Kathy’s Hall of Shame

– Posted in: Design, Garden chores, Plant info

I took all these pictures on February 4th, when I was trying to decide on plant orders. It was mild enough to go outside and take a cold hard look at what’s out there.image of garden bed which is future rose site The photo above is the section of the Birthday Garden where I have uprooted 5 Malva alcea ‘Fastigiata’ and innumerable self-sown progeny. I want to plant one or more rose bushes here. I’m leaning towards the Griffith Buck rose ‘Country Dancer.’ I went to a lecture on growing roses this winter and the speaker really recommended planting bare root roses in early April. If I’m going to do that, I need to order pretty soon. The Birthday Garden is a strip of earth sandwiched between the house and the driveway, at most four feet wide and scarcely three feet wide at its narrowest. The asbestos-shingled section of the house in the back is the enclosed porch tacked onto the front of the house, about eight feet in length. What I would really like to plant here is one glorious shrub that takes up the width of the enclosed porch and balances the weight of it. But if I found such a shrub, it would undoubtedly be too wide for the depth of this bed. A shrub that’s eight foot wide in one direction isn’t going to be half that wide in the other direction. ‘Country Dancer,’ described as being three feet wide, is a more reasonable width, but it doesn’t have the height. Planting three in a row here would give the effect of a foundation hedge, which is not what I’m after. This size/proportion issue is the main reason why I haven’t gone ahead and ordered the roses yet.
image of the front border, south sideUgh. This is the major exhibit in the Hall of Shame, right around the corner from the Birthday Garden. This bed fronts the street. My poor neighbors. I’m not sure exactly when this got away from me, but got away it did. There are still plenty of salvageable plants in there amongst the goldenrod, most notably the lilies I grew from seed that my grandmother gave me, but I really need to take everything out and start over. And what am I going to do with everything I want to save? I read an article once in Fine Gardening about renovating a bed, and the author just put everything on a tarp in the shade and watered them occasionally until she was ready to replant them. This presumes 1) you have a chunk of time in which to take on such a project 2) said chunk of time is in spring or fall, the only times most plants I know of could stand being marooned on a tarp 3) location of said tarp can be arranged so that children and marauding chickens do not have access to it. Oh, yes, there is another possibility: you have the means to hire someone to do this project for you, and you actually know of someone knowledgable enough who hasn’t already been hired by someone else. So much for fairy tales.

A more reasonable person would propose digging and potting up all salvageable plants in spring, take a season to renovate the bed, and replant in fall. This still presumes enough time in spring pot up all those plants. You know most of them will be too big, and you will have to divide them, potting up not just your replacements but extras for your friends, and in the middle of that you will run out of potting soil, and by the time you get back from the store it’s time to make supper, and the following day you have to take children to the dentist, and before you know it a week has gone by, and the plants–most of them–are still in the ground. In the meantime, weeds havve been growing in all the other beds, and the UPS man has dropped off two plant orders that must get into the ground . . .

Sometimes I despair before I even get started.

Sometimes I turn a blind eye to the problems I can’t solve.

Sometimes I resort to the cry of gardeners everywhere: “Next year . . .”

Ah, well, let’s go on to the next stop on the tour.
image of partially weeded juneberry bedMore than a decade ago I planted a Juneberry tree in the front yard, carefully siting it so that it balanced the house and didn’t interfere with the utility lines. Later I planted a hydrangea bush to the west of it, closer to the road. Then I decided to connect the two circles and make one oval bed out of it. I took the time to loosen all the soil in this “between” part, and amended it with rotted manure from a horse barn. And I told myself I would never let this bed get away from me. Heh. Yes, that’s grass you see in that bed, lawn grass, crabgrass, and whatever kinds of pasture grass they feed horses. And it’s awfully difficult to distinguish from the daylily foliage at times, though in winter it is pretty safe to say that anything green in that bed–hellebore excepted–should not be there. The foot or so of bare soil testifies to the fact that I was weeding this bed when winter came calling. It always seems easier to start at the edges and work my way in. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t get any further than that before the weeds take over again, and the weeds in the center of the bed, which got missed the first two times around, become ever more firmly entrenched. This bed is at a crisis point. Will it join the sad fate of the front bed, or will it be resuscitated in time? Stay tuned . . .

Oh, I was going to take you all around the house, but this post is getting too long, and anyway, what’s the point? Besides the Birthday Garden, the only other beds in decent condition are the north side of the house and the peony bed. After my survey I concluded I’d best not buy any plants or order any seeds, that my time would be better spent just rescuing what I already have. Bitter words from a thoroughly disillusioned gardener, who promptly went out and bought a birdbath the next weekend.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathy Purdy February 21, 2006, 9:13 pm

Judith–I don’t know if it’s bravery as much as sympathy for gardeners just starting out. You see all these beautiful pictures in magazines and think: oh, I could never do that! Well, most of the world isn’t doing it either. And for 99% of the dirt gardeners out there, it’s the process as much as the end product that gives so much pleasure. If I had decided all these years ago not to garden because I couldn’t guarantee I could keep it tidy enough for the neighbors, how less rich my life would have been!

M Sinclair–the problem is, that wall you see goes up three or so feet, and then it’s all glass. The problems are not insurmountable, but it’s not that simple, at least not to me. In general I expect too much from this narrow strip; that’s really the biggest problem.

Judith February 20, 2006, 10:10 am

Zooming in on shame in the garden…you are brave. If the snow were totally gone & it wasn’t 7 degrees outside, I would go look my gardens in the eye after reading your post. “Sometimes I turn a blind eye to the problems I can’t solve.” and “Sometimes I resort to the cry of gardeners everywhere: “Next year…”” ditto that!

I ask myself, why am I planning another bed to plant in this year when I have not completely or if at all, solved other issues?

jenn February 19, 2006, 5:22 pm

“who promptly went out and bought a birdbath the next weekend.”

One always has hope. If not for the flowers, then for the birds.

Keep your chin up, kiddo. I still need to post long-view picks of my garden (and thank you M Sinclair for putting words to the chaos – ‘ unactualized’ is a fair description…) These photos ought to make everyone who stops by my lovely photo site feel better!

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) February 19, 2006, 4:59 pm

I’m always ashamed when one of my readers stops by the garden for a passalong plant or some wildflower seeds. Zanthan Gardens does exist only in virtual reality–there’s a reason for all those carefully framed macro shots of flowers. Most of the actual garden is not quite actualized. Of course, I see where I plan to do this and that…but when someone else comes over and I see it through their eyes, I’m always shocked and disappointed.

I began my plant moratorium last year. Good timing as it turns out because of the drought. Even without any new plants, I have more than I can take care of on my own. No sense in adding to it.

What if you planted a clematis with the rose so that it could climb up a trellis or something behind it?