in the garden

I haven’t done a gardening post for a while. I have been putting my garden back together after another difficult winter.

In my gardening group people have been talking about how a lot of plants starting later than normal. All very true. But if you scratch the bark and there is no green underneath or it hasn’t budded or leafed out, chances are it’s a goner. I had a few of those, and I took the plants out. To some that sounds mean, as if I am wasting plants in my garden, but the simple truth is I don’t have space for plants that aren’t working.

That includes butterfly bushes. I used to have a Buddleia that was easily forty or fifty years old. It came with the house. But two springs ago, it never came back. I did not want a dead perennial centering a bed, so out it came. And its roots didn’t hold on when I pulled it out, it was dead. I turned the soil over in this smaller planting bed and began again.

The garden has a cycle of life like everything else and sometimes in spite of best efforts, plants die. I don’t like that, but I look at it as an opportunity to try something new. There are also many times where I have cut the dead off plants to the point of cutting them back to the ground where a shrub or even tree has then come back.

Such is the case of a dogwood we thought was dead last year so we cut it back to a 6′ stump that I plunked a birdhouse on. The birdhouse is now home to Carolina Wrens and the tree sent up new growth from the roots. A twelve foot giant old fashioned viburnum that we thought was a goner after the 2014 ice storm because it was all but flattened came back this year full of beautiful snowball like flowers (photo below).

The garden is like a blank canvas. What do you want your canvas to look like? I like color, but my jumble of color is complimentary. I don’t take “color challenges” I plant what pleases my eye. I live partially in the woods, so my sun is limited and I am learning more every year about woodland gardens. Now I have a little help with that as I am fortunate to have some of my late mother in law’s shade and woodland garden books. I love to go through them for inspiration and have learned quite a bit from reading the notes she left in the books.

 Shade and woodland gardens can have color all their own. Varying shades of green, reds, purples. Hecheuras have grown on me and I love hostas and ferns. The hostas for me take extra work and routine spraying with Deer Out.

I have discovered many plants that have variegated cultivars. Like Solomon’s Seal (polygonatum biflorum). I purchased a wonderful variegated form from Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs PA. I planted mine with a white peony.

 When I plant my baskets, pots, and beds I like to mix it up. The end result is often decidedly old fashioned, but how they are planted reflect me, not some landscaping service.

Pots and baskets I approach differently. For the sunny areas you will find my pots planted with herbs, scented geraniums, and even red lolipop onions. I use the herbs in my cooking and to me, visually,  I like it. My hanging baskets this year are sage, thyme, and oregano.

In the rear, my pots are more shady as the woods are what drives designing a garden back there . Caladium, coleus, variegated ivies, hostas, ferns, and even a compact growth hydrangea.


As I live with a woodland garden, I experiment more every year. I go through lists of both shade tolerant and deer resistant plants. I have a lot of spring bloomers (azaleas, daffodils, and so on), so I have to look for plants with interesting and different colored foliage for summer and fall. It has taken a couple of years but the shade and woodland gardens are finally getting some depth to them.

Weeds. Weeds are a problem. Weeds are always a problem. I don’t use weed killers much, so weeding is a constant chore. I can’t keep the woods weed free, so I weed to a point and then I leave it up to Mother Nature. Except poison ivy and poison sumac. I will spray poison ivy killer.

In the front where I have sun is where you will find old fashioned annuals like zinnia and lisianthus. And my english roses and fancier hydrangeas, Miss Kim Lilacs, miniature lilacs (smaller leaves, smaller blooms, more comact growth habits), viburnum, bee balm, herbs, variegated red twig dogwoods, sedums, day lilies, and more. I have a buddleia with a variegated leaf I put next to a variegated red twig dogwood last year and I love the way it looks.

Sometimes my garden frustrates me because it is not doing what I envisioned, so I rearrange plants. Like a bed on the side on a hill off the deck. There were some abelia and things I planted that didn’t do well or really survive the winter, so I yanked the stuff out. In their place I substituted different colored milkweeds and grasses down the slope and hydrangeas at the top. It’s my next experiment there so we will see. Just a bunch of smallish plants right now. 

Part of the simple joy of gardening is connecting to the earth. Now that does mean critters like toads and snakes, not just chipmunks, squirels, foxes, birds, and so on. I do share my garden with a giant garter snake. I am not a huge snake fan and you can always tell when I run across him because he always startles  me and I always let out a squeal. Then it sort of just looks at me and slithers off under a bush.

We can ask fellow gardeners for advice and input, but at the end of the day, how you learn is just getting into the dirt and starting to plant things. If you use a landscaping or gardening service for bigger projects my best advice is to research plants that interest you first and make sure what you are paying them to do reflects your vision. It’s like interior decorating – if you don’t offer up what you are thinking, your house ends up looking like it was planned for someone other than yourself.

Also, take advantage of local plant sales and plant swaps. It’s not only a great way to experiment, but also to get plants which are right for where you live. Among my favorites a? The sales put on by local arboretums and gardening clubs.

Gardening is also a great stress reliever! Happy Sunday!