Into The Garden

By: Anne Corke

Feb 09 2023

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Category: Gardening, Rural Landscapes

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Focal Length:5mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

As spring approaches, I find myself looking forward to getting back into my gardens and reacquainting myself with the cast of (plant) characters therein. And as I contemplate my gardens, I am reminded of two truths about gardens: one, they are never finished and two, they are not static.

No, they are never finished. Even if you think you have a low-maintenance garden (no such thing!), every new growing season adds to the gardening to-do list. We may need to divide our large perennials and find homes for the new plants we’ve created. Or maybe our garden tastes have changed and we want to redesign some of the beds. Or perhaps we’re really taken with the latest trend (nostalgic plants like roses, lilac, hydrangea, and hollyhock are big this year). Or we’ve seen some stunning new offerings at the local nursery and we need to make room for them. Or one of our plants is unhappy in its current location and we need to move it to a new home. The work goes on, the to-do list never ends.

And no, they are not static. As with all living things, gardens continue to evolve in response to the environment just as we do. On a global scale, climate change affects all life on earth. Milder winters, hotter summers, intense weather events, all have an impact. Locally, our property changes as old trees become sparse allowing more light to fall on the gardens and lawns around them. What was once a shade garden becomes a partial shade or even full sun garden. As younger trees grow taller, their canopies widen and cast shade on what was once a sunny garden. Our own little microclimates are constantly changing. What’s that old mantra ‘Horses for courses, and plants for places’? It reminds us that plants thrive in the conditions that suit them best. Unfortunately the conditions in our own gardens change year by year and we’re often playing catch up.

Usually it’s light or absence of light that the plants seek. I have three lilacs on the south side in the backyard which all have a distinct lean towards the east resulting in a windswept appearance similar to those northern pines in the Group of Seven paintings. I assume they are seeking more light and yet there are three more lilacs on the other side of the fence which do not lean. I have no idea why as they are all in similar light and soil conditions. In the backyard, two gardens are getting less sun as the birch and ginkgo trees grow. These were both full sun gardens when they were planted with daylilies. Now the daylilies nearer the trees are sulking and will have to be moved if they are to thrive once again. They pout as I walk past in an effort to make me feel guilty.

Sometimes, if we don’t respond quickly enough to their needs the plants will take matters into their own hands. Many years ago, I planted some pink turtleheads in the middle of the north garden but they were not happy there and each year, during the growing season, they would move a bit further to the east seeking more light ultimately taking up residence about twelve feet further away from their original location, at the northeast corner of the house, where they remain to this day. I had a similar experience with beebalm in the same garden except in that case the plants couldn’t find a spot they liked, became depressed, gave up and died!

Plants in my gardens, once established, have to make do with the water that nature provides. When your water comes from a well you can’t coddle them. One of my hostas, Blue Angel, was originally planted in an east-facing garden. Unfortunately it didn’t get as much moisture as it would have liked as it was under the eaves and it got a bit too much hot sun in mid summer which burned its leaves. So I decided to dig it up and move it to the back shade garden where both problems would be remedied. In the meantime a bit of root which remained took off and next thing I knew it was growing again in the original garden even though conditions were not optimal! The one which was moved to the back thrived, growing much larger and much bluer. Unfortunately the overhanging mountain ash which shaded the garden died and was removed. So now my shade garden is no longer, it’s now a full sun garden and I grapple with keeping my shade plants shaded or moving them again! Perhaps a sun sail?

Gardening is not without its challenges and occasional tragedies. Sometimes plants are lost, sometimes for no apparent reason. For many years I had a beautiful large clump of black-eyed Susans in the front island bed. They caught the eye of all passers-by for summer after summer and then one year they just failed to show up – at all! As far as I could tell, nothing had changed to cause such a disaster but they were never seen again. In that same bed I had a lovely pink baby’s breath which also went AWOL although I think it may have ended up as lunch for some sort of caterpillar as I once found one right at the roots. Another resident of that bed, a gas plant, was growing quite nicely until it was disturbed by a chokecherry sucker. It was a classic case of ‘this garden ain’t big enough for both of us’ and the gas plant left town. And there will always be those borderline hardy plants that you just have to have even though you know you’re pushing the boundaries. Every spring, you hold your breath and pray that they’ve survived another winter.

Another problem frequently encountered by avid gardeners is lack of space. Unless you keep digging more gardens, there is a finite amount of room to be shared. When one plant is particularly vigorous nearby plants can suffer. If there’s no alternate home for the bullied plant, they may simply give up and die. I have lost a few weaker daylilies in this fashion. I could see they were in trouble but I had nowhere else to put them and neither did my neighbours. (By the way, if you have a lot of perennials, you’ll discover that it will become increasingly difficult to give away extra plants to your neighbours – the ‘free kitten’ syndrome. You’ll see them dive into their houses when they see you coming with more plants in pots! But you can always donate them to a local plant sale – the plants, not the neighbours!)

While there are fussy plants that always want attention, there are also some happy-go-lucky plants that, like the Energizer bunny, just keep on going. Long ago, when I first started to seriously garden, I bought a plant, pulmonaria ‘Mrs Moon’ (pictured above). It’s green foliage was splashed with white and its pink and blue spring flowers made me smile. My husband called it my $14 plant and teased me mercilessly for paying so much for one plant. But I had the last laugh as Mrs Moon and her thousands of babies continue to grace my garden and several of the neighbours’ gardens as well. They pop up everywhere regardless of the conditions, happily filling in spots that would otherwise be taken over by weeds. No wonder I love them.

So once more, I’m looking forward to spring and the reemergence of my perennial friends. We will spend another summer in each other’s company while I collect more material for another garden blogpost! Hopefully there will be no disasters to report!

P.S. When I started gardening, my husband was always happy to dig me another garden. That was fine and dandy when we were both hale and hearty. But now he’s gone, and I’m not so hearty. And so my friend Joanne does my garden maintenance for me. Without her help, I would have to give away all my plants and return the gardens to lawn.

Copyright 2023 Anne Corke

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