Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Baring My Soul (and Garden)

Now that summer is almost over, I have decided it's time for true confessions. Yes, I finally have gotten the courage to show you my "garden." First, let me say I never meant to mislead anyone: my header states that I am a "beginning gardener," and I have mentioned here and in comments that my "garden" should more accurately be described as a few flowerbeds. Even though I have been encouraged by others to show these flowerbeds before, I have hestitated for two reasons:
  1. I have been waiting for the perfect photo op to show them at their best.
  2. After seeing some of your beautiful and extensive gardens, I am afraid that you will throw down your mouse in disgust and proclaim, " She calls herself a gardener??"
But after much soul-searching and inner debate, I realized that 1) There is no perfect bloom time for a garden. If all your flowers bloomed at the same time, then that would also mean there would be long periods of no blooms at all. And, 2.) I have found all of you to be the kindest, least judgmental people around--no matter what you might think of these flowerbeds, I realized you are not going to throw me out of the "Garden Bloggers Club."

So I sit here feeling as exposed as Jamie Curtis when she posed in her underwear without the benefit of airbrushing for a magazine spread some time ago. But here goes . . .

First, let me show you what I have to work with. This is the view from my small front porch where I enjoy my morning coffee watching the birds--especially the hummingbirds, who love to visit as long as I don't have a camera in hand:)

I am blessed with many lovely trees, but when we moved here four years ago there were just the trees and a few shrubs, not a flower in sight. The first area I planned to tackle was this triangular area along the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the front door. I wish I had "before" pictures to show you, but I don't, so you'll just have to take my word for how much work I had to do to create this flowerbed. You may notice a familiar sight reminiscent of Mr. McGregor's Daughter's "green moustache"--the overgrown yews at the back of this area. I thought I had convinced Husband, aka Mr. Procrastinator, to pull them out the first spring, but he backed down. I'm tempted to take a chainsaw to them myself, if I wasn't afraid of lopping off a few fingers in the process.

But these green monsters were not my first concern. This area was completely covered with landscape rock, so the first order of business was to remove all the rock. I removed many shovelfuls in the fall and then started again in the spring. After removing the top layer of rock, I discovered that underneath was even more rock! I am not exaggerating when I say the rock was at least 6 inches deep. I shoveled, picked, and sifted through the rock and soil until I got down to the clay underneath. As the first of May grew near, I finally broke down and asked my husband for help; he used a loader on a small tractor to scrape up most of the remaining rock--along with some soil and the tulips I had planted the previous fall. Finally, I could prepare this bed for planting--it took 1800 pounds of topsoil to completely cover it!

That first spring I started with a design for part of the flowerbed: Russian sage in the back, the Knockout roses I had been given as a gift the previous summer and transplanted hastily in the rocky soil when we moved, "Autumn Joy" sedum in front of those, and the salvias "May Night" and "East Friesland" in front of the sedum. I put this antique buggy seat which belonged to my mother-in-law and two containers for annuals in the middle of the bed as a focal point--and to fill up some space! I remember planting some daisies and a few other small perennials that lasted only the first season. I added quite a few annuals, but I still had quite a bit of empty space.

In Year Two of the flowerbed the design I had in mind got tossed out, and I planted what I liked regardless of how they fit in--some coneflowers at the back, a baby's breath plant, a threadleaf coreopsis and a nepeta. And more annuals to fill in the empty spaces . . . By the end of that summer, the perennials were thriving and growing beyond their alloted spaces, and I decided I needed to give some of them more room. So on a warm day in early April of Year Three of the "garden," I dug up most of the original perennials except for the Russian sage, and moved them all forward. The next day, we had a hard freeze, and I was sure I killed them all. Fortunately, they survived, although the one Knockout Rose has never been quite the same . . . That summer I added the asters and a new nepeta to replace the first one which mysteriously died.

This brings us to this year--Year Four of the original flowerbed. This year I added three small Monardas, "Petite Delight," which have yet to bloom, but that was all! I have finally achieved one goal--the whole flowerbed is filled with perennials, except for the container plantings and the alyssum bordering the sidewalk, although some of those were the results of self-seeding last year. It does look like a jungle, though, doesn't it? I keep studying it and thinking what I might remove to make it look more orderly. I haven't decided yet, but there is one important lesson I have learned from this experience:

When the tag on a perennial says to allow 24" for spacing between plants . . . .
Pay attention!!

Here's a photo of a lovely Red Admiral to cleanse your palate . . . Think what you will about my haphazard plantings, this flowerbed has been a haven to bees and butterflies alike this summer.

Now let's move on to what I loosely call "the shade garden."

Oh my, this really looks pathetic . . . In taking these photos I learned an elementary lesson in photography: landscape photos don't show true perception. This flowerbed is really much larger than it appears.

I won't bore you with as many details about this area as with the first, but I do want to give just a little background. This was actually the first flowerbed I dug up, one without any rocks, fortunately! I had just planted a small shady flowerbed at our former house the spring before we moved, and I didn't want to give up those plants, especially the new hydrangeas I had bought. So that fall I hastily dug up a small area near a large evergreen at the front of the house and transplanted as many shade plants as I could. Other than adding a few more plants the last few years I did nothing to this area until last fall. At that time, I dug up more soil, expanding the flowerbed to at least twice its previous size. I've added quite a few hostas, heucheras, and other perennials this year, but there still is plenty of space for additional plantings next spring. I did learn my lesson from the main flowerbed and plan to give these perennials some room to grow. This area is definitely still a work in progress, which explains why there is no edging in front of the bed. My husband is debating about removing the evergreen, which was planted too close to the house. So I may expand this flowerbed to the back, or I may continue digging up more grass in front. We'll see . . .

Finally, the third flowerbed, which I usually refer to as the roadside bed. I've shown you most of the plants in this area before. Two years ago I decided I wanted to plant some flowers in front of these burning bushes near the road where everyone could see them. Again, I started out small, though when you're trying to till up a grassy area with a large tiller, it seems much bigger than it really is! I kept this area simple, with daylilies, coneflowers, and the annual salvia "Victoria Blue."

This area had been pasture for many years before it was left as a lawn, so the soil was wonderfully rich black dirt. All the flowers planted here have thrived, but I still wasn't completely satisfied with this bed, because it seemed too small for the visual effect I wanted. So this spring, I expanded it, too, so that it stretched across in front of all the burning bushes.

Next spring I'll put some finishing touches on it and move some of the daylilies, but I doubt that I will expand it too much--I have to leave enough room for Husband, also aka Mr. Mowerman, to get around it without lopping off any blossoms.

That's it for the main flowerbeds, but I do have some other plantings as well. Above is what I sometimes call "the back forty," which, of course, is nowhere near forty acres. It's a circular yard near the farm buildings where the old farmhouse once stood. Here is where I've planted my vegetable garden (not shown here--I have to draw the line at total humiliation somewhere); the apple trees, a lilac bush, and the hollyhocks also are in this area. This is where I plant a passalong plant when I don't know where else to put it; as a result, there are random plantings of irises, daylilies, and an area of plants known to "spread freely."

I also have quite a few container plantings placed all around the house as well this built-in planter on the front porch, where the sweet potato vine "Marguarite" threatens to engulf anything in its way.

So there you have it--it may not be much, but it keeps me busy! And I have lots of room to dream and grow . . .


  1. I think your gardens -- all of them -- are positively delightful! Thanks so much for sharing them with us. Your property is beautiful with all those trees. And I believe your roadside garden is my favorite of all. :)

  2. Well done, photos of borders are difficult to take but your look lovely. What fun you are going to have, lots of land to experiment, most of us run out of room very quickly. The only way to really learn gardening is by actually doing it especially as every plot is different. I am sure you will quickly find it is time to take the "beginning" off you blog.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  3. I think your garden is lovely. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves & only see the flaws. A garden is never finished, it's always a work in progress.

  4. Looks like your doing wonderful. Like perennialgardener said a garden is a continuing work. Keep on planting!!!!

  5. All your gardens are lovely! I love your Russian sage and the colors are great! I also think that the less soil showing, the better:) Thanks for sharing!

  6. I know what you mean about revealing too much. I felt that way at first, not wanting to post pictures of my pitiful gardening attempts, but now I just go for it. You obviously have nothing to be ashamed of. Your flower beds are lovely, and I'm sure your veggies are too--if you could only let us see them! I remember the rich, black soil up your way. We lived in Paxton when I was a kid. My dad was stationed at the Air Force base nearby. The stone on your house reminds of the house we lived in there.

  7. I agree, panoramas of lawns and flower beds never look their best in photos. I almost never take 'whole garden' photos because the back drop is a cornfield, a barn, a silo--not an inspiring background.

    This is just my humble opinion, but there are no best/worst gardens. Everybody plants what they like. Of course most of us would like a team of full time gardeners standing around waiting to pounce on a blade of grass that dares to stray across out neatly defined edging. I hope nobody will hold it against me, but my edging looks awful.

  8. Of course I knew your beds were beautiful having watched them grow. And, I also know the hard work that went into making them what they are today. Your Russian Sage and Coneflowers are still looking so good. Mine are in the brown stage. I should be out there collecting seed to send off this fall to others. Speaking of seeds, did you get any hollyhock seed yet?

    Loved the post! I was thinking it was a good thing you put '(and garden)' in your title. You might have gotten some different kind of comments. :)

  9. The scales have fallen from your eyes - yes there is never a perfect time to take a photo of the garden, except, perhaps in the middle of January when it's all covered with a fresh snow. Thanks for the link love, I suppose, as my green mustache was never one of my better features. So you haven't got your Yews out yet - so what? I've been in my house 15 years & am just getting them out. Your approach is a good one, a little at a time. As you're finding out, things tend to change when you live with them for a while. You've got a good start on that shade bed. Need any Hellebores? Your roadside garden looks so mature already. Have you planted any bulbs in there? Keep up the good work. You're so lucky to have good soil in which your garden can thrive.

  10. I loved this tour of your grounds, Rose, and am so jealous of all your space and the beautiful trees. Everything looks great-you know I've whined endlessly about my garden this year. And we're haveing the great Yew Debate, too. I think right now we're keeping them. Ask me tomorrow, and I may have changed my mind.

  11. Your garden is just beautiful Rose. You have a very artistic flare and seem to have put together some lovely combinations.

    Hows things with you? :)

  12. Oh, yes, you are definitely in the Garden Bloggers Club and now that you've shown us your flower beds, no way is anyone going to kick you out. You are one of us now! No turning back!

    Thanks for the pics and the explanation of your thought process. You've put a lot of work into your flower beds and are seeing some good results from that!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  13. First of all I think your gardens are gorgeous. No one thinks their own gardens are all that great. They all seem to fall just a little short of our expectations. Maybe I should say that my own are that way.

    Secondly you shouldn't call yourself a beginner. You are way ahead of a beginner.

    Thirdly I giggle every time I think that you might show up here in your underware. tee hee...

    I am just envious of all your space. You can just trial and error yourself to the poor house. At least that is what I would do if I had all that space.

  14. First of all, thanks to everyone for your kind and encouraging comments. I really hesitated in showing these pictures, but you've reminded me that everyone's garden is different and that gardening is an ever-changing process.

  15. Nancy, Thanks so much. Yes, I love all these trees, too. I can sit on my porch and look out on the lawn and daydream all day:)

    Sylvia, Thanks for stopping by! I realize I am fortunate to have so much space, which is good because I have a long wish-list of plants I want to plant next year.

    PG, Thanks; you're right about it being a work in progress--I enjoy thinking of new combinations of plants, so I'll probably never "finish" a garden!

    Ilike plants, So do I:) Much of the fun in gardening for me is planning and planting.

    Tina, I read somewhere that the "cottage style" of gardening means to completely cover all soil--well, I've certainly done that! The good part is that I don't have to do much weeding in the main flowerbed--there's no room for weeds:)

    W2W, Thanks, but the vegetable garden is about dried up now. We live about 45 minutes south of Paxton; small world, isn't it? Yes, lots of rich black soil here.

  16. Marnie, I chuckled at your comment about backgrounds--I have trouble taking photos of some plantings without having a shed or a cornfield in the background, too. Thanks for your encouragement!

    Beckie, Thanks; of course you have seen the "real thing." As for the coneflowers, most of them are drying up, but a few late seedlings are still blooming. And as you know, the goldfinches love them. No, I haven't collected hollyhock seed yet--I must find out how to do that.

    MMD, Thanks for your comments--you've made me feel so much better, especially about those yews. I have done almost everything in the garden myself, including spading up new areas, but the yews are definitely too much for me to tackle. Maybe one of these days...
    I don't have any hellebores yet, but I put them on my wish list this spring! I have tulips and daffodils in the roadside garden, but more have been ordered:)

    Joyce, Thanks; I feel as though I've been whining too much, too:) I wouldn't mind the yews if they weren't so darned big!

    Suburbia, Thanks, but I have no artistic talent--just ask my 7th grade art teacher:) The garden is like a blank canvas to me where I can try to create some beauty.
    Life has been very busy lately, but sometimes that's good. Still trying to plan that weekend getaway:)

    Carol, Thanks so much! I still have sooo much to learn, but trial and error is a good teacher:)

    Lisa, I have been known to wander around the garden in my pj's and ratty robe, but that's as far as it goes:)
    I like that phrase "trial and error all the way to the poorhouse"--that's why I keep substitute teaching!:)

  17. Rose, you're much too hard on yourself, and your gardens! Your beds are really lovely.

    I have mustaches here too. I loathe them. I'm still working on DH trying to convince him they've got to go!

  18. Oh Rose - you have beautiful gardens. And a lot of work and love went into each one.
    Thank you for such an interesting and informative tour. I loved it!
    Oh, I know - it's so hard to photograph our gardens just the way we want them. But, no matter, it's fun to share... even if the pics don't turn out exactly the way we want them.

  19. Hi Rose - I'm new to here - found it on Mr. McGregor's Daughter blog. I enjoyed looking at your guardens and how you chronicled everything you did from year to year. Like I explain to my husband, gardening is never done! Each year I want to change or improve. Loved the "green moutache" comment on the yews!

  20. Rose - Those gardens are just beautiful and show the hard work that have gone into them. You can certainly be proud!

  21. I'm glad you came out of the garden long enough to show us your splendid work, Rose. You've been a busy bee and did a great job.

  22. ork on your flowerbeds and they are lovely.....We have similar husbands it seems(Mr. mowerman and mr. procrastinator!!) We have an acre that I try hard to keep up with. Hubby plants what I want and then I weed and so far this year the weeds are winning......sigh. Nthing as nice as yours except I have tried some prairie plants on the south side of the house and considering how hostle that side is...they are doing pretty well. I give you lots of credit for showing your gardens.They are beautiful....but mine would be totally humiliating to me this year! Even the vegetable garden did not thrive this year and I thought the weather was pretty good for it this year. Shows you how much I don't know!Thanks for the visit...I love your flowers.

  23. Linda, Thanks. Gardening is my area, but when it comes to something that involves my husband, I often have to wait for awhile to get things done.

    Wendy, Thanks--yes, a lot of work into what I have. And I can take some pride in knowing I did it all myself.

    Beth, The "green moustache" description was from MMD--I have to give her credit:) Gardening is certainly one project that is never finished, but then it wouldn't be as interesting if it was. Thanks for stopping by; I hope you come back to visit again.

  24. Cindy, Thanks! Gardening is a little like raising children--it's an ongoing process and they don't always turn out the way you expected, but you're proud of them nevertheless!

    Carolyn, Thanks for the comments. Now that I'm retired, I have a lot more time for the garden.

    Neva, A prairie planting sounds so interesting! I've become more and more appreciative of prairie plants. My vegetable garden was a real disappointment this summer, too--which is why I didn't show it!

  25. I LOVE your garden. It is lovely. Mine would fit into yours many times over & mine is like a jungle & yours is so neat & tidy & puts me to shame.

  26. Rose, I clearly remember commenting here but I am a woman of a certain age and probably forgot to fill out the word verification! You've written a wonderful post and your gardens are delightful and indeed beautiful! I especially the love the antique buggy seat garden area. You have great design sensibilities that doesn't seem like a beginning gardener to me. You are good.

    We all hesitate to show 'ourselves'...when Frances came to visit, I instructed her to ignore certain parts of the garden! Those parts I didn't want anyone to see! She was a great sport about it!


  27. Maggie May, Thanks so much. I have been remiss in visiting you lately; things seem to keep "piling up" here. I hope everything is going well with you.

    Gail, Oh, I do understand!:) You were one who encouraged me one day to "show it all," but it's taken me awhile to get brave enough. Thanks for the motivation and for your comments--I guess our gardens are never quite perfect.

  28. Keep planning! He'll cave in eventually:)

    Have the hurricanes affected you at all? (My geography's not great!)

  29. Rose, how could you possibly be ashamed of your garden? It is lovely! Even if it weren't, the GBBD appears to be more about sharing a common passion than competing. That's what I like about it.

    I can understand the feeling of shyness as I haven't posted photos of my yard mainly because it isn't a garden, more of a mini forest/meadow overtaken by weeds while I lived abroad for a year, sigh.

    I enjoy admiring other people's gardens like yours but spend my time writing and painting. The protagonist of my novel S.A.D. is a gardener - that's the fun of fiction.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your garden.

  30. wow the shot of your yard from where you take your coffee is beautiful. the rest of your gardens are lovely, too. thanks for sharing from your heart.

  31. Told you I was behind, Rose--I just found this posting, and I loved it. Your gardens are gorgeous--that carriage seat is wonderful. So, those photographers who take pictures of borders for landscaping magazines manage to get their focus and perspective right--but I certainly haven't been able to--do you think it's their lenses? Thanks for baring!

  32. Rose, don't you ever put yourself down ever again! You ARE a gardener and a darn good one, at that! Everything looks absolutely lovely and I can tell you had (mostly) fun doing it, which is what gardening is all about. I'm so glad you decided to finally share these photos and the stories behind them!

  33. Pam/Digging says:

    Hi, Rose. This is my first visit here, I think, and I don't know why it took me so long to find you. I just read your comment on Carol's post and thought I'd pop over to say hi. Your gardens are lovely. You have so much space in which to garden, and I like both the intimate and the sweeping areas you've planted. I look forward to seeing more.

    P.S. If you'll enable anonymous or "other" comments, it'll make it easier for non-Blogger folks like myself to comment. Cheers, Pam


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