Every fall, after months of work in the growing season, I tell myself with some pride, “Next spring we’ll have the best garden ever.” And it is. It’s never perfect, never will be, but it’s better than the previous year. Our spring 2014 garden was the most beautiful I can remember.
My satisfaction didn’t last long. On April 29, as I stood at the top of the laundry porch steps to let the dogs out after dinner, a dark, vertical line on a southern red oak at the back of our property caught my eye. There was a crack in the trunk, at least 6 feet long and deep enough to slide my fingers in to the knuckles (if I’d dared). A hammock connected that tree to a huge old tuliptree in a shady, overgrown part of our garden that didn’t get much of my attention beyond cutting back some encroaching bamboo and trimming the thorny eleagnus shrubs along the chain link fence. I had swung a giggling toddler in that hammock 10 days earlier.
Over the next several days, reps from 5 tree services came out to look at the project. The first said he wouldn’t put his men near the tree without a crane which, his crane man said, was impossible to situate near the tree. The others gave me quotes but said they wouldn’t be able to get to it for a week or more. Eight hours (!) after the last man inspected the tree, it fell, landing on top of a large maple, the fence, and a stand of bamboo in the neighbor’s yard, damaging some of their trees as well. And that section of our garden suddenly demanded a lot of attention.
After the tree service cleaned up the worst of the mess, we were left with crushed bamboo and shrubs and a tangle of ivy that had smothered that section of the yard. I’ve trimmed or removed the damaged shrubs and pulled up most of the ivy. The adjoining neighbors and I are tackling the bamboo. It may take years, but we are determined to destroy the stands in our yards completely.
On the bright side, we now have some sun in our yard, enough to put in a couple of raised beds to experiment with growing vegetables. (It wasn’t a huge success, but I’m learning.) My Limelight, Quickfire, and Tardiva hydrangeas and my rhododendrons had more blooms than ever before. The viburnums planted by the previous owner many decades ago exploded with new growth, taller than I am, and now – in early January – are covered with dozens of tight buds. In previous years I was lucky to get 6 flowers.
I planted a row of Delaware Valley White azaleas along the new chain link fence, and they’re hanging on but struggling in the sawdust-laden soil. (Note to myself – don’t plant in or near new sawdust.) I planted a couple dozen Carolina jasmines, which are already climbing the chain link, and 3 Zhou Zhou loropetalums to provide some privacy (eventually) in another newly bare section beside the fence.
Most of my shady garden is filled with ferns, hostas, camellias and azaleas. There isn’t a lot of color except in the spring. Suddenly I had to have bold, brilliant color. No wimpy lavenders or pinks. I wanted red, orange, blue, and gold. Neighbors gave me a fuchsia clematis and a pineapple sage. My cousin’s husband gave me dozens of iris plants. Another cousin helped me pick out some giant, breathtaking daylilies at the farmer’s market.
I transplanted with abandon, moving stunted canna lilies, daylilies, a viburnum and a butterfly bush from their partly-shaded spots to the sunny area. I added a new Royal Red butterfly bush, and it captivated me all season long with its fat magenta blossoms (and its guests). Purple Homestead verbena, which I’ve planted several times in different locations over the years without success, took off. Small vinca plants became large mounds that yielded hundreds of cheery red flowers. Having gardened in shade for so many years, I was astounded at what blazing sun and heat could do in a garden.
By fall, there was a crowded mass of flowers and shrubs in one area of the garden. I’ll have to divide/transplant again this year … and I’m not unhappy about that. The crazy collage of colors was just what I’d been craving, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 will bring.
My husband asked me last month what I wanted for Christmas. “Rocks,” I said, “to border my new gardens.” Last week I visited a landscaping company and bought a ton (yes, 2,000 lbs) of Cane Creek rocks. They’ll be delivered this week. My old wheelbarrow and this old body will get quite a workout this winter. And the spring of 2015’s garden will be the best ever.