A Tale of Two Gardens-Wildflower Wednesday

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I am the gardener of two gardens. Just me, and I am not a big, strong, strapping specimen of super digging, weeding and pruning power. I am sort of small and weak and not what one would truthfully call young.
Above: Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris grabs the focus away from the goldenrod and asters blooming in the front garden.

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Taking care of a garden on a steep slope in southeast Tennessee has been my full time occupation for over thirteen years. During that time the plantings have been adjusted in such a way as to take less time for toiling and making more time for quiet contemplation and enjoyment as the garden has matured.
Above: Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’

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Using more of what works is the key to the lowest maintenance and greatest beauty. Native plants have proven to be the best workhorses, although there are friendly non-natives planted in the Tennessee Fairegarden.
Above: Daddy of Jin Dai, the species Aster tataricus, shared with me by my friend Gail of Clay and Limesone who is also the founder of Wildflower Wednesday. To see more wildflowers on the fourth Wednesday of each month, go over and visit her!

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Consideration has been made for not only bloom appearance but also the for the art of *dying well*, sometimes referred to as Fading Faire. What this means is that the plantings need to offer texture and structure as the winter months approach and beyond.
Above: Fothergilla gardenii, click here for info about this native shrub.

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Trees and shrubs with berries and colorful fall foliage, strong erect stems and seedheads that don’t turn to mush are requirements.
Above: The native Eastern wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus. Click here for more information about this berry laden beauty.

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Our other garden is located in western North Carolina. Gardening is sporadic on the other side of the Smoky Mountains, (there is no E in Smoky). The decision was made in the very beginning to plant only native trees, shrubs and perennials at Fairegarden-NC.
Above: Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’, winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’, Echinacea seedheads and Panicums in the background.

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There are natives or edibles only, with natives being somewhat loosely defined. Four seasons of interest for this small space were considered with evergreens, berries and tall grasses as the backbone of the plantings.

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The house was purchased in December of 2010. Gardening began immediately, of course. Newspapers and mulch were laid over the newly seeded lawn grass. Winterberry hollies and three species of switch grass, Panicum virgatum went into the new bed. More natives have been added over the years. The garden is now full. The story of the garden’s creation can be seen by clicking here.
Above: Winter Red fronted by the well dying Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

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Blueberries of various types back the flowers and grasses.

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Coneflowers and black eyed susans were added curbside for summer color. A single Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’ was brought over from the Tennessee garden to see how it would blend in. It has done well and more may be added if we are too impatient to wait for spreading by root and seed.

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“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better …” oops. Please forgive my slipping into Dickens’ prose, the inspiration for the title of this post. The idea here is to learn to love the remnants that remain as the garden slips into winter. Plant accordingly to make gardening less of a drudge and far, far better by using those plants that do best in your conditions. Look amongst the natives for prime choices. So saith the mockingbird. But that’s another story…


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20 Responses to A Tale of Two Gardens-Wildflower Wednesday

  1. Mockingbirds are very intelligent. Your gardens are a good mix of the wild and cultivated.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for visiting. I thought that was a mockingbird, but it is always good to get verification by an expert!

  2. Love your pink muhly. I saw incredible sweeps of it along I-85 in North Carolina on Sunday when driving from Virginia home to South Carolina.

    Hi Marian, thanks for adding that. I have heard of the planting along the highway in that area before, but did not know the exact location. I would love to see it someday.

  3. Love your created concept, “Fading Faire”…such a wise acceptance and celebration of nature’s cycles. Your new garden in NC is coming along beautifully and is simple proof that you made very wise planting choices.

    Hi Michaele, thanks for visiting. I am happily surprised at how well the NC garden looks each time we go there. It just keeps getting better as it ages, too. That makes me look more critically at the TN garden!

  4. I love both your gardens and how they offer something beautiful in all seasons! Low(er) maintenance is my watchword as well. 😉

    Hi Wren, thanks so much. The four seasons of interest came first. The lower maintenance is what we are working on now. If only we knew when we started the TN garden what we know now about right plant, right place, life would be easier and money would be saved. Oh well, we learn by doing, don’t we?

  5. Lea says:

    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
    We are going to drive along some country roads today to just enjoy native plants and Autumn color.
    Have a beautiful day!

    Hi Lea, happy WW to you! Driving out in the country, or even on some interstates, there is beauty to be seen. Hope you enjoyed your trip.

  6. commonweeder says:

    I’m so glad you pointed out the Fading Faire-ness of the fothergilla.

    Thanks, Pat. I think the fall foliage is actually the best feature of the fothergilla, other than the sweet scent of the blooms.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Fading Faire… I like that term. I shall remember it particularly as I begin to grow older. 🙂
    My garden is in that state now as the temps dip into the freezing zone.at night and warm during the day. All is still beautiful to me as they enter the “dying zone”. I hope that old age is as graceful for me. Lovely post Frances.

    Hi Carolyn, thanks so much. Perception is the key to everything. My garden, and the surrounding countryside all looks beautiful to me anymore. With age comes wisdom and *vision*, I suppose.

  8. Alison says:

    I’m having a hard time resisting the urge to tidy up the stuff that’s dying back. Not many of the plants in my garden got the memo about “fading faire.” Or maybe I just need to adjust my expectations. I can do that…

    Hi Alison, thanks for adding to the conversation. It can be hard to let go of old habits, sometimes we are forced to do so by time itself. Adjusting our attitude about what it beautiful is a place to start. You can do it!

  9. I love all the seasonal changes, and I too am trying to manage too much. So I have been buying more evergreens to reduce the efforts, but it is hard to remember to do this when we want to see everything in bloom. Oh well….

    Hi Shenandoah, thanks for joining in here about fading faire. Evergreeens do help for less maintenance and winter interest, but it is in our own minds where the beauty of decline shines.

  10. Carol says:

    Looks wonderful!

    Thanks, Carol!

  11. Rose says:

    Ha, Frances, I always love your literary allusions! I’m just trying to imagine how you might tie in “To Kill A Mockingbird” to one of your posts one day:) I keep forgetting that you have a second garden–I have trouble keeping up with just one much, much smaller garden! As always, though, you are an inspiration with your advice–growing natives and appreciating aging beauties are both excellent suggestions for making gardening less labor-intensive. As the thought of enrolling in Medicare looms ever closer, I’m all for a low-maintenance garden!

    I knew I could count on you, Rose, to read all the words and in between meanings and jokes. I knew that the second garden would not see much actual gardening once all the planting was in, which took place over several months. Using only a few select natives with four seasons of interest was fun but did take some thought and research. We do have to think ahead for gardening into our golden years! HA

  12. gail says:

    Frances, Both gardens look wonderful dressed for fall. Euonymus atropurpureus is such a wonderful tree and I think one wants to live in my garden…Love how Faire NC needs very little care, that’s one reason I love native plants, that and they’re so beautiful. Happy WW.xoxoxgail

    Hi Gail, thanks so much for helping me and everyone to better appreciate how using natives is not just good for wildlife but also for aging gardeners.

  13. Leah says:

    I love your pink muhly. I’ve never seen it in person (though I’ve read that it’s native to Virginia), but now I want to grow some!

    Thanks Leah. It sounds like you need to get some pink muhly for your garden, pronto!

  14. Diana Studer says:

    that painfully learnt gardening lesson, of working with the plants that are happy. Then we can dream of a WOW effect – your pink Muhly grass!

    Hi Diana, thanks for joining in here. It was painful, in effort and treasure spent uselessly. The pink muhly grass has helped to soothe those wounds, somewhat.

  15. What beautiful planting. Of course these are not native wildflowers for us but we grow them in our gardens.

    Hi Greenbench, thanks so much. We also grow your native wildflowers, they are among out favorite plants.

  16. The real measurement of any garden is not the gardener, it is truly the garden…I always love looking at your gorgeous photos. Please, keep them coming.

    So true, Charlie, thanks for visiting. More photos will continue, but in the meantime, between posts, there are 952 stories with pictures of this garden available for your perusal.

  17. Ela says:

    Such a lovely to see beautiful garden and fantastic colors 🙂

    Thanks, Ela.

  18. Shirley says:

    Your gardens are aging and fading gracefully as the best gardens do. I’ve been taught by wiser gardeners to wait until spring as exposing cut stems to our freeze-thaw climate could mean loss of the plant. It’s not easy but I leave them through the winter now.

    Thanks so much, Shirley, for joining in. Our climate is warm enough that most plants can be safely cut with only a few exceptions. I do like to see those plants that can remain erect through the winter, especially when frosted or with a light snowfall on them.

  19. Hannah says:

    The Euonymus berries are fabulous, and the Winterberry berries add so much color, they really help balance out all the brown seed heads. The Pink Muhly grass is so beautiful too, I really want to start some next year but I hear it takes several years for them to get large enough to bloom with much effect. It’s great that you can use your plant experience from one garden on the other.

    Hi Hannah, thanks so much. A wise person has said, don’t be put off by how long something will take, the time will pass anyway.

  20. How lovely to have two gardens to attend to, but of course you have chosen well to have an almost self maintained garden where you do not reside. Do you stay there for getaways, or is it a rental property?

    Hi Robin, thanks for visiting. It was fun to start a brand new garden with all natives and/or edibles. It is our getaway and used often.

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