Spring madness: Search and rescue

– Posted in: How-to
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Two daylilies need to be rescued

If you are short on time, energy, and money, but notably the first two, be conservative. You’ll be more pleased with one fair-sized, well-composed, well-maintained bed than with a half-dozen large beds that are choked with quack grass and creeping Charlie.

That’s excellent advice from The Complete Flower Gardener by Karan Davis Cutler and Barbara W. Ellis. Too bad their book wasn’t written in 1993, when I started work on my second flower bed. On second thought, it’s not at all certain that I would have recognized that advice as applying to me. I was keeping up on my first bed–The Birthday Garden–and there were neglected irises elsewhere in the yard that needed lifting and dividing, and then, of course, I’d have to make a bed to plant them in. Yes, there was always a good reason for creating yet another bed, and I was always confident that next year everything would be under control.

It was just two years ago that it finally started to dawn on me that I was in over my head. Something more drastic than triage weeding was called for. I had to think about eliminating entire beds.

Every spring since then has been a search and rescue operation. The photo above shows a portion of the bed in the front yard that has the single white lilac and the purple-leaved smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Nordine’) in it, that I’ve decided will be a shrub-only border. In Autumn 2005 I removed some Oriental lilies from this bed. Much to my surprise, I discovered two more sprouting up this spring–but that’s not what the arrows are pointing to. Although Asiatic lilies can be moved almost anytime, Oriental lilies are best moved in fall, so I’ll mark them and move them then–if they haven’t succumbed to the competition.

You can probably recognize the clumps of narcissus foliage. Those are all Narcissus poeticus that were original to the property, which I had dug and replanted. Each one of those clumps was once a single replanted bulb. I hadn’t yet read the advice about not dotting things around when I planted them here. I will dig them up when the foliage withers, store them in net bags over the summer, and replant them in new locations in the fall. I’m already looking for potential planting spots for them in the landscape. They’re not going back in the garden beds, so I’m looking for spots that can stand to be left unmowed until mid-July, when the foliage will finally have died down. Since each clump easily represents over a dozen bulbs, I’ll probably have to give some away, too.

There’s a clump of colchicum foliage in there toward the front. That also represents one bulb, a white form of Colchicum byzantinum that turned out to be neither. I might put some of these in a garden bed, or give them the same treatment as the poet’s narcissus. They are also best dug when the foliage withers.

Hydrangea 'Endless Summer' in 2006The arrows are pointing to two daylily clumps, which I need to dig soon and move . . . somewhere. They are two bits of the same original plant, a “plum” that often looks more like a washed out purply-gray. The poor color could have been due to too much shade. I’d like to give them a chance to prove themselves in better circumstances. Hmm . . . maybe to the side of the hydrangea I planted last year. The daylily blossoms just might complement the hydrangea blossoms, which are supposed to be blue or pink, but were rather indecisively neither, at least last year.

The remainder of the space is taken up with asters and golden rod, aggressive natives that will colonize any open ground that isn’t mowed like a lawn. They can be dug out as I have time and strength and motivation. The motivation will come when I decide what shrub to plant here. It should be fairly vigorous, able to compete with lilac and smokebush for water and nutrients, and able to take part shade, as the lilac will block it on the south and the smokebush will block it to the east. Ideally, some part of the new shrub will play off the foliage of the smokebush. I’d love to hear your ideas.

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.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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Annie in Austin May 9, 2007, 10:44 pm

Would Oakleaf Hydrangea grow for you, Kathy? With the flowers coming later, you’d give the area some interest when the lilac and smoke bush are done.
Or since Carol mentioned Viburnum – there’s one that turns red in fall – Cranberry viburnum, maybe? [I’ve been gone from zone 5 for too long – sorry!]

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Carol May 9, 2007, 1:15 pm

There are soooooo many Viburnums. In general, mine do well with average moisture, I don’t give them any extra water, they just get what falls from the sky! What size shrub do you want to end up with? You can get all sizes of Viburnums. But every garden should have at least one Viburnum!

Kathy Purdy May 9, 2007, 11:20 am

Ah, but which viburnum? How much moisture do they want, in your experience?

Carol May 9, 2007, 11:11 am

Kathy… I think for bigger shrubs, you can’t go wrong with a viburnum.