Looking Forward

Polemonium Veronicastrum Erica Baptisia Screaming Yellow May 23 10

This has been the best gardening spring ever in my world. Sure, we’ve had some weird weather – a hot week in early April, and a late freeze in mid-May– but overall, it’s been perfect working weather. And that’s a very good thing, because I mostly neglected my own garden while caring for another over the past two years, and I had a whole lot of work to do here.

I’ve always liked the idea of comparing gardening to editing: you take something that already exists, trim out what isn’t necessary, add whatever’s needed to complete the theme, and make sure it all works together. This spring, though, I’ve been doing some major rewriting in the garden, cutting out whole chunks, adding a bunch of new characters, and completely changing some chapters. For the last few years, I’ve had a pretty good idea of how the story would go. But this year, I expect a lot of surprises, and I’m really looking forward to finding out how it’s all going to turn out.

In the front garden, I always leave most of the foundation border open for a new planting of annuals and tender perennials each spring. Here’s what it looked like last fall:

Front path mid Oct 09

I had planned a red-and-burgundy theme this year, but finding some Senecio confusus on one of my spring shopping trips completely changed my plan. I’ve longed for this vine for probably a decade, after seeing its bright orange daisies mingling with the magenta pods of hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab). So I decided to replicate that combination along the back, with more orange and red, and purple flowers and chartreuse and burgundy foliage. I had so many cool plants to fit in that I ended up removing most of the few remaining perennials and shrubs to get more space.

Front path March 23 10

Front border May 17 10 before planting

Front path May 17 10 in progress

Front path May 28 10 post planting

If this border works out as I hope, it’s going to be amazing. It’s already come a long way.

The middle borders are pretty much the usual color scheme: red, orange, and yellow flowers mingling with dark and golden foliage. Here’s how they looked last fall:

Front garden middle border October 9 10

The big changes here are a personal triumph: I finally removed the last of the barberries (‘Helmond’s Pillar, ‘Superba’, ‘Crimson Pygmy’, and ‘Aurea’). Things look much tidier now:

Front garden middle borders May 7 10

Best of all, no more guilt about growing that particular invasive exotic, and no more of the wicked thorns to deal with, either. And I was rewarded for my virtue: I managed to score a great find, in the form of Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess’.

Pennisetum Jade Princess May 27 10

It will have dark flower spikes, but the foliage is supposed to stay chartreusey green all season. It’s so new that I figured I didn’t have a hope of getting any for several years. I can’t wait to see if it’s really as good as it sounds.

The outermost borders will also be pretty much the same colors this year: chartreuse, orange, blue, and whatever color you call the flowers of Knock Out roses (red/fuchsia/hot pink). For now, there’s not much to see, but they’re about ready to pop with color.

Knock Out borders March 23 10

Knock Out borders May 7 10

I managed to work in lots of veggies and herbs, and some cool weeds too, including purple-leaved plantain (Plantago major ‘Atropurpurea’) and purple-leaved dandelion (Taraxacum rubrifolium).

Taraxacum rubrifolium May 27 10

Ok, it doesn’t look like much now, but I think it’ll be pretty neat once it fills out. Maybe.

The side garden is where I did the most extensive changes. In the purple, pink, and yellow bed, I cut down the golden locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’).

Side garden May 7 10

Side garden May 22 10

It was pretty, but it was starting to send up a number of pesky suckers in the paths.

Robinia suckers May 28 10

I miss the color and height a little, but I’m happy that removing it allowed me to replace it with a Disanthus cercidifolius, which is supposed to be spectacular for fall color.

Disanthus cercidifolius May 28 10

I’m kind of worried that it won’t be happy in this full-sun spot, but I thought it was worth a try.

There’s something hinky going on in the hydrangea border. Four of the eight Hydrangea arborescens subsp. radiata clumps are drastically stunted this year: barely 1 foot high while those at the far end of the row are nearly 3 feet.

Hydrangea border May 9 10

Oh well. That leaves some open space, so I decided it would be a good place to tuck in some poofy ‘Double Click’ cosmos, which I couldn’t find a place for elsewhere. I’m hoping they’ll add some bulk, at least, so the border doesn’t look too sparse.

The silver willow (Salix alba var. sericea) put on way more growth than I’d expected in the past few years, so my original plan of cutting back hard didn’t seem like a good option anymore. Here’s what it looked like last June. (Note the poor Persicaria polymorpha getting squashed.)

Salix alba var. sericea June 13 09

This spring, I decided to limb it up.

Salix alba var. sericea April 21 10

I also had to completely remove a large eglantine rose (Rosa rubiginosa) that was seriously infected with rose rosette disease, which left a large open space in the same area. So, I ended up taking almost everything out of the bed around it, creating a nursery bed for shady stuff behind it, and then replanting in front of it.

Side garden April 21 10

Side garden May 28 10

The color scheme is now silver, white, and blue, the plants are spaced much better, and the whole thing should look much fresher this season. So far, so good. Above is the bed on April 21 and then May 28.

Some of the biggest changes have happened back in the orchard area. The grass was so nice in here early in the spring that I let the boys graze it down for a few weeks, whenever I was working close enough to keep an eye on them.

Daniel and Duncan in orchard April 21 10

Unfortunately, I wasn’t watching closely enough at one point, and I quickly learned that alpacas love asparagus. They lost their grazing privileges in here after that. It was about the time that Mom finished putting together seven new raised bed frames, anyway; then it was my turn to go to work.

Orchard beds May 11 10

Orchard beds finished May 11 10

I now have 12 raised beds for veggie growing, which gives me plenty of space for all kinds of fun crops, including chocolate sweet corn and ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ squash, along with more practical stuff like beans, beets, lettuce, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes: I was researching tomato types for a writing assignment earlier this spring and ran across a number of eccentric varieties with foliage interest, and I just had to try them.

Tomato 'Variegata' May 29 10

So along with cream-splashed ‘Variegata’

Tomato 'Silvery Fir Tree'

…and lacy, gray-green ‘Silvery Fir Tree’

Tomato 'Livingston's Honor Bright' May 27 10

…I started ‘Livingston’s Honor Bright’ and ‘Lutescent Long Red’, both of which have green leaves that turn yellow as they age, and white flowers that turn into green, white, yellow, orange, and then red fruits. That sounds pretty cool, but for now, the plants just look nutrient deficient. A more promising variety is the “pale leaf strain” of the heirloom ‘Mortgage Lifter’.

Tomatoo 'Mortgage Lifter' (pale leaf strain) April 15 10

The seedlings have been distinctly chartreuse since they germinated…

Tomato 'Mortgage Lifter' (pale leaf strain) May 10 10

…and I hope that they stay that way through the season. (Above, you can see its large yellowish leaflets against the darker green of a regular tomato.)

Behind the house, the area that used to be a vegetable-growing and seedling-holding area is soon going to be a cutting garden.

Cutting-garden-to-be May 28 10

It’s still  a mess, but I’m working on harvesting the remaining veg and finding new homes for the plants in the holding beds, and it should be all spiffed up in the next week or so.

Last, the most exciting addition: a greenhouse! I’ve longed for one since I moved away from my last garden, and I finally found one on sale that looked promising – on the web site, at least.

Greenhouse pieces April 16 10

What arrived looked less promising.

The process of putting it together was such a nightmare that I can’t even bear to relive it (short version: five random pages missing from 30+ pages of construction diagrams, no written directions, bent pieces, etc.).

Mom in greenhouse April 20 10

It’s a miracle that Mom is still speaking to me after this fiasco.

Greenhouse April 21 10

But the horror faded quickly once the construction process was done.

Seedlings in greenhouse April 21 10

I cobbled together some benches and packed them with plants right away.

I was able to move all of the seedlings out to the garden last week, so I took out all of the benches, prepared the ground for planting, and set in a bunch of tomatoes, peppers, and basil.

Greenhouse May 27 10

I don’t know how they’ll turn out, but I’m hoping that the experiment will be a success, in the form of an early tomato harvest, at least. In the meantime, I’ve found a new friend who likes hanging out in the greenhouse as much as I do.

Ssssimon May 29 10

So, that’s the late-spring status report from here at Hayefield. I have a few small areas still to set to rights, and the paths to weed and mulch; then I’ll have no excuse to not make some serious progress on my next book. And while I’m doing that, I’ll have the fun of finding out how the newest version of my garden’s story progresses as the seasons go by.

17 responses to this post.

  1. Nan,
    What a wonderful story of how thing looked; what you changed; and your goals.

    The work you did makes my back ache! I did a rework on a much smaller scale, still I dug out and moved complete sections of my young garden. I can imagine everything it takes.

    I covet your greenhouse and I’ve heard similar construction nightmare stories.

    Seeing your photo of the persicaria polymorpha really got me excited! I’ve added it to my garden this year to fill in a big hole.

    As for your new greenhouse friend–at least they eat mice, voles and rabbits.

    Cameron

    The persicaria is a great choice to fill a BIG hole, Cameron. Seeing it get squashed by the willow was a surprise: usually it is the squasher, not the squashee. Fortunately, it tolerates pruning, but it’s far better to allow plenty of room; I have 6-year-old plants that easily fill a space 8 feet across.
    -Nan

  2. What a good Sunday read. I’m feeling invigorated by your sweeping changes! The Senecio confusus might have worked here in zone 10 as a cutback vine but I tried it only one season–what vigor! So this year I’ve got dolichos but not S. confusus. Can’t wait to see how it works for you. And loved that you limbed up the silver willow. What a beauty. And that Jade Princess penn sounds too good to be true. Thanks, Nan.

    I can only hope that the senecio will do well here, Denise. When I got it home and did some research, I read some accounts of how huge it can get in climates like yours. I’ll be thrilled if I can get it up to the porch railings here.
    -Nan

  3. Lucky you! After a terrible winter with abnormal amount of snow, we have had a cold and very late spring. In fact we didn´t had any spring at all, two weeks ago the “spring winter” ended and the “early summer” arrived!
    This has ment that we are 4 weeks after with all the garden works, but the plants has loved it. We have never seen so many flowers in the wild; hepatica, wood anemone, cowslip, orchid, wild tulips and of course also bellis and dandelion (not soo fun). Normally we have a lot of wild flowers here on this island because of the climat and the limy soil – but this year it have been amasingly spectacular.
    And now everything is blooming in the garden, so the plants liked it too except of the climbing/rambling roses – the old ones are nearly dead. But I have planted six new ones and are hoping for a normal winter this year!

    Hi Susie! I’m not even sure what “normal” weather is supposed to be anymore. And since there’s not much we can do about it, we simply have to do our best with what we get. How wonderful to hear about your wildflower extravaganza. Plants have a way of adapting better than we do, it seems!
    -Nan

  4. Your gardens look amazing, and I love your new snakey friend!

    I think he’s the same one that lives in the barn during the winter. There’s very little hay left for him to hang out in, though, so I guess this is a good place for him now, and he’s certainly welcome to eat the mice that chewed up some of my seedlings.
    -Nan

  5. You’re a machine, Nan! Holy cow! It’s been a crazy fast growing season here in Nebraska, too, with everything very lush and full. I have coneflowers in May, which is astounding (and sad–maybe I should cut them down now so there’s something left in July).

    That’s what I did with most of my coneflowers: chopped them back by half a few days ago. It’s bad enough having daylilies in bloom now; the coneflowers can just wait. I figure that if I let them bloom now, they’d probably flop anyway, since their stems grew so tall so fast.
    -Nan

  6. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on May 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Oh Nan, I can’t believe how big your garden is. When you show us small chunks of it it seems like a lot but with this big overview of the different beds, my goodness, it seems LARGE. I think all of your changes are going to be marvelous. The greenhouse is the icing on the cake.

    It seems large to me too at the moment, and extremely high maintenance. In a month, once everything fills in, it’ll look much smaller, and need a lot less attention – whew.
    -Nan

  7. Holy smokes, Nan! I can’t believe all that you’ve gotten accomplished–and I can already “see” that the garden is going to look even more amazing this year! (But if you had asked me whether that was possible last year, I would have said no. That you had already attained perfection.)

    Funny, I had just been looking at that ‘Silvery Fir’ tomato on Seed Savers last week. I’m intrigued by how some of these interesting-foliaged tomatoes will taste, so I hope that you’ll give a full report!

    I don’t have high hopes for great flavor from the foliage varieties, Kim. ‘Variegata’ isn’t that great, if I remember correctly. I think the strain of ‘Mortgage Lifter’ might be good, though. Just to be safe, I also started a whole bunch of classic ‘Red Brandywine’ for great eating.
    -Nan

  8. AAAACCCKKK! I was following along happily thinking what energy you and your mom have when you hit me with that snake at the end! After coming to and forcing the mind to remember what had been written and illustrated before, you really need to warn people about stuff like that!, I so admire your ruthlessness to remove things that are perfectly healthy but not quite to the vision. Yellow tomato foliage, no thanks, but the Pennisetum seems promising and the whole garden amazing. Now I need a nap and a sedative to erase the serpentine surprise. :-)
    Frances

    Sorry, Frances! Imagine how *I* felt the first time I bopped in there and found him!
    -Nan

  9. Good gracious, Nan, you’ve been busy lately. And I expect this blog post took quite a lot of time to put together too. Like Blackswamp Kim, I wouldn’t have thought you could improve upon your planting scheme from last fall, but maybe so. I’m eager to see the new scheme come into summer glory–it sounds great.

    Thanks, Pam. I think I might be the only one to notice the small changes in the color schemes once the garden gets going. But now that I’ve made some major improvements in giving the plants more space and weeding out the excess volunteers, I think it’ll look lush but not overcrowded, as it did last year.
    -Nan

  10. You’ve been very busy & the garden is looking great. Someday I’ll plant up a border like that, all at once. Heck, who am I kidding, but it does look fun. I admire your tenacity in getting rid of the barberries. I’ve been trying to kill mine for several years.
    Love, love, love the Pennisetum ‘Jade Princess.’ I’m always looking for colorful annual grasses for containers & that one looks like a winner.
    BTW, I like your new friend.

    I could definitely see ‘Jade Princess’ in your garden, MMD. I was a little disappointed to find out that it’s supposed to be sterile, which means that I won’t be able to save and share seed. But, it should be more readily available next year.
    -Nan

  11. Holy cow, I’m exhausted just reading this. I would be popping painkillers big time if I had done all that work, ha! But seriously, it all looks so exciting. Especially all those new varieties of plants that you’re trying. I can’t wait to see the progress.

    It’s funny, Jean – I have no problem working in the garden from dawn to after dark with just a few quick snack breaks. But as soon as I sit down to write, I’m ready for a nap!
    -Nan

  12. My god, how do you get so much accomplished?

    Well, keep in mind that my garden is basically my full-time job in spring, so I’d better get a lot done! Plus, Mom helps a lot; she’s great at weeding.
    -Nan

  13. Nan, I keep coming back to re-read this post. I can’t believe all you’ve accomplished this spring. I love following your thoughts as you plan the gardens. Now, I’m going to check out Disanthus cercidifolius. Another one new to me. Thanks for a great post.

    Thank you so much, Marie. I got the Disanthus at Behmerwald Nursery down in Schwenksville; it’s definitely worth a visit!
    -Nan

  14. Nan, What a wonderful post and it’s been a delight to read your narrative/see photos of your redesign! I know better then to compare myself or my garden to anyone, but I sure feel lazy! Lazy and totally inspired! I always find great ideas…Now I want to see if my H arborescens might be Hydrangea arborescens subsp. radiata~I love the border without the Golden Locust….good decision! and I know you need to protect your photos, but I sure wanted to see them even larger! gail

    Thanks, Gail! I’m still exploring the options in Windows LiveWriter for putting posts together and haven’t quite figured out the photo sizes. I’ll see what I can do about increasing the sizes.
    -Nan

  15. You have been very busy with great results. Where do you get all that energy? Your new friend, while scary looking, will keep many problems at bay. My new bed of Knock Outs in front of the Persicaria p. looks great thanks to your inspiring post of a year or so ago.

    That’s super, Layanee – I still really like that combination. I tried the persicaria with the light pink Blush Knock Out too, thinking that the effect might be more elegant (as opposed to eye-popping), but it just looked washed out. Let’s hear it for the original Knock Out!
    -Nan

  16. Nan! I cannot believe your persicaria gets that large!! I planted it last year in a friends’ garden that I designed. I didn’t read up on it ahead of time, just liked what I saw over here… Hmmm I hope it won’t be hard to move!!

    You are One Busy Gal!! I cannot believe how much change you’re making!! Did you replant those you removed to another space???

    Oh yes – except for the golden locust, pretty much everything gets reused in the garden, or else moved out to the meadow.

    And um…you may want to think about moving the persicaria this fall, before it settles in too much. The roots can get quite large.
    -Nan

  17. I also am impressed with the work you’ve been doing…and I like your comparison of gardening with editing! It’s true, wherever you garden there are always plants that have come before.

    I’m an inveterate reader of catalogues (mine get flabby) and love to read heirloom tomato descriptions, but never thought of choosing them for their foliage!

    So glad you didn’t let your pre-planned color scheme overcome your love for an individual plant – and congrats on the greenhouse (I know what you mean about DIY; I used to do tech writing, and I prided myself on coherent installation manuals. I figured if I could understand it, anyone could).

    Congrats on the snake, too: Pearl Buck says that, in ancient China, they considered it a compliment if wild animals were in a dwelling. It meant the animals thought the building was a part of nature.

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