Jun 30, 2011

Inheriting a garden

Moving into an existing house means inheriting more than a floorplan, paint and carpet colors.

What happens when the last resident was a gardener and you inherit their plants and planting schemes?

If you're not a gardener, you probably don't give the green stuff much thought - it either gets ignored until it turns into brown stuff, or it gets mulched or mowed down.

If you are a gardener, it is a mystery to be solved.  It can be as frustrating as teasing apart a knot, taxing your patience and persistence.  As each new plant sprouts up, you peer closely; is it a weed to be yanked or a plant to be nurtured?  What color will it bloom?  Is it situated properly for its sun/shade and moisture requirements?  Does it need to be fertilized or pruned or just left alone? Common wisdom says to let the garden have four seasons to unfold before you make radical changes.  That gives everything time to make an appearance, and gives you time to decide if you like the landscaping, or if you want to overhaul or tweak it.

When we first toured this house, it was December (our anniversary, to be precise).  Not a good time of year to know what might by lying in dormancy in the garden.

The roses had been severely pruned in the fall, but I knew from the real estate photos they were red Knockout roses, and the pruned canes and grafts appeared to be healthy and vigorous.   True rosarians will snub these as too commonplace, lacking scent and their stubby stems too short for bouquets.  But as a landscape shrub in the south, they are tough to beat - they bloom repeatedly, are not prone to blackspot and they appear relatively immune to attacks from the Japanese beetles.  (I picked off a few the other day, but nothing like the beetle orgies I have encountered on my Old Garden Roses in the past.)

Throughout the spring, peonies, bearded irises and Shasta daisies have popped up and bloomed, and even snapdragons and morning glories have put in an appearance. Some hibiscus are ready to pop open, and I'm on pins and needles to see what color they'll bloom.

In the back yard, a few hostas and daylilies struggle in some tough-to-grow spots.  I've moved the hostas to a shadier bed (out of the path of the lawnmower and weed whacker); the daylilies will get moved to a sunnier location along with some clumps of my faves I moved from our old house yesterday.

I know I should wait until at least fall to plant anything.

I know full well this is the worst time of year to plant, let alone transplant perennials - even with copious quantities of water, they will struggle with the incessant heatwave we call July and August around here.

And yet....

It's hard (okay, impossible) for me to not scratch this gardening itch.

A few days ago, a ginormous Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and variegated meadowsweet came home with me and they now flank the 'Chocolate' eupatorium on one corner of the pond.   Here's hoping the soil will remain moist even if the pond dries up.  Some additional marsh and swamp plants are on their way - my one and only mail order plant purchase so far in 2011.  (There's always spring bulb orders...and fall perennial sales.)

The blank spot left by the dearly-departed clematis was so forlorn, right there as you rounded the corner of the walkway.

I just had to fill it with something.

Something like a tuteur...with a patina-ed spigot on top to keep it from seeming too high-falutin'.  And a pretty new clematis (non-thuggish) to clamber up the structure.

I'm pretty sure my fig and some other shrubs, the variegated vinca, native pachysandra and a few heucheras are going to find their way from old house to new house over the next week or so.  And then I'll just have to keep them tended until temperatures cool and the fall rains come.  At least the toad house won't require any nurturing.  I may have to sort out squabbles among would-be tenants though.

Inheriting a garden is a bit like the parable of the talents.   There's a balance to be struck somewhere between honoring the gift given to you and your desire to put your own imprint on everything.  And of course, in this application, it IS prudent to bury everything - it's the only way to get an increase.

Happy gardening,