the secret garden

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“As long as one has a garden, one has a future, and if one has a future, one is alive.” ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 

One of my most favorite books as a child and ever is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I read it over and over and saw every movie adaptation. It captured my imagination and how could you not love the idea of this secret garden full of flora and fauna tucked away?

The Secret Garden has touched the imagination of many since it’s 1911 debut.  The actual garden was based upon a garden on a property in Kent, England called Great Maytham Hall.  This book continues to spark imagination today and there is even a musical which is put on here in the US and overseas.  The Broadway show actually won three Tony awards in the 1990s.  The story of a small girl’s search for home and a garden brought back to life.  The garden was locked away and forgotten. 

Maybe on some strange level this garden I now have is my secret garden.  After all, it was a feral garden when I first started with it.  The old lady whose house we bought had grown ill and died.  Her garden went untended except for the barest of maintenance.  Her adult children all had their own lives and it’s not easy to let go of a childhood home.

As I have written before, I unearthed garden beds slowly from under very overgrown conditions.  It was an excavation of sorts, and this summer I found something yet again when I performed another great forsythia massacre and discovered a giant Sambucus elderberry with a trunk as think as a tree trunk.

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Irregular garden bed during transformation

This garden has evolved over quite a few years at this point, and will continue to evolve.  Today I dug out and replanted and extended a garden bed out front.  When we moved in it had a giant buddleia  in it and not much else. It was irregularly shaped, neither circular or oval exactly. I had removed the buddleia when it died and planted a David Austin Rose and a bit of sedum, lilies of the valley and Stella D’Oro daylilies.  It always bugged me but nothing inspired me until yesterday. 

Yesterday I picked up two bedragged sale hydrangeas on a whim at Home Depot. I knew they needed just some water and a home. But when I first came home with them I couldn’t figure out where to plant them.  Then I did what I always do when I am pondering a garden bed, I look out of upstairs windows down at the garden.  And it came to me: the small irregularly shaped bed out front would get a makeover.

So this morning in the rain, I pulled the bed apart and dug up everything except the rose which I decided would still anchor the center of the bed. I dug out all around the existing bed until I had a true circle.  Then I dug up the grass, dug down and turned over the soil, added compost and a giant contractor bag of sand. The soil is either wonderful here or loaded with clay and rocks.  This bed as it turns out was loaded with clay and  as I dug down to turn the soil, I discovered bricks. Lots of bricks.  Enough to edge the finished bed with.

I split the three giant clumps of Stella D’Oro daylilies into six pieces.  First I planted my hydrangeas, then I planted back the daylilies.  After that I added two small hostas and a pair of foxglove plants that had been languishing on the porch. Then I planted my lavender plants from Mount Airy Lavender   and a pair of Heuchera that had also been biding their time on the porch waiting for inspiration. Then I added woodchips and edged and voila! 

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“After” Taa daa!!!

I think it looks pretty good if I do say so myself!! 

My garden will continue to evolve and become more refined.  But it was today while digging in the dirt that I thought of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I encourage all of you to create your own secret garden.  Create a place to love and cherish. Gardening is such a happy thing.

I will close with some current flower power photos. Thanks for stopping by!

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even in the rain there are garden bright spots

I will admit, I have spent the past couple of days being garden cranky. Too much rain! I missed the memo where they moved Chester County, PA to Seattle, WA.

The woodland toads are happy, the slugs are happy, but me? I’m getting tired of small pools of ponding water everywhere in my garden. I just have to accept if we don’t get some good sun soon, some of my plants will rot, except I think some are already starting to rot.

I have done my best to bit by bit try to amend the soil in places where it is a heavy clay content, but all the rain has shown me where I missed. The soil in spots is extra bad with all of the rain. Shiny bright clay. Ugh. Time to dig in more grit, more sand.

But even in the midst of soggy city, where weeds grow faster than I can pull them some days, there are just so many pretty things starting to bloom now.

Hydrangeas, monarda, roses, echinacea, and daylilies all popping open one by one. The march of summer colors has begun.

Color makes a garden sing. Just make sure your colors are harmonious or you might create the headache space instead. It’s true. I have over the years had to move things because the colors were jarring where they were.

All of the rain this spring has caused a jungle lushness. And things are blooming or getting ready to bloom ahead of schedule – like a lot of my hostas. A lot of my hostas have seemingly overnight shot up flower stalks and buds.

Before the thunderstorms and crazy downpour, I wandered the garden doing a little deadheading and weeding. I also finally transplanted the zinnias I grew from seed. But mostly I just enjoyed the vibrant garden colors of June.

I also checked out where I needed to do more work. Like put down more stone on a path. With all the rain I could see where I needed more stone. Groan…I wish I did not have to put down more stone anymore than the fact I still have more wood chips to put down. Sadly, gardening isn’t all planting pretty flowers.

But we do need to take the time to sit back and look at the pretty flowers. Even in the rain.

Rain rain go away….

why you garden

A friend of mine gave me a cache pot that belonged to her grandmother. It’s a beautiful pot and it makes the perfect vehicle for summer flower arrangements. All of these flowers are out of my garden.

This is why gardening is so worth it. With the help of Mother Nature you can create such simple beauty and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

in the garden

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This past winter was hard on gardens. Actually, that is an understatement.

My friend Susan asked the following question on Facebook:

Chester county gardeners…. anyone else have what appears to be totally dead butterfly bushes? All 3 of mine look dead. Hydrangeas aren’t looking very good either.

Yes and yes. I know what she is talking about and so do a lot of us.

I have (or had) a butterfly bush (buddleia) that was decades old. It was a beautiful purple color in late summer. It has sent no shoots and every branch left on after this winter was dead. I had cut it back in late fall and mulched it and then put a blanket of leaves over it, but I think it may be gone. I cut off the dead branches but have not dug up the root ball. I will leave it alone to see what happens. I don’t hold out much hope, but maybe it will surprise me.

I had wanted to plant buddleia in other places, so I have already bought and planted more. Buddleia gets so tall that I prefer it in the back of things where it’s height is more appropriate. We will see how the buddleia grows.

Another usually indestructible and woody perennial that may have bitten the dust due to the winter is my Caryopteris. Caryopteris is commonly known as blue beard or blue mist shrub. This plant can take the worst of summer and still get these delicate branches of blue-purple flowers. It’s a perennial that blooms on new/current growth, but I think the winter may have rendered it D.O.A.

Caryopteris is one of those plants that I have read only lasts a few years I some cases but I have friends who have had it in their gardens for more than a few years. For me this perennial was a surprise- it had appeared when I cleared some weeds and vines away in one spot in the garden. I am not sure if I will replace it or not. As with the buddleia I cut off all the dead stuff and am leaving the roots alone.

Hydrangeas were also very hard hit by winter. I did get mine ready for winter with winter mulch and leaves and a lot of my bushes lost every bud and every stalk. Some bushes escaped relatively fine and are leafing like normal.

The more tender hydrangeas which lost everything above ground in the ice and snow are surviving for the most part. They are sending up shoots from roots.

The hydrangea cultivar I have which was hurt the worst by the winter is “Pistachio”. Pistachio has a cool pink and green flower head but I knew it was finicky when I planted it, the grower warned me. Well one did. I sourced this hydrangea from two places. So I am going to wait and see. If it doesn’t come back, I will pull it and replace it with a more hardy variety.

Hostas also were affected by this winter. Some are slow to emerge, and some have had their first leaves look somewhat stunted and distorted. I am told by hosta growers that this is normal given the winter we had along with a comparatively cold spring. Most of my hostas seem to be back, although there are a few just sending shoots up now.

I did lose all but one tall bearded Iris. Irises are something I am not great with, so I don’t know if the bearded ones will eventually be replaced or not. I have clumps of yellow inherited ones that I think are more like a flag iris that are returning in good shape, so maybe I will stick with those.

My daisies are back, but a lot of the cone flowers and rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) are not. Or not yet. I have not decided what to do about that yet, but did decide this year to plant some shorter sunflowers and zinnias. I love zinnias in the garden. They are so cheerful. Yes they are annuals, so if they do well I will collect the seeds in the fall for next year.

I think it is going to be a marvelous year for peonies. They seem to have come through the winter unscathed and are budding nicely. Peonies are so lovely and lush a flower and they smell as good as they look. Peonies are a plant I am always happy to add more of, and one of my favorite sources for peonies is Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

My roses seem to have come through the winter fine. They are leafing out well and I have new growth too. They have been fed for spring and now I wait for them to bloom the first time. I also cleaned their beds out well because roses can be so finicky. People think roses are so difficult to grow. Really , they aren’t – you just need a routine.

A rose tip is to remember banana peels – think of it as junk food for roses. You can cut the peels up and freeze them and either bury them a few inches down or put them in a food processor with a little bit of water and old coffee grounds (not flavored coffee grounds) and make a sludge that looks pretty gross but if you dig it in around your roses the plants will love it.

As for annuals, I was happy to see impatiens are back this year. Last year they were wiped out by downy mildew so no one carried them. I am not sure how busy Lizzies (one of their common names) will do, so I did not by many plants. And no, I am not a begonia or New Guinea impatiens person as far as bedding plants go. I do, however, like New Guinea impatiens in hanging baskets.

Other annuals I am trying this year include Lisianthus or prairie rose. This wonderful old fashioned flower is one I have not seen in years, and saw out at Black Creek Greenhouses in East Earl. Lisianthus grows wild (or grew wild) in the plain states. It is a favorite of florists because it’s rose-like flowers can last a good ten days in cut arrangements. I used to plant this all the time in my gardens growing up and then I just stopped seeing the plant in nurseries.

Some of my friends with decades-established gardens have given me some old-fashioned favorites to add to my garden this year. Lambs ears, ferns, lily of the valley, pinks, nepeta, and lily turf (lirope). These are all plants they needed to split, so some have come to me. And down the road when I have plants that need splitting, I will do the same. Gardening is a personal thing but a communal thing to share with friends and family much like a well-loved recipe. As long as I have been gardening I have been swapping plants with people.

Our local nurseries in Chester and Lancaster Counties are full of fabulous plants now. If you don’t see something you like, ask. I will comment that I have noticed prices have increased at area nurseries, which is also undoubtedly due to the hard winter we had.

Yes you can buy plants at Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe’s but the reality is cheap plants are just that, cheap. Don’t necessarily expect a lot from them as a lot of plants sold by big box stores aren’t always grown in the same zones as we live in.

These big box stores truck in plants that are not always grown in compatible growing zones that are also all gorked out on plant boost food. This means you might plant them for an instant garden fix but they may or may not survive long term or even the season. I have included the USDA’s hardiness map for Pennsylvania at the bottom here so you can see our zones. I am not saying don’t buy from these places, but merely buyer beware. Check to see if the plants say where they are from.

It is yet another beautiful day out there, perfect for gardening. Gardening is such a terrific thing you can do for yourself. And don’t think you can’t garden because you can. It’s a process, so start small and see what you like. Some people love container gardening, some growing herbs and vegetables in raised beds. Some love woodland gardening that are wild and rambling and others like gardens which are more formal.

Gardening is always good for the soul. Enjoy the day!

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hot, hot, hot

Yes, indeedy, it almost is hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.  Which is why I gardened early this morning.

I got up with the birds (no, not the 4:30 a.m. birds, even I am not that ambitious), and did my hand watering.  Yes, as opposed to some, I actually like to do my own gardening.  (So when I say “see what I planted?” it means moi with my own two hands.)

This morning was awesome as I my lacecap hydrangeas are starting to bloom and my snapdragons too!

Another new discovery this morning was yarrow growing wild, so I transplanted into a bed with other herbs.  Bee balm is blooming too – the flowers look like Don King’s crazy hair of a yore.

Also, one of the fun things about summer is almost anything can become a vase, and I not only cut my flowers, but herbs too.  My curly mint will find its way into a summer salad with Israeli couscous later…and yes I will post the recipe.

It’s hot as the dickens, so keep cool!