Thursday, January 31, 2013

Evolution of a Flower Bed

Back in October of 2010 I started a new flower bed behind the garage. 


This was meant to be a simple project.  Just a small bed running alongside the garage to brighten the place up a bit.  A place to put an unruly perennial (Plume Poppy - Macleaya cordata) that I couldn't find space for otherwise.


This large perennial was the instigation for this bed
In the spring of 2011 I planted the Plume Poppy, hosta and hollyhocks.  Plants for height, large leaves and a dash of colour.  I thought my work here was done.

Plants beginning to grow in early 2011
It's okay, you can go ahead and laugh.  I should know better than to think that gardening is ever really done.

By the end of the first season the hollyhocks were completely overtaken with rust and had to be pulled. After two season the hostas are still alive but I'm seriously unimpressed with their appearance.  In June their blue green leaves are gorgeous but it's a temporary thing.  By August their leaves are yellow and ragged.

By mid-summer the leaves have turned yellow and brown spots have appeared
I think this spot is simply too hot for them.  The hot sun of late summer burns their leaves and sucks all the moisture out of the soil.  

So two of the three plants that initially anchored this bed are no longer feasible.  Which meant that this past season I spent some time trying to remedy this hot mess of a bed.

Lupines originating elsewhere in the garden self seeded here and I let them be.

Lupines growing in another garden area made their way to the garage
I couldn't have picked a better combination myself.  Lupines are quite tall so they shouldn't look too out of place.  As well the purple blooms and palmate leaves will complement the large blue grey leaves of the Plume Poppy

But there's still some room in this bed and lupines are an early season plant.  So I have spent some time considering other additions.

I tried an annual grass to see if that might work.

Purple Fountain grass next to the Plume Poppy
Purple Fountain Grass had great colour and was a nice textural change from the big leaves but my single specimen seemed overwhelmed.  I would love to buy 3 of these grasses to clump next to the Plume Poppy but frankly I can't afford to do this each year.

I also tried adding gladiola.


I took a chance on a bloom called Laguna.  The description was a chartreuse flower with a maroon eye.  The maroon eye didn't appear on my flowers and the chartreuse colour with this combination did not look right at all.  Not to mention the glads didn't seem to get enough sun.  They flopped over reaching for the light and took forever to bloom.

Two strike outs.

One of the problems is that everything seems so small next to the Plume Poppy.  I think it topped out around 8 - 10 feet by the end of the summer.  So in exasperation I bought something that stays tall and doesn't care about light requirements.


This trellis, complete with sweet little birdies, adds a bit of much needed balance to the equation.


So after a season of experiments, what lays in wait next year?

Well, I'm thinking of moving my Martagon lilies here.  They are currently residing in the veggie patch so that would free up some space and their red blooms would add a nice pop of colour.

And instead of an expensive annual grass perhaps some cheap seed.  Purple beans in fact.  I have some seed tucked away and I like the idea of big bean leaves with beautiful purple blooms in mid-summer.  They can even clamber up my new trellis.

We'll have to wait until next summer to find out how the next experiment goes.

39 comments:

  1. It is always fun to see before and after photos. One of these days you will hit a combination that will please you. I love those Martagon Lilies. I got one bulb and it didn't come up due to our drought last year. BOOOOOO I am hoping for a miracle, in that it might be coaxed out of the ground with all the moisture we are having now. The drought is broken here. I hope that lasts.

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    1. Even I'm amazed by the before and after shots. Hard to believe how different this spot looks in such a short period of time.

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  2. I love the idea of the beans...and cup and saucer vine, or morning glories..or hyacinth bean.

    My hosta's do that too, up here...but it's so hard to water them more.

    Jen

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    1. I wonder if it's lack of water or too much sun. I guess a combination of both. Either way the hostas look so poorly, they really need a better location. Morning glories, now that would be pretty.

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  3. This is the great thing about gardening, if something doesn't go well one year we can just take it out and try something else next year! And it's so exciting to try new things too, look forward to seeing what you end up with :-)

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    1. Thanks for the reminder Helene that it's the experimenting that's fun. I have been so driven to finish this bed and move on to another project I was beginning to forget the process in all of this.

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  4. I can sympathize with your struggles here. Your garage bed is like the strip along my front walk --- just a rectangular narrow area and I am always trying out different combos, unhappily. (I, too, added a metal trellis for height and structure -- I like yours!)

    You would be happier if the rectangle bed was extended to include a curved area at the end corner where an anchor plant could go -- a small tree that would give structure and contrast to the rangy plume poppies. Then some low shrubs in front of the poppies to tame them. A clematis for your pretty trellis. And lots more experimenting with plants... that part never ends!

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    1. What a fantastic idea Laurrie. I really hadn't thought about making this bed bigger at all but you've made me think a bit more. No real reason it can't be bigger. Perhaps it needs to start blending into the hedgerow that runs behind the garage?

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  5. Marguerite Laurrie has taken the words from me, I agree with her idea and was going to suggest something similar, I'm sure a shrub or 2 would help with structure and curves are so much more interesting than straight lines where possible, I do like your the sound of your beans and the climbing suggestions made by others,
    regarding your grass now you have 1 you can divide and make more, I never divied much until 2-3 years ago but since I started I am a big fan of dividing plants and never cease to be amazed by the rapid growth and increase these plants make, I have Carex pendula around my damp meadow (with the pampas grass) and 3 very large clumps in the tweenie garden they all come from one tiny pot I bought about 9 years ago,
    I look forward to following your progress with this bed, Frances

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    1. Two votes for curves then! Unfortunately the grass I used this year is an annual so no dividing is possible as it's now dead in the cold weather. I had thought of a perennnial grass but nothing had the colour I was looking for. Perhaps what I need to think about is a shrub for colour and a neutral green perennial grass for structure.

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  6. Marguerite girl this is the kind of post I really love .. watching a spot experimented with until you get the combination that works well and you are happy with .. I think one of the problems of structure is balancing it with that huge Plume Poppy (I had one and had to pull it out it was just too much of a monster) .. Red Runner beans would fill out well and have those little red flowers that are so pretty, if you are still thinking of beans.
    A tall perennial grass at the opposite end would be great .. it does take time but they ask for so little care (water wise after established) and the right one would have gorgeous show all year round Karl Foerster (calamagrostis) is a great one for that .. I have Purple Flame grass (miscanthus)very dramatic show for Fall.
    I guess I can't help myself in flogging ornamental grasses because I love them .. but since you know that patch so well and you need sun/heat/drought tolerant plants .. I know you will fill it with beauties : )
    Joy
    PS .. can't wait to see how it comes along !

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    1. Thank you Joy for pointing out the Purple Flame miscanthus. That is just what I needed to see. A perennial grass with some good colour. I do like the idea of a grass but I was torn with wanting some contrasting colour.

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  7. So many ideas and suggestions... I like your direction and selections. The best idea is just what you are doing...try combinations and see how they mass out. You want the flow and scale to jell, along with the proportion to the window and structure. The plants you selected seem like they will make a great cottage combo. The lupines and the grass will give you your bulk and height. For the width of the bed... a rule of thumb is half the height of the wall. A tall roof line changes this proportion. Your bed should widen a bit and will give the plants some room to fill out naturally and comfortably. I also make a walk path behind foundation beds. It gives the plants space not to lay on the wall and not have roots by the alkaline foundation, is great for maintenance and heavy rain/snow runoff (since the roof slopes this way), among a few more things. It may be too late for this suggestion, but think about it for future beds.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts about a path running along the building Donna! very helpful as in future we will be working on beds around the main house. This garage actually doesn't have a foundation so I don't have any concern about roots or alkalinity but I think you're right it could be widened a wee bit more as the balance is off.

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  8. You are right - a garden is never done. I can't grow hollyhocks either due to the rust, and I love them. I also can't find purple fountain grass around here anymore - another plant I love. Good luck with finding the right combination.

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    1. I have seen a few places selling hollyhock seed that is apparently rust resistant but I wonder if they really are. Part of me is tempted to try as I do love these flowers.

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  9. Wow, one spot with so many transitions. I beat the tall grass I have would look amazing there, I don't know if you remember it. Now tell me does the rust come from the amount of heat. I never saw rust on the hollyhocks but will watch for it this season, maybe I didn't notice. Your bird trellis is so cute. The lupines would be a good idea along the back. What about a rose bush or black eyed susan climbing vines they are amazing.

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    1. Rust is a fungus that spreads by spores. I believe humidity is one of the factors that increases its spread rather than heat. Some plants have it and it causes only minimal spots and it isn't much of a bother. But my plants were covered in the fungus and almost all the leaves died. There was just no way to keep them unfortunately.

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  10. I like Laurrie's suggestion of adding an anchor at the end of the bed, although I see you have a downspout there and the puddling of rainwater might do anything in that doesn't like getting wet. Lupines would look terrific. I worry that the lilies will be lost unless you have a large clump. What about also adding some echinacea in front of the plume poppies to give you a color boost after the lupins have packed it in? Joy's idea of an ornamental grass would work well in late summer with the echinacea.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer for your thoughts. You're right, there is a downspout that I need to take into consideration. I have wondered if I shouldn't put another rainbarrel in that spot. Perhaps if I widen the bed I could put the barrel and a larger anchor to hide the barrel somewhat.

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  11. Planning already. Just like me it's never too early to start the ball rolling and have the idea's flowing. You are thinking of a purple bean have you ever tried Scarlet Runner Beans? They grow very well, nice and tall with fantastic red blooms that the hummingbirds just love, plus you can eat the beans or just let them grow out and plant the beans next year.
    I love those annual grasses but they are just out of my budget when there is so many other plants to buy.

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    1. I've never tried Scarlet Runner but I just love the photos of them. Such beautiful flowers. I really only considered the purple bean as I happen to have the seed already. Like you, I love the annual grasses (not to mention annual flowers) but buying them each year just isn't something I can afford. I had fun trying that grass this year but a better alternative needs to be found.

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  12. Instead of buying annual fountain grass, how about a perennial switchgrass? You can get them with blue-green or red-green foliage. Also, for low shrubs, consider wild currant (Ribes americanum) or dwarf chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa 'Iroquois').

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    1. Thanks Jason, I really need to look further at perennial grasses. Seems there are some with colour out there if you know where to find them! and great ideas about shrubs, no idea why I hadn't considered shrubs for this bed. Mental block?

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  13. Nope, gardening is never finished! Such fun to play around with different combinations. I loved the contrasting structure of the leaves of the grass against the poppy, and the silhouette it threw on the wall, I think you just need a larger grass. A perennial like a Miscanthus would have the bulk to balance the poppy, and the larger plumes in a purplish colour would go well and with the lupins and no need to replace each year. It wouldn't top you adding some beans as well. Just yet another thought for you to add to the mix!! Have fun planning.

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    1. Another vote for Miscanthus! I loved the contrast of the strappy grass against the big leaves of the poppy so I really like this suggestion. I just need to find the right colour and size.

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  14. Love the trellis! I enjoyed hearing about all your trials - a flower garden is never "done"! I hope you find just the right combination this year.

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    1. If not this year then perhaps next? ;-) One of my issues is that I need to move some plants out of this bed, like the hostas, and I really don't know where to put them. It could take some time to do the rearranging.

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  15. Ooh, put me onto the grass bandwagon, too. What about Calamagrostis 'Overdam' variegated green and white with hints of pinkish purple in spring. It gets about 5 feet tall in bloom for me. The variegated grass might lighten the look of the green on green bed up a bit.

    I love following how people revamp their gardens. Thanks for sharing!

    Christine in Alaska, no new beds yet

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    1. okay I've lost count of the votes for a perennial grass!! Great suggestion, I like the stiff and straight up look of this grass. and you're right, I may be weighing too heavily on lots of green, I need colour, whether that's bright or variegated.

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  16. A rain barrel would work well in the corner to catch rain water. How about Joe Pye Weed? Eupatorium fistulosa can get 6-8 feet tall and is a butterfly magnet. It will love the sun. A tall helianthus would be great, too. Some have narrow, lacy foliage that would complement the large plume poppy leaves. Maybe you could plant swap with a friend. Tall sunflowers would also be fun. Cute trellis. :o)

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    1. Tammy, I have been greatly tempted to put a rain barrel here. The barrel I do have is located on the opposite side of this garage and it's brilliant. I can use all the water I can get down this end of the garden where there are no hoses. Love the idea of Joe Pye Weed. Such a pretty plant but massive so it's hard to find something that it won't overshadow. Same issue as that Plume Poppy - match made in plant heaven?

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  17. It is fun experimenting with plants, but sometimes it gets aggravating when it does not work out.

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    1. I agree Meta! I think one of my issues is it takes so long to grow plants that I want the combinations to work the first time.

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  18. I use trellises a lot for propping up plants that spread like Virginia creeper and have planted beans before too. Another climbing plant I bought (this was at the trailer)was a climbing hydrangea and it grew quite quickly, I was really pleased with it. It's sort of reassuring to see how you keep making changes to this little garden spot Margeurite, as my methods are sort of haphazard to say the least and I always end up being surprised by what happens, often unhappily so. For some reason I thought gardening was a bit more precise - if you do A + B you get C. But it doesn't always work out that way, does it?

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    1. I remember you saying you had a climbing hydrangea. I LOVE those plants, so beautiful. I really want to find a spot to put one in our yard. Haphazard would definitely describe my methods as well! I try to plan things but often the reality is when I get a shovel in my hand anything goes and often the results can be quite surprising - both good and bad.

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  19. Think trial and error is what it is all about. I like the Lupines, we can't grow them here in SC, too hot and humid. Have you thought about Heucheras instead of the hostas? They stay low and there are all sorts of colors...some can take more sun than others.

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    1. funny you should mention heucheras. I actually have two in this bed. They seem to be growing quite well here but partly because they get buried under the plume poppy and have a lot of shade. Of course, that means you hardly see them. I had rather thought they would come out with the hosta and make their way into a shade garden. I just need to make a shade garden....

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  20. I love your lupines -- and also envy them. This is a plant that I longed to have in my garden. They have naturalized all over Maine, growing in fields and along the sides of the roads, so how hard could it be? Impossible, as it turns out. Over the years, I've tried plants in pots from nurseries, seeds, and seedling volunteers from a friend's garden. None ever took; there is just something about my conditions that they don't like. Now I content myself with other people's lupines (like yours :-)) and with enjoying them blooming wild along the highways and byways of Maine each June.

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