On days when the family comes home and asks what’s for grub because there has been no activity that they can discern in the kitchen, a term for that night’s dinner is called fending. There will be leftovers from previous night’s feasts, sandwich makings, or the ever popular nachos with chips, cheese and salsa. I need a break sometimes and if there is food available, the adults can put something together for themselves. With our new slant toward the design principles of Piet Oudolf, fending is a way for the garden to take care of itself as well.~~~ The photo above has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic other than it was taken the same day as the following shots. I went to visit neighbor Mickey who was out working in his garden to chat and see how the wedding preparations are coming along early this morning. We decided that some overgrown gold arborvitae needed to go, lucky I was there to advise on that.  I counted his three little dogs at our feet, but saw movement over by his storage building. Going over to see what was there, he explained that someone had dropped a pregnant cat off at their place and she had kittens in the building. Ooooh, they were too cute, but I resisted the temptation. He had contacted the humane society and had the mama cat spayed and vaccinated. Those babies will go to good homes for they were the cutest things ever. Sigh. Anyway, overhanging the door of the building was a canopy of porcelain berry vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata growing on a chicken wire awning to shade the building during the heat of summer. This is a terribly invasive thug of a plant, but man oh man, look at those berries. Do not try and buy or borrow this plant, it takes over by roots and by seed, but if you have a neighbor that grows it, they will certainly let you take a couple of sprigs home for a vase, or to take a photograph. Onward to the meat of the narrative we go. You are going to see some long shots of the garden, not beautified cropped close ups to explain how this new way of thinking about garden design and maintenance applies to what is growing here. The above shot is a view of the slope behind the main house. You can see the wall, which is planted with Salvia greggiis of various colors and Japanese blood grass among many others. There are seven pink dogwoods, various ground covers and low growing perennials including yes, pink muhly grass, for four season interest. Very little tending is done here for the plantings have been in the ground several years and the only weeding is the battle of the violets, which cannot be won anyway. This area can fend. There is no deadheading, staking or even removal of spent foliage. The dogwood leaves are not so numerous as to smother the smaller plants and they do a good job of mulching. Bulbs will appear in the spring to start the cycle over once again. The view of the same area from the back door of the house shows the ajuga and creeping jenny lining the risers of the large concrete steps. Mixed in are various dianthus, more Salvia greggiis, some mums, heathers and roses. If we ignore the violets that insinuate themselves in the dianthus and choke it out, there is little to be done here as we go from fall into winter into spring into summer. Ideal fending. The middle terrace, ( sorry for the overexposure on these shots, but we haven’t seen a cloud in weeks), from end to end is carpeted in dianthus with Salvia greggii on the right side and a Chinese elm that has been mutilated by the mad pruner on the left. In the foreground is the beginning of a boxwood hedge to line the sunny bed that is home to eryngiums, heleniums and belamcandas. All of the browning stems and seed heads of these plants can be left in place until spring, and hopefully will scatter seeds about to increase the fullness and thwart the violets. Nigella self seeds in here too, and will be allowed to flower next spring before being pulled. For now, this area can fend, which means I don’t have to do anything to it. Hooray!We have now gone over to the far side of the garage. This bed has been difficult to work with because it is the old gravel driveway from the house that was torn down to build the garage. Compacted clay with gravel is not an ideal growing medium. We have added truckloads of compost and mulch, but it dissolves over time and returns to a driveway. But we have all seen how plants can seed themselves in the cracks of concrete and asphalt, eventually returning paving to forest. The key here was to find the right plants for the job. Once again we called on Salvia greggii, rosemary, thyme, grasses and in the middle is a self sown white snakeroot, the focal point of the bed. The grasses will remain until spring when they will be cut down to allow the fresh new growth to renew the look. The thyme, salvias and myriad other xerics that have been planted here need nothing. Fabulous fenders. Moving out to the street in front of the garage is the middle section of the curb planting areas. We have written about the care given to the front yard, which is a yearly mowing in late winter. Click here to read that story. Now blooming is the black seeded fountain grass, pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, it is quite invasive but that is allright in this bed. It has seeded among the liriope which is fine with me. There are roses, crepe myrtles, chamaecyparis, junipers, gaura and lamb’s ear growing with abandon here. Please note the lamb’s ear and Moundry that have seeded in the STREET at the curbing. This is the very definition of fending.Not to disappoint, the final shot is of the highest maintenance bed on the whole property, the small lawn. This part of the yard is under the jurisdiction of The Financier. I do the mowing however. Each year he dethatches this patch with a rake that should be registered as a lethal weapon. The rakings are pure compost gold and go to the veggie patch to keep the strawberries, tomatoes and garlic happy. There is grass seed applied, a mix of tall fescue and Kentucky blue grass. This mix is evergreen in our climate.  It does require watering to settle the seed in, one reason why this muhly grass is so lush. The lower section of the muhly was planted later and is not as full as the top, but it will expand in future years to make a pink bristled hairbrush along the driveway. At the far right is the black lace sambucus, also enjoying that extra grass watering.
These are not all of the beds in the garden, but are representative of the many years of planting that has resulted in what could be called low maintence. The difference this year is the lack of fall clean up. We are leaving spent stalks and not obsessing about it. Having that goal in mind as we walk the garden with the staff of power, we are learning to love the dying foliage and dried seed heads. Instead of seeing a task undone, we smile wisely and know that is part of the design. It’s all about your perspective, how you look at things. Fending can be fun.

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34 Responses to Fending

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Frances, I love the idea of “fablous fenders”. That is a goal of my own in my garden. It looks as though you have conquered many of your garden spaces with these fablous fenders.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. I was thinking of all the gardening articles about *fall clean up* and how much work that is and is it really necessary for the health and beauty of our gardens? We have one larger maple tree whose leaves must be chopped and added to the beds, and the row of birches whose leaves can simply be blown up into the beds. You just have to be able to see the stalks and think pretty, not those have to go! ;->

  2. Tyra says:

    Ampelopsis brevipedunculata absolutely fab. one’s again a plant in your enchanting garden that I havn’t seen before. I looked it up and I think it can survive in my climate as well. Have a happy and nice weekend/ LOL Tyra

    Hi Tyra, thanks, but remember that vine is terribly invasive and will take over everything without constant pruning. So sharpen your felcos!

  3. Gail says:

    Frances, This is a really excellent post! The Susans have always been the best at fending in my garden followed by the wildflowers…Piet would be my hero were it not for the lack of full sun…I do like the direction you are moving with your garden and the Practically Perfect Pink Muhly is gorgeous! I am going to borrow fending and apply it as a concept to the household chores! What laundry, you ask? Go fend! Have a great week end, Gail

    Hi Gail, thanks, and thanks also for the addition of more susans to my garden, I don’t have near enough. As for that sun thing, think chainsaw! Don’t tell hubby the fending trend came from me. ;->

  4. tina says:

    ‘Fending’ is ever so important today. We are all just too busy to baby plants. Yours is a good set up for sure. That pink muhly grass looks great. This month’s issue of Fine Gardening has several pictures in it of the pink grass. I thought of you. P.S. The Jimster fends for himself more than he likes.

    Hi Tina, thanks. I agree, today’s life just doesn’t allow for the kind of garden maintenance of old without a staff. ;-> I saw the FG, my favorite magazine, and felt proud. Fending is character building, tell Jimmy.

  5. Marnie says:

    I don’t have a porcelain vine, but they certainly are beautiful. I have a friend who has one growing on his garage. I don’t know if they are as troublesome here as they are farther south. Often that’s the case.

    Your photos are gorgeous as always. I still have serious case of grass envy for that pink, airy grass I can’t grow here.

    Hi Marnie, thanks. Even though the berries are incredibly stunning, the plant is a thug, here anyway. If you have a large space you wanted to fill, and could keep it under control, this vine is berry nice, (sorry, couldn’t be helped) ;->

  6. skeeter says:

    I feel as though I have taken a stroll in a country garden this morning!

    What is it about people dumping cats and dogs? Especially when they are prego… My two little fur balls came to us from our back woods. Mama kitty and her baby… argggg.. Good for them getting mama kitty spayed…

    Hi Skeeter, thanks, country in the city, if you can call this a city, although they call themselves the friendly city here. ;-> Even though our neighbors are dog people, not cat people, they love all animals. You would have melted if you could see those kittens, I didn’t dare even photograph them, but they will quickly be adopted.

  7. Rose says:

    I do love a garden that can fend for itself! That is my ultimate goal, but I’m several years away from it. You can also feel content, Frances, knowing that the birds and wildlife will appreciate the foliage and seedheads you are leaving for the winter.

    By the way, your new staff looks great!

    Hi Rose, thanks. I have used the staff already this morning, feeling a little shaky today. The birds are plentiful here, there is wildness on the perimeters of our property with empty lots full of trees and vines around in places. My space is way more cultivated, even with the fending going on. ;->

  8. Phillip says:

    I enjoyed the tour and I like seeing full view shots of your garden. The terraces are wonderful and the pink muhly grass is so pretty.

    Hi Phillip, thanks. The pictures didn’t come out as well as I had hoped, but the idea was to show the garden as a whole, or as much as could be in one shot. I think the solution is a new camera, don’t you? ;->

  9. nancybond says:

    My new favorite plant is that muhly grass! Gorgeous! And those porcelain berry vine berries — they look like little Easter eggs. Your whole garden looks like such a lovely place to be.

    Hi Nancy, it looks like we were leaving comments on each other’s blogs at the same time! I love when that happens. Those berries are so pretty, they remind me of fancy jelly beans, or miniature robin’s eggs, the blue ones. The garden has a serene feeling right now, thanks.

  10. Siria says:

    Hi Frances! Don’t fret about your photographs as they are gorgeous. I love seeing the big picture of your garden. It is so lovely! I hope one day I can transform my hillside to somewhat resemble your lovely space. The whole idea of the garden fending for itself is what I am doing since I am not there all the time. I am moving so slowly though…I need to pick up the pace of this transformation…but now it will have to wait until the Spring. I take notes as I read your blog and others of what I think will work. (Sometimes though the problem is going out and finding it!)

    Hi Siria, thanks. It has taken several years and reworking and moving of plants to get the garden to this point. Of course it still needs improvements, but they are minor in the areas that were shown in this post. Other beds are still under construction, the white/yellow, and the black bed in particular at the moment. It is hard to get things to meet the vision when the shrubs are still small, only time will satisfy that desire for age in the garden. If I were starting over, I would have done more perfecting of the hardscape first, the paths and steps, and walls before so much planting. But buying plants is so hard to resist. You could be planting bulbs this fall though, if you get up there. Daffodils are rodent proof.

  11. Shibaguyz says:

    Especially at this time of year when we are doing so much harvesting and preserving, fending is about the best way for us to find lunch or dinner… we just call it foraging. Love the concept of fending gardens… now if we could just find a group of veggies that could fend for themselves… hhhmmmm…

    Hi Guyz,thanks. You have more tomatoes on your plants than I have ever seen anywhere. The closest veggie that can fend would have to be the ruby swiss chard. It is as ornamental as it is tasty and grows nearly year around here. Just take the leaves as needed. Does that count? ;->

  12. meems says:

    I had to laugh at your dinner description of “fending”… it is exactly the term we use when Meems isn’t putting a fresh dinner together.

    As far as the garden goes you have figured out some low maintenance methods that surely seem to be working for you. I’m not so sure they would work down here although you’ve got me thinking. I spent all morning trimming up overgrown perennials and hedges exceeding their bounds. Even the coneflowers deadheaded a month ago are re-blooming. The days are shorter but still plenty of 80’s and sunshine promotes growth right up through December. I wish I could sit back and relax for a couple of months but I honestly don’t think it’s possible. I will keep in mind your new design principles as I garden over the next months to see if it can be implemented in any way here.

    Your muhly grass is stunning in its feathery pink and I really like the scene from the back door up the risers…

    Frances, you have made a lovely garden on your TN slope… I am charmed by your new staff too. Now I must get back outside to do some more trimming. 🙂

    Oh, how rude of me. I meant first thing to congratulate you on your much deserved Blotanical awards. What an honor… I applaud you and your Faire Garden!

    Hi Meems, thanks so much for all of that. I do think that your tropical paradise is a whole different gardening scheme than mine. For one thing, notice all those little leaves in my garden, the little leaf syndrome we call it. The little size seems to be the more xeric plants and we just have turned into the desert with clay soil. We do have four distinct seasons, so there is a non growing season, although it is fairly short. Your garden continues to grow, doesn’t it? Piet Oudolf may have something for your climate though. Less work and more beauty in the garden is something we can all strive for. It seems to boil down to choosing plants that can fend. ;->

  13. Racquel says:

    I would say your fending plan is working well and the plants you picked were perfect for these areas. Your garden is still quite beautiful, full & lush.

    Hi Racquel, thanks. The mainstay on the slope are evergreen perennials like the dianthus and salvias. There are shrubs too, like deciduous azaleas, the boxwood, hypericum and heathers. Oh I forgot to mention the hellebores that have seeded all over the right hillside. I wish you could see it.

  14. Jean says:

    Frances, I loved the tour through your fending garden. It’s a great philosophy to adapt. I saw the comments about the susans and I’m assuming you’re talking about Black-eyed Susans, yes? See my latest post on why I can’t let them fend for themselves!
    Again, thanks for the tour.

    Hi Jean, thanks. I would be happy to take those seed heads off your hands LOL

  15. Lola says:

    Frances, What can I say!! Your garden is exquisite. There is so much to see. I wouldn’t worry about deadheading or anything like that. It is fine like it is. I especially like the concrete steps going up through the garden. Like a walk through nature. The Muhley grass–fantastic. I will have to see if it will grow here. The light wispy flowing of pink beckoning one to come closer & see what lies beyond.
    Do hope you are feeling much better. Was the problem the water?

    Hi Lola, thanks. The garden is looking good right now, still lots going on and one more big thing, the sheffield pink mums to have their moment. I am better, but not very good today. It was the water, I am sure, now how to get rid of the lack of balance. Thanks for your concern.

  16. greenwalks says:

    We “fend” for dinner some nights too, it’s been part of our household vernacular for decades. 🙂 Funny to hear it from someone else. Good to know about the porcelain berry vine, I would have been temped to get it just from your photo – they look like round versions of those malted candy easter eggs I can’t resist every spring… Love the pink muhly grass, and your fending-for-themselves areas look fabulous!

    Hi Karen, that’s funny. I thought we were the only ones who used that term, coined by a teenage offspring Chickenpoet years ago. I had to put the warning up about that vine, because those berry colors are too tempting, aren’t they? Thanks and glad you enjoyed the tour.

  17. Philip says:

    Fending. I like it!
    I loved the tour in the golden light.
    There was one area with the white snakeroot that I had to click on to look at closely.
    I love the composition with the tall grass on the left, and a wonderful balance with the red-tipped grasses on the right, with thyme in between. In the left corner the yellow flowers are snazzy next to bronze foliage.
    You mentioned that this has been a trouble spot, but it looks wonderful( as does the whole garden)
    I also loved the account of your morning visit.

    Best regards,

    Hi Philip, thanks so much. The light is wonderful at this time of year, the month of October is magical with more than just Hallowe’en. I’m so happy that you clicked on that photo, there is a lot going on there, really every bed is like that, so many plants I can’t even remember them all. That tall grass on the left is a favorite of mine, calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’. I think the yellow flowers are the blooms of the bronze fennel, larval food of the black swallowtail butterfly and a gorgeous plant. Finding plants that would live in the old gravel driveway wasn’t easy, but it just goes to show there is a plant for every spot!

  18. Cameron says:

    Well, I KNOW you have a great garden going there on its own. I’m also a big fan of salvia greggii…they do great and I do nothing to them at all! I’ve been tempted so many times by Japanese Bloodgrass. It’s good to see it in place in a home garden setting. I’ve only seen it in photos of estate gardens and such. I love the punch of color. How do you like it?

    Hi Cameron, thanks, those greggiis are what makes the garden fendable, they need nothing. I can trim them up after the winter if I feel like it for lower bushier plants or do nothing, my choice. Now about that bloodgrass. I have seen it on invasive lists in the Pacific northwest, but here in TN I would like to see it spread MUCH more. It is wonderful everywhere. I have been spreading it here and there and haven’t found the spot where it doesn’t improve its neighborhood. I gues that means that I Love it!

  19. Kim says:

    I really enjoyed the “long view” photos, and they were great – no apologizing! I need to learn to plant things that fend – it’s always a work in progress. As for dinner – we call that a “make up dinner” and it’s my teenage son’s favorite – fruit, cheese, cold cuts if there are any, crackers, olives. Aaaahhhhh. I like it too. I’m glad to know others do the same and that I’m not such a bad parent. 😉

    Hi Kim, thanks. Oh, that sounds like a meal I would love too, yum. My kids always loved that type of meal, it was a real treat for them. I would get that tiny bread, baby loaf, and they would made baby sandwiches, they still talk about that and they are much older now. Good parent, Kim. ;->

  20. deb says:

    My guys are on their own tonight, I am sure they will not starve. The planting on the west facing side of the house must fend for itself all the time. Great post.

    Hi Debbi, thanks. It’s good for people and plants to fend, isn’t it? ;->

  21. I love the idea of a self sustaining garden, just as in nature. The falling leaves mulching automatically, and the seedheads nourishing the wildlife.
    It’s great to see the different area beds, although it all joins together as one lovely garden.

    Hi Shade, what a nice thing to say, thanks. As I worry about not being able to take care of the garden for various reasons, knowing parts of it can do without me is comforting. Now those pesky other parts have to be tweaked, do you hear me yellow/white garden and black garden? There are going to be changes made! ;->

  22. VP says:

    My kind of gardening Frances 🙂 I call myself a ‘lazy’ gardener as a result. A ‘fending’ gardener sounds so much better 😉

    Your prize is winging its way – I hope it gets to you. I had to fill in a tricky US customs form. I hope it gets through…

    Hi VP, thanks. I am definitely a lazy gardener too, if it doesn’t have to be done, don’t do it. I am so looking forward to the sign, and hope the customs people are charmed by it. I appreciate the extra effort and expense to send it over the shining seas and will place it prominently. I will tell my mailman Claude to be on the lookout for it. How exciting!

  23. rusty says:

    Frances your back garden is so beautiful, I’m jealous

    Hi Rusty, thanks, but you shouldn’t be jealous, your garden is wonderful. Having the slope really makes our place interesting. I can take no credit for that, but do enjoy the view it affords.

  24. Steve says:

    As a landscaper (whoa, typing in pink!) I always enjoy the “long view”. It is typically what my own tasks deal with, in the end. So you had me at “Hello”, lol, in this one.

    The Muhly Grass may be the most remarkable plant in your garden. While I liked everything in spades, I stared at that, the way it accents the slope and then even takes over alongside your lawn. Wow. That is all terrifically pretty.

    Hi Steve, thanks and welcome, glad you liked the pink and hello LOL! The photos aren’t as pretty with the long views, they aren’t pretty at all really, but show what the garden really looks like, a Fairegarden reality show. Isn’t that muhly the best? Of course the rest of the year it is hardly noticeable. I have been spreading it each year to get this effect.

  25. joey says:

    A great post, Frances. Always a joy hearing your voice and viewing your ongoing work in progress. You have a gift for drawing us in, loving your input. Obsessing is a word that causes me much loss of sleep. Tonight I will sleep better digesting your wise words (until I return home tomorrow and face reality 😉

    Hi Joey, you are so sweet, thanks. It is hard to force yourself not to look at the dying garden and see jobs that need to be done. You must have self discipline and be willing to retrain your perceptions, it is possible and makes for less work for you. The wildlife appreciate it too. ;->

  26. A lovely tour – thank you. I love the muhly grass.

    Hi Happy, thanks so much. The muhly is wildly popular it seems with the readers. ;->

  27. skeeter says:

    I hope you are back to 100% Frances again! Was it the water in the ear?

    Hi Skeeter, thanks for your concern. I would call it 90 %, pretty good. It was the water, beware hoses and sprinklers coming on suddenly, keep your head far away from them.

  28. Kathleen says:

    Gorgeous long views Frances. You may have just coined a new word for all of us to use in “fending!” 😉 I wish you would have taken a pic of those kittens tho! Who doesn’t love a little furball?

    Hi Kathleen, thanks, it did sound like others used the fending term for dinners, now we can use it for gardens too. ;-> The decision not to take a photo of those kittens was so I would be able to not go over there and take one home. I dream about them, well one little long hair black calico in particular. The picture in my head is bad enough, haunting even. Hope they go to nice homes.

  29. chuck b. says:

    I’ve had the variegated Ampelopsis in my garden for a couple of years now. It hasn’t done a thing. Hopefully next year it will finally take off, and grow into my neighbor’s privet. Happily, not at all invasive in California that I know of (the Ampelopsis, that is; the privet is quite weedy).

    I intended to let all my grasses dry up and turn brown this year, but for whatever reason I ended up cutting them back months ago. I will have to enjoy the fending in your garden instead.

    Hi Chuck, nice to see you. I believe the variegated amp is less invasive and slower growing, redundant, I know. Sorry you cut your grasses, I am looking forward to seeing them through the winter. I usually do leave them until March 1, the grass cutting back date here. The stalks of other perennials besides the sedums and echinaceas are usually tidied up, this will be the first year they get left standing. I am excited by this new non work in the garden. My sugar snap peas are about five inches tall, but look kind of sad with our continued drought.

  30. Great topic, Frances. I never heard of fending. We always called it YO YO (You’re on your own.) I also leave the seed heads for the birds and for structure. In the spring, I go back and clean it all up. I did work in the garden today, planting some perennials and clearing a few things. Cheers.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks. Yoyo is pretty funny. ;-> Leaving the stalks and other stuff doesn’t mean there isn’t work going on in the garden. There are always projects that need to be done. Not cleaning up means there is more time for the big digs!

  31. What a great term for it, Frances! I just think of it as, “Survival of the Fittest”… after a certain point, you don’t get any extra babying from me if you’re a garden plant!

    My front garden fends for itself quite nicely… and I grinned about that just the other day, as the two little girls next door solemnly notified me that I had “some dead flowers” that needed to be cleaned up in my garden. (And that their Mom would not let them help me out by doing that, luckily!) I explained to them that I like seeing what was left of the flowers after they were dead, and that the birds like some of the seeds that remain, too. They looked rather unconvinced… but their mom is a Miracle Gro addict and a type A personality to whom cleaning up is akin to breathing air. 🙂 (Sometimes I think she must hate living next to me!!!)

    Hi Kim, thanks, HA! I can picture this scenario clearly. Mom sends the children over with a message that she knows is inappropriate to say to you. Good explanation on your part too. Let those kids know there is another way to garden besides sterilizing everything. Keep stressing that bird thing, people have a hard time arguing against that point. ;->

  32. Chloe M says:

    What an absolutely beautiful and enchanted garden! I love the idea of ‘fending’ – as really that is exactly how it is in nature!


    Hi Chloe, thanks. You are so right. I often wondered when a book or article will say that something must be done to a certain plant when we know that doesn’t happen in the wild and they grow just fine. It needn’t look messy either, if we stick with the plants that die well.

  33. brokenbeat says:

    this has been a good lesson to learn so early in my gardening endeavors. self-sustainability like a black and blue salvia cutting going ” pfff. are you kidding me?” when i approach it with the watering can. i think i need to get more plants that are defiant towards my interest in helping them along. now, as an experiment, i am going to put bread turkey cheese and a black krim on the kitchen table and see if together they will make me a sandwich. i am hopeful. much love.

    Hello dear Brokenbeat, thanks. It is a good lesson, I should have learned it earlier in fact. You know we also call this gardening method the Semi school. Stick it in the ground and forget about it. Aren’t those black krims the best? We still have a few coming on too. But the burning question is, did the sandwich make itself? Is so, who needs wands!
    Love, Frances

  34. brokenbeat says:

    oh, and your garden looks amazing. can’t wait to see it in person.

    I can’t wait for you all to be here too.

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