!), each planting area will be weeded roughly once a month because some evening stints will need to be devoted to things like planting and pruning, rather than weeding. This schedule doesn’t bode well for the future, but this post is about what the place looks like today. It will look at the backyard only, and then the next post (Part Two) will be the front beds.

So, grab your favorite cuppa and prepare to feel infinitely better about the state of your garden, in comparison!

I’ll begin my Walk of Shame with the east and west Bridge Beds. All the photos in these two posts were taken on July 5th.
The east-side Bridge Bed was weeded in mid-June; the 14th or 15th, if I recall correctly. Larger anti-rabbit cages now surround the dwarf flowering cherry ‘Kojo-no-Mai’ and the Japanese maple ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa.’ For some reason I decided to try some Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ in this bed, remembering the flowers being a nice dark red in my previous garden’s July and August. Ordered three overpriced ones from White Flower Farm and also a packet of seed from Swallowtail which I sowed under lights. The ones from WFF are indeed ‘Cherry Brandy’ although I find that I dislike the look of them in these beds and will be moving them elsewhere. The seeds turned out to not be ‘Cherry Brandy’ at all, but some other orange-flowered rudbeckia. Those all got chucked out the day after these photos were taken, because orange is definitely not allowed in this garden!
The west Bridge Bed was weeded about 10 days ago, except for the right-hand end which I ran out of time for and finally broke down yesterday and sprayed.
Featured weeds: spurge (miles of it!), purslane, crabgrass, carpetweed, oxalis, dandelion, poison ivy
Still to do: Amend the truly horrible soil at that west end of the west bed, and plant the Siberian iris and peonies when they arrive in September.

The worst weed-disaster in the garden is definitely the new Dwarf Conifer Bed, although most of the others aren’t far behind. This is an up close and personal look at what completely blanketed 95% of the Conifer Bed’s surface during the month of June. It’s a mix of crabgrass (mostly), mugwort (I could have sworn I eliminated that last year), smartweed (smarter than I, clearly), oxalis, bedstraw, dandelion, copperleaf, spurge, purslane, chickweed, and the occasional plantain. All the crabgrass plants have root balls that are bigger and healthier than most things that I have planted on purpose. A dwarf Thuja ‘Morgan’ and a hardy geranium are fighting for their lives in this photo.
The result of one hour’s weeding of the east side, on June 24th….only about 50% of that side cleared.
The west side, not weeded yet….
Still to do: Clear the weeds to prep for the dwarf Siberian iris order due in September. There are a dozen Geranium himalayense ‘Irish Blue’ that turned out to be the wrong color (my fault, not the nursery’s) and need to be moved elsewhere before the arrival of their replacement, ‘Derrick Cook’, in the fall and/or spring depending on crop availability. Weed, weed, weed….

This small bed is on the south patio which is still awaiting the replacement of the pavers, so it only holds a large pieris (which was covered with mealybug on all leaf surfaces last month, no idea why but it looks very unhappy) and Loropetalum ‘Zhou Zhou Fuchsia’.
Featured weeds: The major resident weed in this bed is pearlwort, accompanied by the usual suspects (crabgrass, oxalis, dandelion, spurge, purslane) and is recurrent for poison ivy seedlings. English ivy continually pokes through from the neighbor’s side.

The Jewel Box (jewel-tone colors) planting is one that would actually look more or less like it’s supposed to, if not for the weeds and “temporaries”. The here-as-intended plants are screaming magenta Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’, Platycodon ‘Sentimental Blue’, and dark blue Aquilegia ‘Melba Higgins’ which is now over. The dark red daylily ‘Two Cats Dancing’ is new and hasn’t bloomed yet, and a purple-blue Trachelium caeruleum (tender here) is a placeholder for the red peony ‘Hot Chocolate’ not being shipped until September. The blue clematis ‘Rhapsody’ sent in May was a big disappointment in size of both plant and root system, so there’ll be no blue climber this year. The red ball flower heads of Silene asterias in May were much smaller than I expected, and the plant itself is rather weedy, so those may or may not get pitched out this fall.
Featured weeds: Purslane, spurge, crabgrass, and dandelion.

Encircling the large ‘Kwanzan’ cherry in the backyard are several rhododendrons and also a group of hosta on the east-facing side which, when they emerge, are lovely clear yellow; this photo was taken on April 27th. A well-behaved clump of white violets accompanies them. The little metal rabbit has since been relocated and replaced by my pair of bronze ducks, ‘Merry’ and ‘Pippin.’
As usual, the hostas turn from yellow to green and then, by mid-June, they have managed to scorch themselves partially white. Theoretically they shouldn’t, because they are in shifting shade all day, but they do. The oxalis and other weeds have moved in, and those cute little violets have tripled in size. Can you spot the second bronze duck in the picture? It’s there…really it is….
Featured weeds: oxalis, quackgrass (no, seriously, not kidding….), dandelion, sowthistle, copperleaf
Still to do: I really thought that I had got rid of the bittersweet in this bed, last year. Guess what? It’s ba-a-a-ck!

This is Marla Maple’s bed, a classic case of dry shade.
Featured weeds: You name it, it’s probably here. Essentially, any weed that doesn’t require full sun all day to grow. Poison ivy, too. I’ve been using sprays thus far, but once this starts getting planted up, I won’t be able to.
Still to do: I really need to clear this out because I have Cyclamen hederifolium corms on order for fall delivery, to plant around the base of the maple.

Patio Bed #2, otherwise known as The Pinetum. Orders for two new dwarf pines (they would have gone where all that purslane is) were cancelled by their respective nurseries, and I am waiting for Broken Arrow to have any #2 or #3 pots of Pinus schwerinii ‘Wiethorst’ for the far end. I saw a nice 2-gallon one there last year and stupidly didn’t buy it.
Featured weeds: purslane (tons), spurge (ditto), carpetweed, oxalis, lamium, allium, and recurring poison ivy.

This mess is Patio Bed #3. Disanthus cercidifolius ‘Rikyu’ (blue circle) is still being caged from the rabbits. The two red circles are tree peonies: Athos on the left, Kamata Fuji on the right. Neither bloomed this year, probably in protest against the poor housekeeping at this particular hotel. The two yellow circles are Thalictrum ‘Nimbus White’, who want to know why I am allowing all those weeds to hog the available soil moisture. I have no good answer for that.
Featured weeds: oxalis, nutsedge, quackgrass, crabgrass, dandelion throughout; liverworts and algal crust also, on this end.
Still to do: All the irises need to be dug up, divided, and replanted in the Silverbell Bed (see below) after that bed is weeded.

There’s no other description for this next area but ‘grave mistake.’ On second thought, ‘what was I thinking’ would do also. This is the south side of the garden shed. In 2019, after installing the new shed, I had done this:
because I wanted to keep the area immediately next to the side of the shed clean and dry. Because of all the overhanging trees, all those gaps between the bluestones became a debris trap and so this spring I put down these large stepping stones instead:
and thought to have a small planting area for miscellaneous stuff/bonus plants, etc.  I soon decided that the entire thing looks ridiculous, and worse, it’s now like this:
Featured weeds: Pretty much everything, plus constantly-encroaching English ivy from the neighbor, a quadrillion seedlings from samaras dropped by his Japanese maple that is just on the other side of that fence, and – as always – poison ivy seedlings.
Still to do: Eliminate the outer row of stepping stones and that silly patch of small bluestone pieces. The removed stepping stones can replace the cobbled-together south border path that is not very secure to walk on and a PITA to keep weeded:
Then those larger bluestone pieces can replace the grass area (circled) between this in-progress planting bed and the adjacent large conifer.
The problem with having grass here is that the lawn guys drive the mower over it. How do I know? Because there are always tire tread ruts through that end of the planting bed…which I actually want to (what a concept!) plant up this fall. It is 100% useless to try to ask/tell them anything, so the only alternative is to no longer have any grass there. No grass = no mower drive-through. Hopefully.

This is the Silverbell Bed, named in honor of the Halesia ‘UConn Wedding Bells’ on the north end. It is one of the two largest planting beds in the backyard. There is an Amsonia ‘Storm Cloud’ and also a Ceratostigma willmottianum in there, both being attacked by weeds.
Featured weeds: Where do I start? Basically, this is the same Weed Supermarket as in the nearby Conifer Bed, but with the extra bonus of Joe Pye weed, horseweed, and wild garlic thrown in for good measure. Oh, and this was a poison ivy hotbed two years ago and so there’s always the possibility….
Still to do: The group of daylily ‘Clarity of Purpose’ at the end has lovely flowers that are white up close BUT from a distance (such as from my kitchen window) they definitely look cream, which is not what I want and is driving me crazy. So, they are going to be moved elsewhere after blooming. That little blue spruce needs moving also, but a euonymus needs to be dug out (by somebody) elsewhere first. This bed is in dire need of weeding ASAP, especially since all those bearded iris from Patio Bed #3 must be put here in August.

The small bed on the west side of the sunroom is home to six Japanese painted ferns, five thalictrums, four primulas, three hostas, two astilbe, and a partridge in a pear tree. (j/k about the partridge and tree…it’s actually Porthos the Teenage Tree Peony.)
Featured weeds: This area skirting the sunroom foundation is very poorly drained (probably because of compaction and/or construction debris beneath; nothing would surprise me anymore, up to and including Jimmy Hoffa being buried under there) and so in addition to the usual dandelions, quackgrass and oxalis we have a Who’s Who of mosses, liverworts and perpetual algal crust.
Still to do: Get this mess weeded and keep it that way until the bulbs (Fritillaria mealeagris) arrive for fall planting.

The beds that run along the boundary property lines are a continual battle against the tide of English ivy coming over from my neighbor on the south side; Virginia creeper, Joe Pye weed, bittersweet, and multiflora rose from my neighbor on the west side; and the insane combination of henbit and yellow archangel that the former owners stupidly planted on the north side. The narrow access paths behind each 150′-foot property line border require weeding and cutting back of mature tree branches at least three times a year, starting in late March, to keep them from running completely amok. I was only able to do it once this year, which means that those pathways could now serve as a movie set for a sequel to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Where’s a man with a machete when you need him??

And to top it all off, remember my stiltgrass ID post from last year? Well, it’s back and with a vengeance. Not only in the backyard grass areas but now it’s in almost all of the backyard planting beds as well! This is a problem, because although I can try spraying Acclaim (the only herbicide that kills it) on the lawn areas, I cannot use it in the planting beds. Stiltgrass begins to drop seed in August, and so I am up against the clock for getting the existing plants out of the beds (although doing so will bring more seed to the surface to germinate next year, ad infinitum.) Also, the application of Acclaim has some tricky timing requirements: It must be applied when the temperature is lower than 85F. That has eliminated many recent days lately. Also, the grass should not be mowed for at least 24 hours after application. Because the lawn guys typically come on Thursdays (but sometimes Fridays instead), that means an application window of only Saturday through Wednesday, but only IF it is in the 70s or low 80s and of course rain-free. That’s not as easy a combination as you think, when we’ve had constantly alternating heat waves and storm fronts for the past several weeks! I am keeping an eye on the weather report for this weekend, in case we end up with an 80-degree day.

The walk of shame travels to the front yard in the next post!

  9 comments for “Garden Walk of Shame, July 2021 (Part One)

  1. July 8, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    It’s been a difficult year–which is what I tell myself every year because truly, lately, it seems like one thing after another. You might remember my post about weed triage, where I said that I try first to get to the weeds that might be showing any signs of flowering? That was working well until I needed emergency surgery and then my husband was suddenly stricken with sepsis. So you can imagine how my garden is looking, particularly with all this rain! Ah well. That’s the beauty of gardening. You can always look forward to next year.


    • July 8, 2021 at 6:58 pm

      That ‘fear of flowering’ was what prompted me to break out the herbicide the other day, because there were so many areas where so many weeds were reaching that point, especially in the front-yard beds. And I totally relate to the double-edged Rain sword: Good for the lawn grass (no dragging hoses around) but unfortunately, ‘good’ for the weeds also! Hope you and your husband are feeling better.

  2. July 8, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    I love posts like these, they make me feel ‘not so alone’ in the seemingly endless struggle against weeds. You’ve accumulated quite a few treasures in there amongst the weeds! I tend to plant cheap placeholders and then tolerate a lot more “volunteers” which if it comes down to it I will swear up and down I wanted there. Right now there’s a massive wall of fennel across the front border. I absolutely wanted six foot fennel plants along the street, sure did! Same with all the verbena :).
    My best friend lately has been a sharp hoe. I wack away and the sun usually fries everything enough so that in a day or two I can ignore all the remains. No bending is a good thing, and no dealing with crabgrass roots and all the left behind bits.. ugh!
    Good luck and I hope all is well.

  3. July 10, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    There was a blog meme for a while, called “Tell the truth Tuesday”. It had a salutary effect on many of us. I would be just where you are but for a friend, younger and healthier, who shows up every month or so and devotes a whole day to weeding and other garden chores. However she is planning to move to Maine. I am currently searching for competent paid help.

    • July 10, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      And that is the challenge, isn’t it?! Sometimes when I am ‘venting’, a non-gardening friend will suggest that I “hire a gardener” (as if we are in circa-1920s England, lol.) I don’t even know if what was called a ‘jobbing gardener’ in the UK ever even existed here in the States. If they did, they’re extinct by now. The so-called lawn/landscape services don’t employ gardeners, they employ machine-handlers whose idea of weeding is to indiscriminately swipe a scuffle hoe around here and there and typically speak no English, or very little. The business owners are often like my ex-BIL who, after being fired as an air traffic controller during the 1980s strike, bought a truck, trailer, some used equipment, and set himself up as a landscape service. He didn’t and doesn’t know a dandelion from a delphinium. And don’t even get me started on the prices charged by such companies for what they DO do: $150 per man-hour is typical here, and that’s just for labor. It’s rare to find one that charges as little as the $30/week that I currently pay just to have my 1/2 acre property cut, and they are in and out in 10 minutes. Of course, they drive over bed edgings and don’t even edge things properly, not that the $55/week companies do any better. OKay, rant over, LOL

  4. Betty M cCulloigh
    July 10, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    I really enjoy your posts and have had many of the same unwelcome weeds & planting problems. A suggestion for your “in progress” bed : just continue your bed border right up to the large conifer so they are all one bed. Put mulch where the small patch of grass now is. I did that with some of my many beds which just made the bed bigger and the grass cutting guy stopped going through. Heavy mulch will slow the weeds down. Betty

    • July 10, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      I actually would do that if that in-progress bed didn’t already have metal edging circling it, and it wouldn’t make sense to have to pay someone to re-do it. Also, I suspect that within a few years that big conifer will have closed more of the ‘grassy gap’ than there is now, lol. That’s why I figured that a ‘mini walkway’ of stepping stones would make more sense in the meanwhile. As for mulch, I’ve been avoiding it after the disaster that the artillery fungus caused to my former car and house siding several years ago. I’d never put any kind of wood mulch within 50 feet of the house, driveway/car, or anything that I don’t want permanently marred by the spores (see my Phantom Mulch Menace post for how.) That said, I have begun considering putting Sweet Peet down in the four beds farthest away from anything: the Silverbell, Jewel Box, and two Bridge beds. Sweet Peet is a combination of composted manure and sawdust/animal bedding, so it is still a risk for artillery fungus from the wood-product component but perhaps not quite as much as a purely wood mulch might be.

  5. Yvonnne
    June 30, 2022 at 7:53 am

    I am a new reader and I wanted to let you know that you can try cedar or cypress mulch. Cedar mulch is quite resistant to artillery fungus with the added bonus that bugs don’t like it either. 🙂 I’ve been using cedar and cypress mulch for years and have never encountered artillery fungus. I garden in central Virginia, zone 7.
    I love your blog and your “voice”. Reading about your challenges and triumphs let’s me know that I am not the only one fighting the Weed War. 🙂

    • July 3, 2022 at 4:46 pm

      That’s an interesting alternative! I can see how cedar would be resistant, because it’s so slow to break down (cedar siding, cedar benches, etc.) I’ve never seen cypress mulch for sale up here, probably because it’s too non-local and the shipping costs are prohibitive; even cedar mulch is only sold bagged, not in bulk. Of course, one has to be okay with the orange-y color of natural cedar mulch compared to the typical dark brown pine bark mulches that everyone uses (especially if the gardener hates orange, which I do with a passion…but I also hate weeds). A local Ace Hardware has a 3-cu-ft bag of Jolly Gardener cedar mulch as a ship-to-store item for $13 but there’s no way that I could transport it in my car; I’m super sensitive to smells and a bag of cedar mulch in the trunk would have me gagging, coughing and sneezing my head off in a matter of moments, LOL. In fact, it might even be a problem on-site; I have to keep windows closed for a couple of days after the neighbors’ lawn crew adds fresh bark mulch every year but at least that (ammonia?) smell goes away.

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