The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

– Posted in: Design

Long-time readers of my blog know that I have never shied away from being honest about the poor upkeep of my garden. Sometimes I find beauty in the weeds, and sometimes they depress me, but I’ve never pretended they didn’t exist. I agree with Colleen that fear of “not doing it right,” or “not being good enough,” can keep someone from starting to garden–it almost stopped me. So I am happy to make my contribution to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The Bad

I had a hard time deciding which photos illustrate bad, and which illustrate ugly. I finally decided that while everything that was bad in my garden was ugly, not everything that was ugly was bad. Last year I planted four winterberries in this wet area by the road:

Image of wet weedy area

I planted four winterberries here last spring

Did anyone ever tell you that not many plants grow in a wet, soggy area, but the ones that grow there grow really, really well?

Image of small shrub surrounded by towering weeds

This is the winterberry closest to the lawn after I hacked back the weeds growing around it

I had wanted to plant winterberries here for years, but I was so afraid this would happen. Well, it’s happened, and somehow I am surviving. So are the winterberries, at least this year. But my conscience scolds me as if I were a misbehaving dog: “Bad, Kathy! Bad!”

I had the presence of mind to tag each one with flagging tape this spring, before the undergrowth became overgrowth. Flagging tape and tomato cages have saved many a garden plant growing in the wilder areas of our property from the string trimmer and the brush mower, but my inhouse landscape crew won’t even touch this area now that I’ve got shrubs planted here. They’re too afraid of killing something that Collin and I (uh, mostly Collin) went to such trouble to plant.

Eventually these shrubs should reach nine feet, if they manage to outlive the competition.

The Ugly

There’s a lot of ugly around here to choose from, so I tried to find an example of it that at least had hope of redemption. Here’s what the purple-and-gold bed looks like these days:

Image of weedy flower bed with car in background

The purple-and-gold bed has seen better days

This bed needs a complete makeover, which it probably won’t get this year. That pink hollyhock mallow just showed up, like it does everywhere, and I just haven’t gotten around to pulling it. (I tell myself I’ll do it after a nice, soaking rain, but at the rate we’re getting rain (not) it just might go to seed if I wait that long.) Milkweed has an almost tropical presence, and the flowers are fragrant, but they don’t match the color scheme either. The purple mallow that I did want in this bed is gone, and the ‘Bluestocking’ bee balm that matches it so perfectly is a shadow of its former self. (There’s still a bit of it to the right of the gold ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily, but it’s only in bud, and thus invisible.)

Here’s what it looked like in its prime:

Image of flower bed with purple and gold flowers blooming

The purple-and-gold bed 11 years ago

How the pretty have fallen. Sigh.

The Good

Image of healthy flower borderYes, let’s end on a more cheerful note. I have managed to bring two of my flower beds back from the brink of destruction, and these days my heart wells with pleasure and gratitude when I see them. The Birthday Garden is a sliver of blossoms separating the south side of the house from the driveway. Way in the back are yellow and deep red daylilies, the plant on stilts is cephalaria, with lavender catmint billowing at its feet. I don’t even care that the scarlet poppies don’t really “go”; it all makes me happy.

Image of shady flower border

The shady north side emphasizes foliage color and texture

In the spring, many woodland ephemerals are blooming here. As they go dormant, these foliage plants (pictured above) are really hitting their stride. I really like how the variegated bulbous oat grass at bottom right highlights the white edge of the hosta ‘Francee’ just visible behind and to the left of the ornamental grass.

Image of vignette in shady flower bed

One vignette in the shady north border

That same clump of grass provides a wonderful contrast in color and texture with the purple leaved heuchera next to it. Its dusky maroon leaves echo the color of the flopped over foxglove, and complement the pale yellow foxglove in the foreground. No lie: a well-designed flower border has as much going on as a classical symphony.

That broody hen knew what she was doing when she chose this area for her nesting site. I always look forward to turning the corner and taking in this view, remembering that it didn’t always look this good. As a matter of fact, at one point I wondered if anything would ever look good again. Thanks, Colleen, for a chance to get some perspective.

How about you? Dare you show the bad and ugly in your garden to the world, as well as the good? Let Colleen know in the comments to this post.

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

Dragonfly Lady September 14, 2009, 1:56 pm

The frustrations of gardening! Oh! to have that magic trowel that would do all the hard work for us!
.-= Dragonfly Lady´s last blog ..Duranta – A Purple Flowering Shrub =-.

Daimer steam cleaners March 20, 2008, 7:32 am

Good pictures, nice places, good- bad-ugly anyway nature is nature.

Rachel August 9, 2007, 11:29 am

Wait. So you’re saying once I plant a bed and it looks fabulous, it doesn’t just stay that way?!? Dang, this gardening thing gets harder and harder the more I learn 🙂

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) July 22, 2007, 12:03 am

RE: The Purple and Gold Bed. Oooh! I always depress myself, too, by looking at old photos of the garden and seeing how nice something used to look. I think something we forget when gardening is how transient it is. We finish a project and are proud of it and move on. Meanwhile our finished projects start decaying almost immediately and when we come back around to them we think, “What happened!!!”

Colleen July 15, 2007, 7:27 am

Great post, Kathy! Thank you so much for participating in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” I’m lucky I don’t have any wilder areas on my property….they’d take over my gardens in no time! That garden on the north side of the house is just gorgeous. I love all of the texture there.

Thanks again!