gardens by daisy moore
Daisy's Own Garden:
Years Three and Four
After gaining approval from the fire marshall, I had a controlled burn of the back forty in the spring. It was a rather disappointing event, mainly because the spring was not a good one for this type of activity. Weather conditions must be dry and still for a good burn. That spring was always wet and usually windy.
When the right conditions did appear, the plants had started to grow and the green material continued to limit the blaze. It was very disappointing for the group of 12-year-old "pyromaniacs" I had asked to join in. The children and their parents were quite puzzled as to why anyone would do such a thing. When I said, "To change the balance of power of the plant material", it didn't quite make sense to them. On the bright side, the fire didn't run out of control as most of my colleagues expected.
The new gardens matured in the third year and some interesting combinations of plants began to emerge. Left alone, I discovered that many plants would seed themselves and offer some striking splashes of colour. Lupins, buttercups and wild phlox found their way to empty patches in the pond extension bed. The peonies which originated in the garden were beginning to gather strength and to flower.
The invasive and problematic plants also began to show their presence. The Miscanthus is extremely aggressive and spread well beyond its location from the previous years. Candytuft was consumed by the grasses and the delphiniums and dwarf lilies were being threatened. Another ornamental grass, Phalaris, was starting to crowd out plants on the other end of the bed. The Coreopsis was being overwhelmed by the grass.
Wild Phlox is a very pretty wildflower and when the garden was lacking in plant diversity for the first few years, I found myself encouraging this plant. It covered a large patch at the end of the property just at the edge of the gorge natural area. It is a biennial and easily recognizable, so in the early spring I would dig up the plants and spread them throughout the back yard. It has since become rather a problem since it seeds so vigorously. In the pond extension bed, I had to weed out the wild phlox from amongst the monarda. It is now threatening the iris bed and seems to like to grow on its own. I have decided to allow it to grow in the "yet ungardened" areas but will try to keep it out of the gardens where I want other things.
Finding the right balance and combinations of plants is a challenge for every gardener. Plant combinations which you see in other locations are hard to mimic in your own garden. If one plant gets a slight advantage to the other, then the marriage will not work for long. Every garden has its own micro-climate and experience is the best teacher of what can co-exist over the long term.
I am impressed by the way the peonies have no problem fighting off the Miscanthus. The grass has been forced to grow around the peonies as they are determined to keep their spot.
The pond extension bed was attractive but not as vigorous as it was in the first year. I attribute this to the fact that in the first year I used heaps of sheep manure to prepare the bed. Now, with the competition from the invasive grasses and the smaller supply of compost and manure, the soil has suffered.
The garden surrounding the pond filled in with many plants which simply introduced themselves. I added potentilla, which I let grow fairly ragged so that it has a natural look. I find potentilla to generally be very formal and too rounded for my liking. Poppies, buttercup, lamb's ears, baby's breath and monarda were some of the early introductions.
I planted a Frittalaria by the pond which continues to be one of my favourites. It is one of the earliest flowers, appearing about the same time as tulips, and has a remarkable orange colour in a very unique shape. It amazes me every year although I am disappointed that it has never spread to be more than one flower stalk. I see others in the neighbourhood that have formed clumps.
Having a neighbouring property that is highly manicured and being somewhat less so yourself, offers some interesting challenges. Prior to my arrival, my manicured neighbour was allowed to mow to his heart's content so that my back forty was simply an unobtrusive back drop to his own yard. It was discovered that the property line fell about 10 feet in my favour and, after 3 years, I eventually got it back. This 10 foot "transition zone" is an area of great interest to me. It had been sprayed, mown and maintained as a lawn for many years and was all of a sudden left to its own accord.
One of the first things to happen in this zone was the sprouting of a large patch of sumac close to the gorge end. The sumac at the end of my neighbours property was suddenly allowed to spread since the mowing had stopped. The grasses grew and formed seedheads which I hoped would spread into my own yard. Trefoil, violets, wild strawberries, mallow and tansy popped up all along the property line. The less desirable wild carrot, burdock and a horrible clumping grass (whose name I am unsure of) have also found their way to the transition zone. It is clear that this area will quickly be won over by goldenrod unless some intervention takes place.
In the spring of year four, I decided that it was time to stop limiting myself to the edges of the property and I introduced some beds to the middle. The yard looked so poor in the early spring because of the high percentage of undesirable grasses -- rough bluegrass, which is slow to come out: see the picture below.
With my trusty Round-up I sprayed an area of about 15 feet by 10 feet in an oblong shape. I put it in an area which seemed to feel right. I never worry about what I will put in the bed because my biggest problem is USUALLY lack of space. Sure enough, new plant material arrived including a perennial sunflower, butterfly weed, several varieties of yarrow and primroses. A friend of mine works in a greenhouse and is extremely adept at growing from seed. She gladly passed on several splendid selections.
Acquiring plants through plant exchanges and gifts from other gardeners has its downside. Plants from seed are great because they tend to be unique and non-invasive. Plants you get at plant sales are usually donated by gardeners and are usually the ones which spread too fast. You quickly start donating to plant sales yourself.
Along with the plants given to me by my seed growing friends, I made one of my rare trips to the nursery with a bundle of cash and bought some trees, shrubs and perennials. For someone who works in the field of horticulture and is used to getting material through plant exchange or the generosity of growers, I felt somewhat embarrassed to be buying plants...call me crazy. But it was about time I did visit the garden centres and it has been a hard habit to break....I doubt I ever will stop now!
The mid-summer of year four, I was quite proud of the garden. It was taking a very nice shape and the beds were starting to look after themselves.
I was boldly planting on the septic bed and decided it wouldn't be a problem as long as I stuck mostly to perennials. I did plant a pear tree in the middle of the yard and planted another pear elsewhere so that it would bear fruit. I got one pear the first year.
The fall of that year I was given a gift from the heavens when a perennial grower, late in the season, took me out to the back part of the growing operation and told me to help myself. Plants stretching as far as my eye could see were "extras" and were going to be thrown out. I had already made a new bed surrounding the pear tree for planting the following spring, but hastened to fill it with all these new perennials. I will be forever grateful to Valleybrook Gardens.
Many of the perennials I was not familiar with, many weren't labelled and many of them I wasn't able to plant. We had a very early winter that fall and gardening was impossible soon into November. I was able to find enough compost and my neighbour with the chickens generously allowed me to shovel out the chicken coop. I couldn't have been happier.
During this time the rose garden was slowly struggling to make itself into something. The boxwood hedge had suffered every winter and was set back every spring. My travels with my work was always taking me away during critical periods and I would return to find my roses chewed up by caterpillars. I was becoming increasingly inventive in ways to protect the roses and boxwood. I covered the roses with wormwood...hoping this MIGHT do something to fend off insects because wormwood is often used like mothballs. I planted garlic around every rose. I then buried the roses with compost which had been started in the spring using chopped up raspberry canes. The canes mixed with the fine compost was a great texture for protecting the roses. I placed evergreen boughs and twigs over the boxwood and buried the whole lot with maple leaves.
In year 5 a "gardening partner" was introduced into my life who gladly did what gardening companions do......gardened with me and let me garden. It is amazing what happens when two bodies are let loose on a garden. Two energies, two approaches, new ideas, new emphasis. Compromise is not my middle name when it comes to the garden, so he wisely began pioneering new ground......
You'll have toclick here to see what happened next!
"Daisy created a lovely environment with stunning plants and beautiful lines that people stop to admire and photograph .... "
-- B. & B. W., Oakville
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© Daisy Moore 2006