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:
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.
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:
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:
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’.
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.
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).
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’).
It was pretty, but it was starting to send up a number of pesky suckers in the paths.
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.
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.
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.)
This spring, I decided to limb it up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So along with cream-splashed ‘Variegata’…
…and lacy, gray-green ‘Silvery Fir Tree’…
…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’.
The seedlings have been distinctly chartreuse since they germinated…
…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.
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.
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.).
It’s a miracle that Mom is still speaking to me after this fiasco.
But the horror faded quickly once the construction process was done.
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.
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.
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.