When I was growing up, my parents always grew vegetables in a garden patch in our back yard. I remember them growing tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans and potatoes. I also remember apple and peach trees in our yard. When I became an adult and my husband and I bought our first home in Northern California, I tried my hand at gardening – not because I wanted to grow food – just because I wanted a beautiful yard. Like many things that I try, my first attempt was not a success. My biggest downfall was that I had a vision of what I wanted the yard to look like, and that vision didn’t take into account the different conditions, such as sun and shade, in different parts of the yard and the different requirements for different plants.
Fast forward fourteen years and five houses later, I have finally learned how to garden – at least I think I have. When we built our home last year, we worked with a landscaper to do a basic design of the flower beds, sprinkler systems and sod areas. The landscaper then filled in the beds with the sturdy trees and shrubs that would make nice foundation plantings in the beds. By the time that we moved into our home last summer, it was too late (and I had too many boxes to unpack) for me to do much outside other than fill some of my flower pots. I then counted down the months until this Spring when I could flood the flower beds with perennials, and fill the flower pots that I have on the outside porches and patios.
By my count, I think that I’ve planted over two hundred perennials this Spring in our flower beds. It is definitely hard, dirty work and the occasional run in with a snake is involved (and I am not a fan of snakes), but I am almost giddy with excitement watching my plants take off and grow in their new home. (Sadly my pug and yorkie are also quite fond of my plants and routinely chomp on flowers during their frequent trips outside.) This year, I was especially focused on adding lavender to my flower beds. I bought around a hundred fairly small ones on sale, which made them pretty inexpensive, and lined several flower beds with them. I have visions of huge swathes of purple lavender plants swaying in the wind throughout the summer and then drying lavender later in the season. My girls have also decided that we are going to use some of the lavender to make lavender ice cream.
In addition to adding perennials to my flower beds, I’ve filled around forty flower pots (some of the flower pots were ivy topiaries that I had overwintered in the garage – see my post http://wreathonthedoor.com/category/my-garden/ about ivy topiaries for suggestions on how to do this). And yes, it does take me a very long time to hand water the flower pots throughout the hot summer months, but I find it somewhat relaxing to do. When you have to take the hose from pot to pot, you really have to slow down and enjoy the beautiful blooms and foliage that you are watering. That being said, I do enjoy a day off when we get a good rain!
There are a few rules that I try to follow when I add plants to my garden. First, I look for plants that hold my interest for more than one season. For example, I love Spring bulbs, but they have such a short life span in the garden that I don’t use them. Second, I always buy at least three plants of the same type, preferably more depending on where I’m planting them. In order to get the “wow” look in your garden, you can’t plant just one or two of the same plant and expect much impact. I also try to buy enough of a plant type to have two or more different groupings of it in the flower beds. This year, I bought six guarda plants and planted them in two groups of three in different parts of one of my front flower beds. By mid-summer, these produce a tall showy flower, that usually stands above the other plants in the garden. When you look across the garden and see two grouping of this tall planting, it gives the garden some cohesiveness. Another rule that I try to follow is that sometimes a plant with pretty foliage is all you need. While most perennials have flowers, not all of them rely on their flowers to make them attractive. Hostas are a perfect example – their foliage is what sets them apart – the flowers they produce in the Summer are really just extra added bonuses.
Another rule that I stick to is I have a specific color palate and I very seldom deviate from it. I tend to stick with perennials that have pink, purple, blue and white flowers. I very rarely buy plants with yellow flowers (I made one exception this year for some pots) and I never buy plants with red flowers. Don’t get me wrong, I love yellow and red flowers, but I think a garden is more pleasing when there is a consistent color theme to it. And finally, I try to buy deer resistant plants for areas that are easily reachable for deer. I love to see deer in my yard, and because we have woods almost completely surrounding our house, we have a lot of deer, but I don’t want them to eat my plants and I don’t want to have to use deer repellant if I can avoid it.
This year, in addition to the many lavender plants that I added, which are deer resistant, I added over thirty verbena plants, which are also deer resistant. My only exception for non deer resistant plants are hydrangea, my absolutely favorite plant of all time. However, I only plant hydrangea in the parts of our yard that are fenced in where so far, the deer have yet to wander. One of my biggest gardening rules is if something doesn’t work where you originally plant it, it’s ok to move it. I’ve had a difficult time finding just the right thing for a small section of a flower bed that is part of the circle by our driveway. Normally, I wouldn’t agonize so much over such a small section, but it is the first area you see when you pull down the driveway. Large grasses were too tall, purple pincushion flowers didn’t look right either. Last week I found the perfect thing – small elijah blue fescue grasses and they look great. Finally, each year, I try something new in my garden, just to see if I like it. This year, I’m trying a variegated leaf hydrangea with a blue flower and I can’t wait to see how it looks in my shade garden.
Now that my garden is pretty full with perennials, I’m thinking ahead to Fall and where I can add more trees and shrubs. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I run out of flower beds.