It’s been almost a year since we finished a one-room addition to our dream cottage in western North Carolina. Before construction began we re-worked a parcel of land behind the house to create enough flat space for this one room, which required the removal of half the mountain, all plant life, and dozens of trees.
The minute the excavator left we started replenishing the land with any and all perennials that showed up on the garden center’s discount rack. With a year of maturity under our belt, we’re beginning to see the results of our choices: the good, misbegotten and completely accidental.
I’ve dug hundreds and hundreds of holes – mostly on a slope, which requires the kind of balancing act a 60-year old should never attempt. There was almost always a big rock to dig up first, unless the rock was more stubborn than me. Then that perfect spot for said plant would move a few inches one way or another, or to the opposite side of the garden when I got really frustrated.
The excavator was concerned about flooding from the road above our home, and created a swale that feeds into an underground drain we had installed the year before. We lined the top of the slope on the left with two shrubs that were salvaged just before excavation, several Vintage Jade Distylium, lavender, and eventually, hydrangea, a Smoke tree and River Birch. On the right there’s Red Maple, Hawthorn and Dogwood trees, along with ornamental grass and azalea. It will take years (decades perhaps) for the trees to mature, but some day I imagine this being a lovely, shady walkway.
After gardening school, I now realize not everyone will be so impressed with buying plants off what I affectionately refer to as the E.R. Rack. Who knows what kind of trouble you’re inviting into your garden. But.
Late last year we began thinking more intently on evergreens that would provide some level of privacy through the winter when four Japanese Cedar showed up on the discount rack. With planting season nearly over, my husband talked them down even further to just $33 each. They weren’t perfect, but we took a chance and positioned them at the top of left field and the far back of center field. They were hanging in pretty well during our warm early spring, but bit the dust after a late frost.
One of the gutters was creating massive flooding at the bottom of center field, so when the guys installed the flagstone path in March they also installed a french drain that tied into an existing drain.
That did nothing, however, to dry up the underground spring just above. And it was crazy trying to climb such a wet area to deadhead or plant, so I decided to create a pathway just above the spring. I can’t say no plants were destroyed in the process. Should have waited a few more weeks probably, but that pathway comes in really handy.
The spring area is planted with several types of lilies, obedient plant, bee balm, swamp milkweed, iris, elderberry, and there’s a row of liriope along the top edge just below the path. Verbena, lavender, evening primrose and liriope are above the wood picket edging. It seemed the whole area needed to be framed to give some order to the space, so I spent a solid day dividing and moving liriope from other parts of the garden to the bottom edge of center field. A bird bath sits on top of the drain.
I get anxious to see what things will look like when the plants are all grown up so I use the photo markup feature on my ipad to draw those plants into adulthood. Sometimes it helps.
It makes my husband crazy when I declare a plant must be moved, but I’ve spent a good amount of time this summer moving plants – when they weren’t happy, when they’ve grown larger than expected, and sometimes just because.
The fig trees have struggled, but there’s fresh raspberries every day from the bush we planted last year. The hydrangeas haven’t bloomed at all so far, but there’s other flowers that have been spectacular. The cosmos have returned in full force, and I’ve just learned to pinch back their center stem so they’re sturdier with more blooms. Birds have had babies in the birdhouse we mounted on the back fence, and I can hear the babies sing, or scream, all day throughout the garden. There’s always something new to work on, something to correct, or something to admire.
As it turns out, gardening (like almost everything in life) is a lot like running a marathon. It’s a long race and it’s not easy. Things can and will go wrong. There will be setbacks that test your resolve, and successes that motivate and propel you further than you ever imagined. You have to train smart, change what you can, be realistic about the rest, and for goodness sakes don’t give up.