The days are getting noticeably longer, so I am reasonably optimistic about the prospect of spring weather arriving sometime soon. So optimistic that I believe that there may actually be a morning within the next couple of weeks when the weatherman does not predict "chance of rain mixed with snow, possibly heavy by nightfall." When the season finally turns, I plan to be ready. I am getting my garden house in order.
This is the time for planning. I walk around the garden, inspecting the tips of emerging plants. I browse once more through the catalogs. Once again this year I plan to create new borders and make my existing ones even more lush and full. I don’t expect my bank account to be lush and full at the end of this process, but I would like to have two or three cents left. Therefore, before I buy, I must think about those emerging plants and how I can divide them to fill my beds economically.
At the top of my "to do" list is converting the "Hell strip" between the front sidewalk and the street into something more attractive. I undertook a similar project just before I left my former house; now I am determined to have the Hell strip of my dreams.
At the moment the current strip looks forlorn, scarred on one end by the tire tracks of some large truck that skidded over it during the winter. In time, the existing scraggly grass will begin growing again, but it will not be anything to write home about. The whole strip is a good candidate for low maintenance ground covers, and this year is the year to do it.
The area is partly shaded by a young maple tree that grows about two thirds of the way down the south end. The north end is sunny, but any ground cover that I put there has to survive having bulk pickup material (trash bags, cardboard boxes and bundles of pruned branches) plopped on it periodically. Ivy would do the job with its usual efficiency, but I want something more interesting and less rapacious.
In one shady corner of the backyard there are several large clumps of hostas. I have been urging these along and dividing them faithfully for the past two years. This year when I make divisions, I will put some of them in around the tree in the Hell strip. Since there are several different cultivars, the end result will contain a mixture of leaf colors and sizes. With sufficient water and soil amendment, the area under the tree should eventually look like the hosta-covered border depicted in the White Flower Farm catalog.
For the extreme south end of the strip, near my neighbors’ driveway, I need something that will flourish in partial shade. The answer here is lamiastrum, which is growing in my "secret garden" on the south side of the house. Lamiastrum, also known as Yellow Archangel, is a spreading groundcover with attractively marked leaves. When it flowers in the spring, the 4-inch stalks bear blossoms that will remind you of miniature snapdragons. Lamiastrum is, to quote the catalogs, "vigorous". This might be a problem if I did not have a significant amount of ground to cover, and if the area to be covered was not bounded on three sides by concrete or asphalt.
The sunny end of the strip already has one thing going for it—pink Oenothera or evening primrose. These rosy, cup-shaped flowers appear every spring, having increased over the previous year. They are so attractive that neighbors continually ask for clumps of them. The Oenothera will stay right where it is, and in time increase dramatically. To match it I will install some pink-flowering hardy geraniums. I already have some big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) elsewhere, and it’s a cinch to divide with your bare hands or a smallish knife. The plants blossom several times over the course of a summer, seem relatively impervious to water deprivation, have lovely incised leaves, spread at a healthy but not aggressive pace, and sport foliage that colors to a nice russet shade in the fall. I could compliment the geraniums with some divisions of the ‘Johnson’s Blue’ hardy geraniums that I have in one of the back beds, but I am not sure about the purple/pink combination. It might be offensive to the more aesthetically inclined of my neighbors. If I can’t use ‘Johnson’s Blue’, I may actually break down and buy one or two plants of Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’. This species has leaves that are smaller than those of big-root geranium, and dainty pale pink flowers on tallish (4-inch) stems. I can probably get two for well under $10.00, which does not seem like an excessive amount considering that the rest of the Hell strip project will be absolutely cost free.
As I make divisions for the Hell strip, I will also divide lilies for the problem area by my driveway, coreopsis for the front beds and artemisia for all of those overlooked spots where I have forgotten to install other plants. With all the money that I am saving, I will be able to splurge on the mockorange shrub that I have been coveting for two years. By dividing I can conquer the limitations of my plant budget.
CHANGE IN THE GARDEN