22 October 2008

perennial bed musings

Just for comparison’s sake, here’s the perennial bed three summers ago (10 July 2005):

And again on a Sunday this summer (2 August 2008):

And from another angle that day, after I’d weeded a bit:

Okay, so maybe it’s not fair to post photos taken a month apart, because things tend to grow quite a lot in a summer month, but let’s forget about that for right now.

This is going to sound elementary, my dear Watson (I know, I know: Sherlock Holmes never actually said that), but I’m aiming to have the taller plants at the back and the smaller plants at the front, like those great cottage gardens where it seems the plants will crest and break like a wave. I think I’m beginning to get some of that.

I would like for there to be variation in leaf and flower shape, as well as a pleasing combination of colors and habits. Again, progress not perfection. There was more of that going on this year than ever before, so that feels very good.

Getting to this point has taken three years of scratching my head, moving things around, keeping the weeds at bay, taking notes, and trying something else the next year. I have lost almost all of my phlox for some reason, coddled the purple smokebush until it settled in, watched in horror as the monkshood (which seems to grow like a weed for everyone else I know) shriveled up and died, planted the shasta daisies too close together, fretted over numerous dahlias that never amounted to much . . .

Hmm (stroking chin), but even with all of that, when I’m in the garden, I am my best self. Not thinking of work or worrying about tomorrow (I am a great worrier). It’s just me and the sun and the dirt.


  1. Hello J;

    Your question about obtaining some architectural contrast through plants of varying height is a frequent question. For a few years now I have been advocating that gardeners in Vermont reconsider using trees and shrubs under the eaves of their homes. Vermont winters have included lots of snow and ice again and spring thaws often leave an expensive mess of broken plants. As such I have been recommending a variety of plant heights and textures which will look nice spring to hard frost.

    I can't tell orientation from your picture and sunlight is important but here are some thoughts. The cimicifugas, now named actea, provide some great attributes. Atropurpurea needs some consideration as in 5 years it can be ten feet high but in some placements it's still very useful. Pink Spike, James Compton, Hillside Black beauty are all acteas which are in that 4-5 foot scape range and with their dark purply-brown to black color they are a great addition.

    Two hostas I grow and like are Tall Boy and Tenryu. These have flower scapes in the 6 foot range. It's not that they offer beautiful leaves but more that over time the number of vertical scapes which serve as hummingbird magnets just plain catch your attention.

    The rudbeckia and helenium families again offer some height, color and width that are useful and the list goes on.

    Maybe give this a thought for the garden you are creating. The picture chronology is very useful to show folks that it does take a few years to mature but in time it's one wonderful presentation.

    Good Gardening Wishes,

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener
    Vermont Gardens
    Vermont Flower Farm

  2. "when I’m in the garden, I am my best self."

    that's a phrase I've heard myself use about the classroom. Now I have to figure how to bring that self out of the classroom and into the rest of my life.

    Maybe you should wear gardening gloves all the time, and I should put chalk dust on all my clothes?