Common sense would dictate that I do not need any more garden beds to care for. This does not stop me, addict that I am, from having an insatiable desire to create new planting schemes. In fact, my affliction is so bad that I sometimes look covetously at my neighbor’s more generous acreage and dream of what I could do with it. Since I haven’t even the slightest amount of self control when it comes to garden expansion, I feel fortunate that I have at least acquired some knowledge that will allow me to figure out the easiest ways of doing it.
The space that I have in mind for my newest bed is a 55’ stretch along the fence that bounds my backyard on the southern side. I am going to make the plot four feet wide, which will allow for convenient maintenance. There are several challenges involved. At the moment, the ground has nothing on it but an assortment of weeds that seem to be surviving on borrowed time in compacted soil. The western end of the bed gets a fair amount of sun, but the eastern end is thoroughly shaded by old deciduous trees. There is a large groundhog hole going under the fence at the midpoint of the space, and I have seen the maker of that hole on his nightly perambulations through the yard. Since he invariably follows a diagonal path to another hole that goes under the property’s rear fence, I am hoping that he will not notice the garden that I am building around him. However, I will lay in a supply of Ro-Pel just in case he makes other assumptions.
Some gardeners start with ideas about texture or specific plant forms, but I always start with color. Last summer, on a walk through a portion of the New York Botanical Garden I saw an inspiring color scheme—bright blue mophead hydrangea bushes juxtaposed with clumps of common tawny daylilies. The orange and the blue were wonderful foils for each other, and I decided right then and there that I would include the combination in my own garden. Since I love yellow everywhere, there will be some yellow touches in my new bed. To conserve time and energy I will use shrubs to fill some of the space, and tough perennials for as much of the rest as possible.
Taking advantage of a “three for one” sale back in January, I ordered three blue hydrangeas for a ridiculously low price. Eventually (in about five to ten years) each will be about six feet wide; together they will cover about 30% of the allotted space for the bed. In May, when we open up our summer cottage, I will dig up three well-established clumps of tawny daylilies from the thousands that grow wild on our property. The good thing about established clumps dug in May, is that if all goes well, they will transplant successfully and bloom beautifully in June. Even better, if they are happy they will spread, making future bed
Ferns love shade and a well-mulched bed, so I will purchase several ostrich ferns (Matteuccia) to plant in between the hydrangeas.The ferns will eventually attain a height of 3-5’,
providing a nice green background for my border.
If I try, I can find lots of cheap spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana), which has deep bluish-purple flowers and loves shade. Being a tough, hardy native plant, the spiderwort will also be
undemanding. For low-growing, easy groundcover plants, I will probably invest in some violets and lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria). Undoubtedly I will also use a few hostas in the shadiest part of the new bed. They are so common now as to be a cliché, but they are awfully useful.
I am purposely limiting my use of annuals in this new plot, to spare myself work. There are already plenty of them in other parts of the garden, so no one can say that I don’t appreciate their unique charms. I will, however, use pots of tuberous begonias to fill in the gaps between the immature perennials. I have already been to my friendly garden center and purchased tubers that will eventually produce blossoms in shades of yellow, orange and white. Each tuber is now residing in a well-lighted windowsill, in its own little pot. I look for signs of sprouting every day. By the time it warms up, I should have some well-established plants to put in big terra cotta pots. If things look skimpy once the growing season gets going, I may also invest in a flat of those new yellow hybrid impatiens—this year only.
So there you have it. Once I have spent a few hours planting and mulching my new bed, all it should require in the first season is some supplemental water to help get things established. I can do that and still have time to figure out my next expansion scheme.
by E. Ginsburg