Striving Ever Onward


The gardening here follows distinct cycles as the year progresses from winter to winter again.


Late winter finds us on hands and knees, searching for signs of life in the way of bulbs emerging through frost covered soil.


Spring is a bounty of blooms in every color.


Flowering continues into midsummer with magic everywhere.


And then…the garden, (and gardener) hits the wall. Nothing seems right. It is hot and rain is scarce, causing distress in plants and people. It is too early for the flashy foliage of fall and the grand finale of late bloomers that includes the spectacular muhly grass among others. The daylilies are done and the Liliums are nearly so.


Pests and pestilence abound. What can be done to remedy this situation?

Observe, study and action, that’s what! Or as we are fond of saying, onward!


Let us begin with observe. Which plants have proven their mettle, have thrived despite the harsh conditions? Those should be noted and more added, en masse for best effect. Write it down!

Study and take note, what has fared poorly, totally consumed by chomping hordes or shriveled from heat and concrete like clay soil? Toss them! One must be vicious! Why waste time and resources nursing along plants that simply do not belong here, no matter what the Piet books say or how beautiful they look in the gardens of other areas? We live here, in southeast Tennessee, not Buffalo, not Chicago, not the United Kingdom or The Netherlands. Compost those that can’t cut the mustard or give them away. Be brutally honest to yourself about the wisdom or lack thereof of their purchase, whether long ago or recent.


Take action. Last year an experiment was conducted to see what would happen if we followed the gardening style of offspring Semi, doing absolutely nothing. It was difficult to not leap in there and pull weeds, cut down dead sticks or remove fallen leaves. Lessons were learned during that sit back and watch period, the first being that this gardener suffers mental anguish from inaction, as does this garden. Lists were made during the inactivity of things to do. One list was titled, yes, the lists are titled, dated, filed, the accepted accounting procedures followed.


Where were we? Oh right, the list, titled Too Tall-Cut Back-June 1. The list is still a work in progress for more plants need to be added, including the taller sedums. Here are the subjects to be cut: Vernonia, check. Goldenrod, check. Phlox paniculata, check. Asters, check. Japanese anemones, check. Helianthus, ummm, no. Mums, no. Not on the list but some were cut: Rudbeckia lanciniata.


Another action that is being tried for the first time this year, since the experiment continues, this time by doing rather than not doing, soooooo much easier for the hyper-active, is deadheading. In the past, the only plants regularly deadheaded were the roses.


This season, we have manicured the Echinaceas, Becky daisies, New England asters, some butterfly bushes. Verbena bonariensis and Gaura responded well to deadheading with new flushes of buds and blooms. The daylily foliage on the daylily hill was cut to the ground to allow the struggling plants in their midst, ferns and grasses mostly, to see the light of day, have their time in the sun. The felcos are constant companions.


Will the garden suddenly become the vision after a summer of activity? Dubious, at best. Will the goal of perfection ever be achieved? Highly doubtful. But that is okay. Gardening, like life is about the process, the journey, striving to find the shining light. Learning more about horticulture and nature, the best practices and plants, makes for a stimulating and spiritual saunter through time and space. Onward indeed.

The photos:
1. Lycoris squamigera, Phlox paniculata ‘Nora Leigh’ left, and P. paniculata ‘David’ right.
2. Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’
3. Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuus ‘Golden Bells’, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum
4. The Flat Bed May 24, 2010
5. The Flat Bed July 29, 2010
6. Cucumber beetle? on pumpkin leaf (now deceased)
7. Verbena bonariensis, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
8. Echinacea purpurea
9. Vernonia gigantea
10. Rosa ‘Old Blush’
11. Echinacea ‘Harvest Moon’, Astilbe x arendsii ‘Bridal Veil’
12. Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’, Papaver orientale

Frances

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34 Responses to Striving Ever Onward

  1. Frances you hit the nail on the head.

    I become dissatisfied with the garden in August. Summer takes it’s toll. I’m surrounded with guests here and have to control my joy when we get rain in a predominantly dry spell. Many of the ‘Piet’ perennials can be hard work for me as I don’t have any really reliable damp areas. I bet you have a copy of ‘designing with plants’.

    Onward to September, a lovely month

    Thanks Rob. It does sound like August would not be your favorite month, but lots of guests means money in the bank, right? I have Designing With Plants, the first of his books purchased. It changed my life! Many of the plants listed will not work here, but we are trying them all anyway, when we can find them that is. Wish we had more of the Asian Sanguisorbas, my obsession this year. September is fabulous here as well, but we will try to make August the best it can be. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  2. sequoiagardens says:

    Once again you’ve taken the mundane, Francis, and found in it both the profound and the joyous. I really enjoyed this post!

    Once again, Jack, you are so sweet! Thank you. Profundity is where you look for it to be. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  3. I very much enjoyed this post. You really expressed the late summer doldrums well. I am in the process of planning a new addition to the place, partly inspired by your “No Mow” area and also the Lawn Reform Coalition. My goal is to have a beautiful garden that requires little care and maintenance, and looks good all year. Remembering the way we feel in August is important for the planning stages!

    I have several things that really get going in August, which sort of alleviates the pain. One is a rudbekia which can be quite rude to all its neighbors and must be controlled. The other is the garden phlox. They make big splashy notes of color during this dry hot harsh period.

    I’m studying the meadow at the Conservation Area to see what I need to plant in my new front garden. I figure if it thrives there with no help from anyone but God, it will be fine in my yard. Those lush beauties that thrive in Oregon and Buffalo have no place in the August Ozark garden!

    Hi Hands, thanks. That is so exciting about your new addition, good luck with it and remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Rudbeckia and phlox are also stalwarts here, thank goodness for them. The Conservation area sounds perfect for observing, now remember, write it down! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  4. gardeningasylum says:

    Good morning Frances, August is a challenge, no doubt – love the idea of just doing nothing, but I’m not so evolved yet:)I do think planting things that come into their own with the warm weather, like the grasses and susans can distract from the rubble…

    Hi Cyndy, thanks for stopping by. I did not like the doing nothing, it was difficult for me, but anything is possible for the sake of experimenting! HA Grasses are saviors here too, and the susans are finally seeding about enough to make a presence. Rubble, a very good word to describe the garden now! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  5. Randy says:

    Our garden is certainly stressed right now, Frances. The summer heat came much sooner this year. I feel as though we were cheated out of a month.

    Hi Randy, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here. I completely agree. We went from too cold to too hot in a matter of days, very odd for us as well. We are hoping fall will make up for it. Or as always, better luck next year! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  6. Teresa O says:

    Good Morning, Frances…I learned early what inactivity does to a garden. YIKES! Oh how we’re beguiled by the pretties. The Breck’s catalog shows an elegant candy striped sorrel and I want it, alas, it’s too cold here in nw Ohio. My answer to the August doldrums has always been annuals, shine on little zinnias. Another wonderful post filled with flowers for thought.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Hi Teresa, thanks. My garden is not set up to be left to its own devices, although I have been working for years to make it low maintenance as possible. I am trying to be strong about adding new plants, there are some things that simply cannot be resisted. But at the same time, we ARE spreading the things that have done well and can be divided for the mass plantings that are the vision. It is a tightrope balancing act. We need to plant more little zinnias next year, thanks for the thought! You too enjoy a great week! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  7. Layanee says:

    It is hard to sit back and watch them grow…the weeds that is. Time dictates the amount of activity in the garden and sometimes, other activities must take precedence. That said, there is nothing more gratifying than tidying up the garden for gratification. Love the pictures as always. Please don’t say ‘winter’ for a while longer though. it is hard to believe how fast the summer is flying.

    Hi Layanee, thanks for dropping in. The weeds just never stop here, even in, oops! won’t say it but you know which season I am talking about. I am paying for letting them go last year and won’t make that mistake again. I have a lot of time to work in the garden, fortunately, but not the energy or stamina to work in very hot conditions, like now. Having even one section weeded and pruned with intelligent plantings looking great is so very gratifying. Now if we can just get there! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your no touch and watch action goes on in my garden in certain areas every year. I can’t seem to make myself get out and weed when it gets this hot and humid. UGH.. the area behind the Casa and around the compost of all places goes to weed every summer. Then I have to work my bum off trying to bring it back into submission. Your lists are amazing. I make lists in a not so orderly manner than rarely look at them, however writing them down does help bring some problems and solutions to mind. This time of year isn’t my favorite time. When it is painful to be outside I don’t push it. Just let it grow.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. I make lists in my dreams! HA It helps me to focus on what needs to be done instead of wasting time trying to think what to do next. After it gets too hot to work outside, I sit in the addition and make to do lists, then follow them the next morning. The more major lists are in a notebook that is kept beside the lazyboy for quick jots or longer journal entries. Letting things grow is an excellent philosophy! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  9. Sylvia (England) says:

    Great post Frances. Lots to think about but first spring bulbs for autumn planting. I wish my lists were as organised as yours, I need to find my spring wish list! Love the picture of Echinacea and Astilbe – neither of mine are doing well both look wilted. I either need to improve the soil around them or move them, I think they would both die if we had a really hot, dry summer.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Hi Sylvia, thanks so much. We have placed a couple of bulb orders already, but probably will add to them. Lilies and crocus among other things. The astilbe grow well here, even though we are quite dry. But by well I mean they flower nicely but often will dry up to nothingness by this time of year. That is just the way of it and they return every spring to do it again. I think the Echinaceas need more water than some think is necessary. Mulching is essential for both.
    Frances

  10. commonweeder says:

    What an instructive post – beginning with paying attention to what kind of gardener we are. Do we emulate Semi? Or Frances? I have whole periods when I do nothing, although not for any philosophical reason, but because too much of my other life gets in the way. Then on a day like last Thursday I spend all day in the garden weeding – and feeling wonderful. Part of attending to what kind of a gardener one is learning and remembering to do things like watering. Especially in the vegetable garden. That’s number one on my list for garden improvement.

    Hi Pat, thanks. Semi’s gardening method is due to time constraints as well, although she is a go getter and can work all day in the garden, when time permits and loves doing so. The list making helps me remember what needs doing, I am somewhat forgetful, always have been. That’s why I love lists. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  11. Valerie says:

    Hi Frances: I hear you on the keeping track of what does well and what needs to go. I am more of a layed back gardener and not a perfectionist. Your garden does look lovely though

    Hi Valerie, thanks. I am not a perfectionist, but would like my garden to be perfect anyway, like the magazine and book photos. I am a realist and know it will never look like that, but having the vision of swaths of flowing, flowering perennials keeps me going! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  12. Lynne Kovan says:

    Great Post! I soo know what you mean. It’s much the same here in England. We have had a drought which is unusual for us. I keep watering but things are not good. Stickiness and bugs everywhere. There is a lovely piece written by Gertrude Jeykll called ‘Rain after drought’. It describes the morning after the first rain. I long for that just now. Your photos are inspiring. Gives us hope that our dried flower arrangements in the garden will soon spring to life again!

    Hi Lynne, thanks and welcome. I am sorry you are having drought over there, it makes the plants so sad. The GJ piece sounds delightful. I will look for it. May your plants soon revive. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  13. I do think the record keeping and list making is part of the fun of gardening for me. I don’t do as much of it as I used to, but I still dream of making the ultimate garden database program. I have to agree with what another commenter said about annuals. For a Piet garden flowering tobacco can’t be beat. It has that Piet look, plus it self-sows so looks more natural after the first year. And it’s fragrant. I’m talking about the tall white kind, Nicotiana alata & N. sylvestris

    Ah, another list maker, Kathy, wonderful! Thanks for the tip about the Nicotiana. It struggles here for some reason although it did very well in my other TN, one zone colder, garden. Same with Cleome. I am working on getting all the plants we grow listed on pages on my sidebar. It seems impossible, but we are chipping away at it as time allows πŸ™‚
    Frances

  14. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I think learning to let go of plants that don’t work well for your garden, even though you love them and dearly wish to grow them, is a sign of maturing as a gardener. But, day-um, it’s hard to do!

    Hi Cindy, thanks. I agree. We have to face reality, but day-um is right. So many lovely things to try out there. Let’s buy one of everything and see what works! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  15. Sandra Jonas says:

    It has taken me years but finally I have only the perennials that make it on their own and/or plants that reseed themselves. I will even tolerate some Perilla! With age comes wisdom…or a really sore back!
    I rely mostly on woody shrubs. They provide a structure in winter which most perennial gardens lack.

    Hi Sandra thanks for joining the conversation. You are so right about the back thing, and the Perilla. It serves a purpose and is so easy, just pull what we don’t want. If I was starting over again with this garden, there would be more evergreens, although we do have a lot already. They would go in first, not be an afterthought. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  16. Oh, I so agree Frances. It is about that time in my garden too. Looking back over the seasons and letting the garden teach us is excellent advice. I enjoyed this visit very much and love the poppy photo!

    Thanks Carol. This is the time of year that I am scratching my head and wondering what the solution is to the unhappiness felt for the garden. It does get better each year, but I am never satisfied! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  17. Turling says:

    We are just starting to get the heat now that we are into August. Everything does look tired, including the gardener. Onward is right!

    Hi Turling, thanks for coming by. It is just that time of year, the heat is getting to us and the plants. We are always looking forward to fall about now. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  18. Dave says:

    Some good advice! It’s amazing how many things I have to write down either from transplanting to better spots or just to completely remove. Onward!

    Hi Dave, thanks, so nice to see you! It is very hard to keep track of stuff, especially when we are constantly moving things. (And buying new things! HA) πŸ™‚
    Frances

  19. Sounds like you may have had a Saturday much like mine… pulling out the spent making space for the new blooms. For the most part, my gardens going into August are beautiful. They seem to be recovering from having an absent gradener for two weeks during 100Β° temps. I enoyed reading your perspective on changes. Sage advice from a Spring Chick! πŸ™‚

    Hi Meredhuit, thanks. We have been working like mad to try and get on top of the weeds. I am so glad your gardens are happy about August, your plantings must be intelligently selected I need some of that! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  20. Kate says:

    Lovely post. So often we are looking ahead and forget the not-to-distant past. Its fun to look back on the first signs of life in the early spring and reflect on all that has happened since then.

    Hi Kate, thanks. It was fun to look through the spring shots, and sigh with the memories of them. Each year is so different from the last, it is good to have those photo records. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  21. Lona says:

    Hi Frances. About this time every summer I am asking myself what I need to add more color from now into fall. Seems I am always lacking somehow. I am now waiting on the anemones to bloom to take up some slack. I love your Love in the Mist plants. Just gorgeous!

    Hi Lona, thanks. We are some ways off from the Anemones and asters. This is a lull time in my garden, although the susans and Joe Pye are at full steam. The Nigellas are so sweet, we never know where they will show up. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  22. patientgardener says:

    I enjoyed this post. I am definitely at the point of despair but am coming round to seeing how I can improve things including removing plants that just wont work

    Hi Helen, thanks. You are too funny! Point of despair is a good way to describe this time of year. I can say that removing those things that are dreadfully lacking, and some mulch perk things up. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  23. Love your year in review, to date. The last photo is fantabulous, especially!

    Hi Monica, thanks. It was fun to look through the bulb photos and think of cooler times. The orange poppy through the maple tree was my view from the addition in the lazyboy. It was scrumptious. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  24. What a thoughtful and constructive post. Photos were great showing the seasonal progression, and the commentary, funny and informative. Liked the list making. I suggest that to others, but neglect it myself, then next year rolls around and I can kick myself for not doing it. As for the August maintenance, they live on their own from here forward until they are back snugly in the ground for winter. After our garden walk, no more deadheading. I notice in our cold weather climate, that it is better to stop trimming and deadheading by August. I have had plants and shrubs not make the next year in the best shape. One thing on the list I listened to.

    Thank you so much for those kind words. I am glad you found some amusement here as well, sometimes I wonder if anyone gets the little stuff thrown in, or are they just speed reading before on to the next blog. August is a tough month all around here. We still have another month to prune and deadhead, thankfully, since I am always late doing so. If we wait for rain and cooler temps, nothing will ever get done. I live for the lists! HA πŸ™‚
    Frances

  25. Ginny says:

    July was much too hot to spend much time on weeding and maintenance but we had a respite this weekend and I managed to do a lot of catching up. I’m a list maker, too. One list that’s always nearby is my plant wish list! But I’m also working on my fall to-do list – what needs dividing, what needs moving, what needs to be dug up for the winter. I’m ready for the heat of summer to be behind us but then I want fall to linger!

    Hi Ginny, I agree! Those wish lists help keep the fantasy alive, and a long fall sounds divine. It is impossible for me to remember what needs doing, or NOT doing is some cases without those lists. But I have to be doing something. HA πŸ™‚
    Frances

  26. Carol says:

    Great photos of your garden, Frances, and good advice about taking notes and taking out those plants that just don’t measure up, that clearly don’t belong in our gardens!

    Hi Carol, thanks. It is so easy to be seduced in the nurseries by a pretty plant that really doesn’t belong in our situation. It is difficult to admit those mistakes, and even harder to dig them out! Especially if the plant was expensive or special.
    Frances

  27. Rusty says:

    Unfortunate that wall is a year-round event in my zone 10b garden, your garden looks fantastic as always.

    Hi Rusty, so nice to see you, thanks for dropping by. I don’t know how you do it in those conditions, but know your own garden is quite lovely. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  28. Rose says:

    Dr. Oz may know how to cure what ails me physically, but the good Dr. Frances sure knows how to cure my gardening woes! I have been suffering from garden depression lately, I think–everything in the garden is looking more faded and sagging more than I am these days. With the heat this summer, I have been following Semi’s philosophy more than I intended. But instead of bemoaning the appearance of my garden, I’m going to use this time to make notes of what works and what doesn’t. Thanks for the positive pep talk–it’s just what I needed!

    Oh you are so sweet, Rose, thank you for those kind words. It seems many of us are having less than enthusiastic feelings about our gardens right now. It helps to think about solutions. There are always some plants that have exceeded expectations. Those are the ones we need to divide and spread around. I did just that today and it felt good! When you are up to it, try it! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  29. So it’s not just us California gardeners of native plants that get summer doldrums! Who knew! I know what you mean about being a hyperactive gardener. I try to take one day a week where I don’t let myself do anything destructive to any plant – no weeding, pruning, nothing. It’s really hard, actually, but it puts me into more of a plant appreciation space – or a crazy frustrated space depending on the day!

    Oh no, CM, it seems the summer doldrums, great word! hit us all in one way or another. We look at the garden and feel like, for all that work, it STILL isn’t right. It can be disheartening, but we need to look for the bright spots, the plants that have done well and increase their numbers. Out with the slackers! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  30. Joey says:

    Great advice on taking note of garden success and failures, Frances. Still, it seems what works one summer might not the next. Gardens are in a constant state of flux as is the gardener. I am a ‘neatnik’ and obsessed with deadheading, which is why spend the summer, hyperventilating, after a few days/weeks away from my garden. Our ever changing gardens are an ongoing challenge (one that I love)! Happy August gardening πŸ™‚

    Hi Joey, thanks. You are right. We do have things that are good every year, according to those notes! It is hard to be away from the garden for any amount of time. Happy August to you to, my friend. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  31. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, Excellent advice (cutting daylily leaves made me feel better and the garden look better…thank you) and as always pretty darn good photos~As I was Zen watering…I thought that I need to continue planting cedar glade natives…They are undaunted by the heavier then usual rains this winter/spring and the intense summer heat. Of course all the other favorites will remain, but I am forgetting the moisture hungry all summer plants! xxxooogail

    Dear Gail, I am so glad cutting the daylilies made you feel better. Ours are growing back now, small, young fresh leaves that are sooo much better than the old floppy ones. I agree that you should plant more CG plants. Those thirsty guys need to begone in both of our gardens. But rain would certainly make them all look better.
    xxxooo
    Frances

  32. “A stimulating saunter through time and space”…Hear! hear!

    Hi Ricki, glad you agree! Thanks for visiting. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  33. Will it bring a little coolness to your garden to hear that, although we’re ahead of where we normally are, there are plenty of things blooming and yet to bloom here in my garden? Although the gardener’s lament is in full swing (as Laurrie at My Weeds are Very Sorry writes) with me saying “you should have been here last week, the daylilies were at their peak, the delphinium hadn’t yet toppled, etc etc” there is a riot of colour going on. Lots of hot golds and pinks and magentas, some clear yellows and reds, tempered by pristine white and gleeful purple and pure cool chilling blue of gentians and hydrangeas and sea holly. The grasses are just starting to unfurl their flowers, but their foliage is just so dreamy (thank you, Piet, for furthering my obsession with them) that they don’t even have to flower to have my heart.
    There are definitely tired looking things around my yard, and the slugs and snails have been quite obnoxious, but I just take a zen attitude to most of it, giggle at my not-yellow hollyhocks (pink again!) and figure out where I’m going to plant the latest treasures I brought home with me. Yup. Still planting. πŸ™‚

    Dear Jodi, thanks. I am so glad for you that your garden is so full of joy. You deserve that since our spring comes so much sooner than yours and you have to wait and wait and wait. Now it is your turn to rub it in exalt in the lushness and color explosions. I do wish we could grow delphiniums, just a little, remembering them from our Pennsylvania garden so long ago. Those stalks of blue were pure magic. We are enjoying our grasses as well. It is not the blooms, but the movement that we adore. I have hollyhocks that were labeled yellow, as a nod to your search for them. If and when they ever bloom, next year perhaps, and they are indeed golden, we will surely send seeds your way. (We are still planting too, although we shouldn’t be.) πŸ™‚
    Frances

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