Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disingenuous garden tour

I complain incessantly about how awful my garden looks, and now I am going to show you some photos in which it doesn't look all that bad, which may cause you to suspect me of humble bragging.  Just keep in mind that it's only May and the poke weed and trumpet vine are not out yet.

The garden used to be a wondrous place but after fourteen years of my bungling, only the hardiest plants have survived.  I'm making an effort now, but once summer comes, it will be a lot more important to not step on a wasps' nest than to keep the poke weed under control.

Here's a tour, going counterclockwise around the perimeter of our city lot.  If you're really interested in seeing the details, click on the photos to enlarge them.

Far back corner.  This bed is mostly shaded.  Planted here are coral bells (hidden behind trashy wood slabs) Japanese painted fern, black cohosh  (good for women's troubles; my midwife made me drink it when I was in labor with Seamus) and something that I think the previous owner told me are anemones.  She implied that they are fragile, but they have survived my neglect more sturdily than just about every other plant.  They produce pink and white flowers at the end of summer.  The lily of the valley and Jack-in-the-pulpit that once lived here are dead.

The next bed:  blue spikes are ajuga.  There are also a few day lilies here, rudbekia, and a cheerful yellow flower called a sun drop.  Also heavily infested with wild strawberry and ground ivy.  

The rescued garden.  I took this picture before planting tomatoes and habanero peppers. Those are stray rudbekia along the wall.

This bed is day lilies with a small clump of sedums. Once upon a time it also held wild foxglove.  Poke weed alert on the right. 

More ajuga, a Virginia sweet spire, and an inconvenient dogwood, which seeded itself from our next-door neighbor's tree.  Inconvenient, because much as I love dogwoods, this one is growing up from the middle of the sweet spire.  They're like conjoined twins.  Separating them would probably kill one or both, and the dogwood is already a good twelve feet tall.  Hidden behind the sweet spire is an enormous hydrangea.  Our friend's girlfriend, a gardener at UVA, on seeing the robust hydrangea, said, "I bet all you do is breathe on it."  Not even that, actually, although once I fed it some Holly Tone, which turned the flowers pink.  I prefer blue hydrangeas, so we don't feed it any more.

Side yard.  Tulips in the foreground and mint.  That's a peony poking up among the daffodils.  Unfortunately, it doesn't get any sun during what must be a critical infancy stage, so it doesn't flower very well.  The year I carefully tied back the daffodil stems and watered the peony with bunny-dropping tea, I managed to get two blooms.  Also in this bed, Siberian iris, which I prefer to bearded iris, and a flower I haven't identified.  There's a close up below.  It's another flower that has thrived through my neglect.  We mourn the pretty blue flax and the pink dianthus that used to grow here.

Who can identify this silvery white flower?

The "waste bed."  Where the previous owners tossed all their extra day lilies and vinca.  Did you know that an anti neoplastic agent is made from vinca?  It's called vincristine and it's used for leukemia.  

 That's a bleeding heart and something with big waxy leaves the produces a sort of bloom in December.  Also, a Solomon's Seal (I think) and hidden behind the bleeding heart, a primrose and a hosta.

This bed will be overrun with mint soon.  I have tried and tried and tried to get foxgloves to grow against the wall, without success.  

Butterfly bush and spider wort.  This bed used to also have a riot of candy tuft and blue globe thistle.

Rhododendron and a crepe myrtle in front.


Continuing up the other side, rose of Sharon, sedums, and a sad, sad lilac.  Jon transplanted it here from the front yard.  We hoped the additional sun exposure would help it along, but it hasn't grown an inch or produced a flower for as long as we've lived here.

My bunny-fed rose. (Bunny fed because I planted it with George's droppings, which I used to collect and distribute to plants that needed care.) It's a not-fancy, old fashioned variety that I bought at Cville market.  I'm proud of it because it's one of the few things I've planted that has lived for longer than two years.  (The others being the butterfly bush, primrose, and hosta in front.)

This bed used to be bee balm and purple cone flower.  Now in the grip of a particularly malevolent trumpet vine.  I find it hard to believe that people actually plant them on purpose.


An early fig.

I think this is a Russian sage.

Probably the worst bed of all.  It once had more varied perennials than all the other beds: lady's mantle, oriental poppy, Joe Pye weed, rose mallow, black and blue cohosh, ferns, phlox, butterfly weed, daisies, and others.  Now it's mostly poke weed as big as small trees. Boxwoods, transplanted from the front yard in the background. We have long term plans to build a studio here.

Allspice bush, which brings us full circle.  It has a lovely, spicy smell in the autumn.

In the middle of the yard are plantings grouped around the deck: Russian kiwi, clematis, and bright orange polka dotted lilies that grow taller than my head.  They're like fake flowers on a 1930's movie set.

The previous owners thought it was romantic to have day lilies growing up between the steps.  We don't agree, but as much as I hack at these, they always come back.

Our plants have always bloomed a few weeks later than others in C'ville.  We seem to be in a tiny cool spot. Cold air sinks, and it's a fact that hollows like ours will have frost when slightly higher areas don't. For years, I've observed that we will have frost on our grass, and the next door neighbors, slightly higher on the hill, do not.  We had a frost on Monday night when the rest of the neighborhood did not.

I'm happy to see that the family of bunnies survived the winter.  Twice now, I've seen a baby bunny, nearly spherical because his ears haven't grown yet, playing near the rose bush.  When I went to get a closer look, he darted under the deck stairs and quivered there, apparently unaware that his bottom was sticking out of his hiding place.  We hope to see Trevor the sociable toad, or his offspring soon too.


  1. You'd be surprised at how much I don't weed and just let stuff take over.
    Peonies like to be cut back in the fall. That apparently helps them bloom. Perhaps try that this fall? Hack them back to the ground come September and see what happens next spring.
    My lilac has struggled as well. I have read they take years to adjust to being moved - mine is just now starting to look healthy after being in the ground for something like 5 years. How long has yours been there?

    You have to dig day lilies up. And you have to dig up the entire bed they are in to make sure you get them all. Our front beds were nothing but day lilies & monkey grass when we bought the house. I finally spent a weekend digging them both up by hand. Back breaking, but it did the trick.

    Gardens are always a work in progress. I have oodles of flowers I'd be willing to share - daisies, bee balm, joe pye weed (two kinds!), some Jack-in-the-pulpits and more. I also have some Zebra grass to share if you'd like that too. Feel free to come over with buckets and we'll tour my yard, with you taking what you like!

  2. I love everything about this post. I'm so glad you showed off your garden! I don't know about this lilies through the steps thing - I think you're making the right choice ;) Also, I'm glad to have a name for pokeweed. I've mercilessly cut it back whenever I've seen it and every time I hope I'm not killing a good thing. Having grown up in the west, I'm still learning all these plants, so it's lovely to have a walkthrough like this!

  3. I live in a much colder gardening zone than you (zone 4), so many things that are really invasive for you work out alright up here. However, trumpet vine is only allowed to grow up dead trees that can be mowed around, and poke weed is even worse.

    I have also had a lot of trouble keeping things alive in my garden, things that seem to do fine in other gardens around here. It looks like you have very clay-rich soil? We have really sandy soil, so things dry out quickly (but it's a lot easier to dig in!).

  4. Wow, such a big job to tend to all of that. I am such a philistine. If I had such a yard, I would put in a Japanese Rock Garden and never think about it again. I admire your pluckiness.

  5. If that's what you get from bungling for over a decade, can you come bungle in my garden, too? I think your gardens are lovely. The variety is great. I am smitten with bleeding hearts. And I had no idea about the vinca, but it makes me want to plant it in our yard this year.