Shiny Rails of Steel, Evolution Part II

By: Anne Corke

Jul 10 2011

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Category: Gardening

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In my last post, I talked about the “hardware” problems which we have encountered on Jeremy’s garden railroad. Now, I want to discuss the plant selections: the good, the bad and the ugly. One thing I’ve learned about garden plans, they are in a constant state of flux. Much as I try to consider all the possible variables, inevitably some part of the plan will go awry. The railroad garden posed a number of challenges. First of all, the east end of the garden is in the sun, the west in the shade. There is also a mature mountain ash just beyond the west end which drops copious amounts of berries onto the garden in the fall, which makes for lots of weeding in the spring. There are three lilac bushes which will continue to grow and therefore create more shade as time goes by. And, of course, there is Sophie, who considers the garden her private playground, the track, her own personal boardwalk!

At the east end, we created a wee hill and planted it with three lavendar which like good drainage. Had I known just how happy they would be there, I would have only planted one! They have grown far beyond the bounds of the hill and are overhanging the track. They will definitely need to be trimmed for now and cut back more severely next spring. Nonetheless, they will stay as I can’t resist running my fingers through the silvery foliage to smell that wonderful fragrance. Nearby I planted some low growing thyme in amongst some rocks which has filled in nicely, the delicate foliage providing a nice contrast to the granite. Under the eastern-most lilac grows a lovely orangey coral bells (heuchera Marmalade) and beside it, a foamflower (tiarella). At the west end are two more foamflowers and two more heuchera (Iron Butterfly). Both of these plants are well-behaved and reliable. Perfect plant citizens! The same could not be said, however, for the tradescantia which I planted around the north side of the gingko. I have never grown these before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. They bloomed nicely but as they grew their rather course foliage developed a tendency to flop about. I was not impressed and summarily dispatched them to the compost heap! So there, I thought! What I didn’t realize is that they would have the last laugh as they had merrily sown their seeds far and wide. I am still pulling up their seedlings. The bellflowers (campanula carpatica) have interesting foliage and beautiful delicate mauve flowers but, after a year or two, tend to die out in the centre leaving a rather bedraggled plant. Since I am partial to them, I am giving them a second chance but I somehow doubt they will make good for me. The dwarf daylilies (hemerocallis Pennysworth), are perfect! Their bright yellow flowers contrast nicely with the sky blue flax (linum). Flax is one of those plants whose shortcomings I am willing to overlook because I just love having it around. It’s a short-lived perennial but self seeds vigorously. We’re probably on our third generation and they pop up in the most inopportune locations, right in and close by the tracks, but the delicate foliage and sweet blue flowers have an ethereal air about them that is completely charming. They are, after all, wildflowers and used to harsh locations which probably explains why they like growing in ballast! The balloon flower (platycodon) is an interesting plant whose blooms are beloved by children. It’s flower buds swell like small balloons before the starry petals unfold. It, too, self seeds with gay abandon. But it’s such a hardy, reliable plant and such a conversation piece, that it’s a welcome addition to the garden, even if some wayward seedlings have to be pulled. Another self-seeder is the blue fescue (festuca glauca), a small, mound-forming grass with fine blue leaves. Again, some seedlings may need to be pulled but others can be moved to fill in bare spots in the garden. I also have two variegated Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) which brighten the shady areas and add nice movement when summer breezes blow. These do not appear to self-seed and are quite well-behaved. On the south side, I planted common thyme (thymus) along the outside of the tracks along with three geum (coccineum). The thyme spreads like mad but is easily cut back and creates a great backdrop for the trains. And besides, you can always throw the cuttings in your spaghetti sauce! In early summer, the striking orange flowers of the geum somehow manage to peek through the thyme. Bugleweed (ajuga) is a plant with which I have a love/hate relationship. At it’s best, it has lovely crinkled foliage and little blue flower spikes. However, it has a real tendency to wander. I planted it first in my rock garden at the south side of the house. It has now spread out into the lawn and even shown up in gardens in the backyard. But as it spreads, the old parts of the plant die off leaving behind unsightly crisp brown foliage. In a moment of incredible optimism, I thought it would be a good plant to stabilize the banks of our dry river bed. And indeed, it has done just that. And it has completely swallowed up the river bed and the bridge, and formed a thick jungle on either side of the track that must be continually hacked back in order to allow trains to pass. It has definitely got the better of me. But that’s how it is with gardening. You’re always learning, always trying different things, and sometimes it works out just fine. Other times, it’s back to the drawing board to revise the garden plan.

Copyright 2011 Anne Corke

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