TGGR Progress Report, Spring/Summer 2022

My face is scarlet with shame that I have not written a garden post for almost seven (!!) months, and there really are no excuses that wouldn’t sound horribly lame (despite being true.) I am terribly behind on both of my sites, to be honest. So, I will sit in a hypothetical corner and promise to do much better about writing garden posts from now on. Anyway, here’s a rundown on what has and hasn’t happened with The Great Garden Renovation (TGGR).

Winter (January-March 2022)

There are no photos in this section because there was literally nothing to take pictures of. At least, nothing remotely interesting. In the autumn of 2019, I ordered 20 snowdrops from Brent & Becky’s and put them in a small north-facing bed. As of this year (2022) I still had just 20 snowdrops come up. I would have had a very nice group of winter aconite in early March, under the magnolia…if that entire area hadn’t had to be torn out in February due to Round Three of House versus Water.

Timing is Everything?

I had high hopes for two Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ that I planted in two very different locations last October. One of them went into the theoretically ideal location for this shrub: on the east facing side of the house, and sheltered from the southwesterly winter wind that is supposed to be such a problem for these. In this location, I would be able to smell the wonderfully fragrant winter flowers as I walk to/from my house/car. The other one went into the Bridge Bed West, in the backyard, in full sun for 90% of the day all year long, exposed to whatever winds decide to blow, in worse soil than the east facing bed, and about 100’ away from the house (thus not conveniently sniff-able.) The one in the “ideal location” did not survive the winter. It tried, but it died sometime between February and March. The other one not only survived, but in January I discovered five clusters of silky buds. This was exciting. I am going to have winter flowers!!
So at least once a week I trudged out to see the progress of the buds. No flowers opened in February. No flowers opened in March either.
On April 25th, the first cluster of buds finally deigned to open. Now, I am sure that the 25th of April must be considered still “winter” somewhere on this lovely planet. Maybe… Greenland? or the North Pole?? Perhaps, but late April is definitely considered ‘Spring’ here in Zone 7.  Better late than never, I guess! I do wonder if it will ever bloom in the winter as it is supposed to.

Mysterious Disappearances

In April I discovered that both of the groups of Allium caesium which I planted in the autumn of 2020 and had put up lovely true-grey-blue drumstick flowerheads in April 2021, were nowhere to be found. Gone. All 20 of them (10 + 10). These are alliums, for heaven’s sake! Aren’t they supposed to be indestructible as well as unpalatable to all pests?

Worse yet, the miniature narcissus ‘Xit’ which were adjacent to the departed alliums were MIA as well!  This is possibly the most adorably perfect tiny white daffodil in existence (IMHO) and there was no reason why they should have disappeared after only a single appearance last spring. But then again, the alliums shouldn’t have disappeared either. Depressing.

There are other plant-obituaries but I’m saving them for my end of year Money Pit Garden Awards post. Let’s see what did survive:

These are the Bridge Beds (East and West) on January 2nd. The two young Japanese maples (‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’ and ‘Ikandi’), the Edgeworthia, and the dwarf prunus ‘Kojo-No-Mai’ have been caged against rabbits ever since they were planted.
On May 27th, I decided to live dangerously and removed all rabbit cages except for the one around the surviving Edgeworthia. My theory is that with so many other things for Abigail (and now another visitor, whom I’ve named Beecher; others of my generation will remember the Freddy Cannon song of that combined name) to munch on during the growing season, they will probably leave my ‘good’ plants alone. The cages will be placed around many things during the colder months, however!

The Jewel-Box Bed on May 16th. I experimented with putting down a mulch of Sweet Peet® here. It was expensive – almost $20 per 2-cubic-foot bag, and I needed five of them – and did nothing to deter weeds. I won’t buy it again. The blue Aquilegia ‘Melba Higgins’ is the first thing to flower in this bed. The screaming magenta hardy geranium ‘Ann Folkard’, red peony ‘Hot Chocolate’, dark blue clematis ‘Rhapsody’ (on the obelisk), and ginormous yellow daylily ‘Entropic State’ are waiting in the wings. The dark purple dwarf Siberian iris ‘Darkness Comes’ are still deciding whether they want to live or die, so I knew those wouldn’t bloom this year.

In mid-May I faced the fact that I had a Serious Weed Problem in almost all (okay, all) of the planting beds. The awful clay soil, especially in the Bridge and Silverbell beds, didn’t deter the weeds one bit.
This was part of the Dwarf Conifer Bed in late spring. It’s a good example of what all the beds looked like by mid to late May. The purple circles are young plants of Geranium x himalayense ‘Derrick Cook’, in danger of being overrun. I needed to weed and then put down some kind of mulch or topdressing ASAP.

The owner of the company that does the weekly lawn cuts swore up and down that he had a perfect solution that he gets locally and sells in bulk. I reminded him that I will NOT use a wood mulch because of the nightmare artillery fungus. He said “this is not mulch, it’s such a finely screened compost that we use it to top-dress lawns.” Okey-dokey, I will try 2 yards of it. Cost $100 including delivery, but not installation because I had to weed the beds first and at my pace, that takes multiple days per bed.

Two yards of anything takes a long time for one person with a wonky back to move. I do not own a wheelbarrow because I have never been able to maneuver a one-wheeled vehicle. So, stuff gets shoveled into my garden cart, then shoveled out. What you see in the photo is the maximum amount/weight that I can manage to push.
Bridge Bed West (in the background) done, Bridge Bed East in progress. You can see the difference between the color of the beds’ crappy clay soil, and the “compost” …which, I was not entirely pleased to see, had a very large proportion of extremely finely shredded bark mulch. (There is no way that the lawn guy was actually “topdressing lawns” with this stuff.)  But these three beds are at least 50 feet away from the house; I wouldn’t put it any closer because artillery fungus behaves exactly as its name implies and has, on average, a 40-foot range.

The Dwarf Conifer and Bridge beds on June 8th, after being weeded and top-dressed.

The Silverbell Bed (named for the Halesia carolina ‘UConn Wedding Bells’ which is on the right, and absolutely glorious when in bloom) on May 27th. The bearded iris were moved here last fall when I had to clear out Patio Bed #3. In front are a dozen Geranium x himalayense ‘Irish Blue’ (which is actually more like mauve), and on the silverbell end are some ‘Heavenly United We Stand’ daylilies. Almost invisible in the center of the bed is a very young Corylopsis ‘Winterthur’ which hopefully will fulfill my desire for a true (I’m looking at you, Edgeworthia) winter-blooming shrub that isn’t a witch hazel (because I already have ‘Arnold Promise’ in another bed.)

The color scheme for the Stone Bench Bed is yellow and blue. Yellow from Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’, daylily ‘Late Summer Breeze’, and Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ which has not begun as of this July 3rd photo. Blue from Aquilegia ‘Melba Higgins’ (now over) and another Clematis ‘Rhapsody’ which was just planted and hasn’t done anything yet. As I was taking this photo, something odd struck me about the top of the obelisk’s finial, so I zoomed in with the camera for a look.
Google says that this dragonfly is a Painted Skimmer, Libellula semifasciata. They are migratory and the first dragonflies/damselflies to arrive in our area. Skimmers are colloquially called ‘percher’ dragonflies because they like to perch on twigs and then fly out to ‘hawk’ small insects. This particular Painted Skimmer clearly has a talent for camouflage, because the color of the rusting obelisk exactly matches its body! This could also be a male who is perching while waiting hopefully for a female to pass by.

This is the curbside (East) end of the Driveway Bed as of last week – and no, the new driveway has not yet been done. The latest update is “probably September. Or maybe October.” *sigh* This bed is loaded with stones and rocks for several feet down; more on this particular garden challenge in its own post someday.  For now, there are hostas (planted by previous owner), bearded iris ‘Treasured’ (temporary placeholders, moved from Patio Bed #3), daylily ‘Clarity of Purpose’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, a very young Ginkgo ‘Potter Pete’ (blue arrow), a young but ambitious Lonicera fragrantissima (purple arrow), and a ridiculously small but even more ridiculously expensive Cedrus atlantica ‘Cheltenham’ (red arrow) which I fervently hope survives.

The Mailbox Bed on May 18th. The deliberately-dead grass defines where new edging will go. I have been waiting for that to be done since… hmmm… March 25th was when I asked for a price estimate. The first response (in early May) was $745 to install 42 feet of aluminum edging (and not including removal of the dead grass.) I reminded them that I already have 30 feet of said edging on hand and ready to install, so they need only supply another 12 feet. Am still waiting for a revised estimate as of today, July 9th. Would be nice to get that done this year, as it’s the only remaining not-edged planting bed. After the driveway is done, the shape will be roughly where the yellow line is. Then I can start to plant here in earnest.

I should explain the piles and bags of yard waste in this photo. Unlike all of the other townships that I’ve lived in, this one does not have a weekly yard-waste collection. They pick it up approximately every 14-21 days but there is no set schedule. On the day I took this photo, they had not done a pickup for five weeks. It is…. let’s just say “annoying”, lest I go into a rant.

This is a new project/bed/area that I began last autumn after having the outer part edged and killing the grass/weeds. There is a photo of how it originally looked, in my end of 2021 update. I dubbed this bed the Woodland Walk before realizing that it gets far more sun than I thought – so it may well get re-named. This photo was taken on March 20th shortly after I moved the stepping stones here, from their original locations in the backyard.
From a similar angle, on May 16th. Almost everything you see here (evergreen azaleas, conifers, Japanese maple, Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki, and the cotinus) came with the house. I added a row of Abelia ‘Rose Creek’ across the front, a Kalmia ‘Peppermint’ between the willow and the slightly-rearranged stepping stones, and some groundcover plants in the curb section: Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, and Iris cristata ‘Dash It All.’ I figure that they can fight it out between themselves for dominance, after they start to fill in.

This side of the bed is in full sun from noon onward. Also, the former-grass area turns out to be barely dig-able because of the various root systems (cotinus, willow, Japanese maple, conifers). The huge white pine in the back left-hand corner is on my neighbor’s property, although the rhododendrons are on my side of the chain-link fence. I have plans to add the blue-foliaged fern-leaf Dicentra ‘Pink Diamonds’ around the cotinus, and some lavender/dusty rose ‘Jedi Blue Note’ daylilies near the mountain laurel… if I am able to dig. If not, I may have to settle for – yikes! – ajuga.  And speaking of Cotinus,

I should never have cut back the large cotinus in the other bed, because ever since I did (a year and a half ago), it has turned into some form of, well, Unexpected. Last year it was a pancake, followed by a large blob. This year it produced a bunch of tall whippy bare branches with pompoms of foliage only at the tops… just like the tail on a French Poodle. Especially when there was a stiff breeze and those poodle tails, err, branches waved around frantically. I kept telling myself “It’s rather like having a living kinetic sculpture” in an attempt to make it seem less ridiculous. I did ultimately cut those branches off after the ‘smoke’ was done, because naked waving tails with pompoms on top just isn’t my style!

I’ll end this post with one Frustration and one Pleasant Surprise. The frustration is the strip of the backyard where the underground dam was installed in February.
This is a photo from my post about that project, after all was done. I made some naive comment about only needing some grass seed…
And this is how it looks this week. It looks this way because the area immediately above the dam itself sunk a bit in March and Eddie’s crew came by with some soil to fill it again. Unbeknownst to me, what they brought was not topsoil; it is probably subsoil from whatever job they had been working on. Realizing that grass seed would never establish on that, I asked my lawn/landscape guy how much it would be to skim off the top layer and take it away, then put down an inch or so of topsoil for seeding. Three weeks later he came back with an estimate of $950. I said, Sorry, not gonna happen. I’m trying to work out an affordable solution but in the meanwhile it looks like this.

As this photo shows, the entire backyard is also being suddenly overrun by clover this year (as well as the other resident weeds). It’s not just in this area, but almost everywhere. I’m not sure how I feel about the clover invasion, to be honest. Yes, it stays green all year and is great for pollinators (and certainly keeps the local rabbits happy and perhaps out of my planting beds) but it is very hard to spot poison ivy seedlings within a carpet of clover – and doing Poison Ivy Patrol is critical.  And then of course there is the Japanese stiltgrass which is giving the clover a run for its money. So this situation is frustrating every time I look at it – and it’s the only entrance into the backyard from the front, which means I look at it a lot.

The Pleasant Surprise

Sometimes an idea turns out better than you thought it might, especially if you didn’t have A Plan to begin with.
This is what the Clover Trunk Bed looked like in November 2018, after the triple-trunk oak in the center was cut down. A hot mess of unwanted plants and poison ivy.
It got cleaned up during the spring/summer of 2019. (Yes, that’s crabgrass. Because this was taken in August.)
In the fall of 2020, it got some edging and some Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ on the south side, between the oak roots. I had a very vague idea of maybe giving this bed a pink-and-white color scheme because the shed behind it is dark chocolate brown and white. The north side of the bed had fewer roots but some truly awful orange clay soil. This photo was taken in early December 2020.
In the Spring of 2021 a few more things went in: Cornus sanguinea ‘Compressa’, Porteranthus trifoliata ‘Pink Profusion’ (foreground), a pink-flowered dwarf crape myrtle, the shrubby clematis ‘Mongolian Snowflakes’ inside the rabbit cage, and two Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’ which ended up with aster yellows in late summer and were pulled out.
In late 2022 I had the edging expanded because the Mownions (mowing minions) would always drive through the space between the round bed edging and the conifer, which of course was too narrow for a riding mower and thus they rode directly over the north side of the bed itself.  So I made this into a long bed instead of a round one, to block any Mownion shortcuts. This photo was taken last week. The border bearded iris ‘Pink Kitten’ are to the left of the pink-flowered Porteranthus. The hardy geranium has pale pink flowers which by now are over. The clump to the left of the iris had to be pulled up in order to remove a poison ivy plant that was smack in the middle of it, so I replanted the divisions so as to fill the space between the columnar Cornus and the extremely large conifer (this is the same conifer that is directly behind the bridge in the first two photos.) The infected Echinacea were replaced by the white Phlox ‘David’ which should bloom fairly soon. The crape myrtle got so badly mildewed that I pulled it (and some others as well) out and replaced it with Deutzia ‘Nikko Blush’ which is still fairly small as yet. The ‘Mongolian Snowflake’ clematis got moved elsewhere, in favor of a ‘Midnight Masquerade’ which has larger and more numerous white flowers (and nice dark foliage to boot.) In the spring there are some Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ behind the iris fans (which I cut back by half in the autumn.) Next year I may put a large black container in the center of the stump and fill it with some summer-blooming tender stuff in – what else? – pink and white. The pleasant surprise for me is that my vague idea from two years ago actually ended up working out!

(There will be more frequent garden posts from now on, I promise; No more seven-month gaps! 😊 )

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