There is a space here that is the only bit of flat ground on the entire property. It once was the car park of the house next door that was torn down to build the garage. A year before the garage was built, while the main house was being renovated, in 2000, we lived in the little one bedroom cinder block house next door and parked our three cars on the piece of level graveled land.
Let us go back in time and space to the year 2003. The renovation on the main house is complete. The garage is finished, complete with living space upstairs and a deck on the back overlooking the gardens. The workmen are gone as is the heavy machinery. The pathways have been laid out. The fun begins.
Truckloads of compost had been spread over what had been the old driveway after the new circle drive had been paved. Lawn grass was planted in the lower part. A row of Arborvitae was planted for privacy and seperation from the back garden area. Ferngully can be seen in his magnificence in the background, giving shade to that corner. His demise was worthy of a post, one of our earliest, click here-Ferngully to view it. The row of Zebra grass was subsequently removed to extend the Arborvitae to the pathway from the driveway, one of those what were we thinking? moments.
A new garden bed is like a young child. Fresh, soft, smooth skin, an attitude like a sponge, ready to soak up everything and anything to begin a new life. A new garden bed has fresh, soft soil, and is ready to nourish and grow anything and everything planted in it. This space was once like such a child. Newly cleared, a load of good compost dumped and spread on it, flat, sunny, within easy reaching of the hose spigot, ready for planting, a gardener’s dream. It was amazing that first year. Poppy seeds from neighbor Mae were scattered over and raked in, just like the books and magazines describe. Water was applied faithfully and the sun shone brightly. It was a vision.
What a difference a year can make. Ignorant and naive, the next year we expected it to look just as before. It did not. There were some poppies that popped up but it was mostly weeds. The fresh, smooth beautiful compost had disappeared to reveal the sharp gravel underneath in what had once been a driveway. Ferngully was dismantled, leaving the trunk to stand sentinel over the garden for several more years.
It has been seven years since that first euphoric poppy display. We have thrown every kind of plant imagineable into the space, hoping for anything to take hold and grow in those inhospitable conditions. A few things have survived, a couple have flourished. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ was one of the first perennial plantings, three four inch pots were planted way too far apart. Each year they were divided and grouped closer together, forming the tall backdrop for the bed. An unknown yellow button mum was also planted early on. It thrives in the sunny spot and blooms without fail every November. These are the success stories to offset the heartbreak and loss of treasure with the myriad other plantings that have failed. Also, growing with abandon in every nook and cranny are native white asters of every sort and stripe. We have no idea the species names, they are all volunteers with various leaf forms. Asters with blue flowers were added one year, A. laevis ‘Blue Bird’, cordifolius, oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, paludosus var. hemisphericus (Tennessee aster), Jindai, and tataricus. (I am calling these Asters no matter who says differently).
Even though the conditions are all wrong, the toughest of the tough species daylily, Hemerocallis fulva thrives in the flat bed. Planted as the next ring of hell in front of the center circle of Karl at the back, the tall orange flowers and green strappy leaves are welcome to spread and seed to their heart’s desire there, and have done so. A few red H. ‘Pardon Me’ clumps were added just because they were extras and a spot was needed in which to stick them. They are actually too short, though they bloom anyway. The blue flowers are Lavendula ‘Provence’.
After years of annual seeds and cuttings being stuck into the mix, the quest for perennial plants that will grow in these conditions is upon us. Annuals have their place but the Fairegarden is about sustainability and ease of maintenance for an ever aging gardener. Besides, winter interest is of prime importance.
Perennial plantings in the mid-section that have survived for more than one season are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, various other Penstemon ssp., Artemesia vulgaris ‘Oriental Limelight’, a horrible thug that needs to be eradicated, Iris germanica and Helictotrichon. Moving closer to the front edge these pioneers can be found: Stachys byzantina, Nepeta mussinii, various Dianthus grat. cultivars., volunteer Verbena bonariensis, volunteer Prunella and Perilla and Festuca glauca. And dandelions. And violets.
We are renaming this bed the Gravel Garden and have actually added more gravel to it, ala Beth Chatto’s English gardens. We are thinking of grouping the plants into swaths of one type all together. We are thinking of buying more plants. We did buy her book . After reading just the first chapter, I am energized and inspired. Move over, Piet, Beth is my new mentor. She writes that adding gravel mulch to gravel soil helps to hold in moisture and keeps weeds in check. Before adding the stone mulch, we did a detailed manicure and hope to keep the weeds at bay and the plantings groomed as they fill in and weave together. Some plants have already been moved into a more swath-like arrangement.
It may come as a surprise that we did buy more plants, however outrageous that may seem since the garden is already home to more varieties than can be counted. Just ask The Financier about the absurdity of it. Destination gravel bed: Achillea filipendulina ‘Cloth Of Gold’, Achillea filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’, Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare , Santolina chamaecyparissus, Phlomis viscosa, Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’, Stipa barbatus seen at left, Asphodeline lutea, seen at right, and a little yellow flowered fernleaf daisy that we dug up along the side of the road. That sounds like a lot, but with only one of each, little impact can be seen as yet. These will be watched closely to make sure they settle in nicely. Some have already put on new growth with diligent watering and some rainfall. The gravel makes inspection oh so easy with the contrast of tan stones to green and grey leaves.
This is just the beginning. Reading the book, looking with new eyes at this space with the new name, waiting for ideas to enter the cerebral cortex will help the vision come to fruition. After we decide on what the vision might be, that is.