Saturday, January 9, 2010

Am I Stupid?

I'm gonna ramble about my garden design. It might not be elegant, but since I have to be smart next week as a teacher again, I'm feeling a bit, oh, je ne sais quoi. Grrrr.

1) Next time I start planting a garden, shrubs are the first priority. This is made obvious by the fact that for 4 months in the spring and summer my garden looks more like a field of dandelions. I'm talking height here. Even texture. It's most disconcerting. Blah blah blah. No structure or interest. (I do have around 20 shrubs out there, mind you.)

2) As a play off of one, I want to add a yellow twig dogwood in a position now occupied by the most slowly-growing 'Isanti' red twig dogwood I've ever seen. It's sibling 20' away gets less sun and is easily three times as big--both were planted on the same day. Deal is, any yellow twig dogwood, even some of these smaller varieties, are just too big. At least, too big in the summer. Come winter, the garden--being overly perennial--looks like a desert of brown vomit. So, in the winter, it'll work. But perennials are neater in the late summer and fall--my fall garden is heaven. The 'Isanti' began to get crowded out this year by wild bergamot, iron weed, eupatorium....

A person just can't go plugging shrubs back into a nearly established perennial garden. It's like putting a baby back into its mother.

3) Trees. More trees. Charming, different, butterfly and bird attracting small trees that grow. See, I got this 'Coralburst' crabapple I rescued for half off from Home Depot. Deal is, it grows slower than the 'Isanti' dogwood. It's even refusing to root well. So I made the mistake of planting a ninebark by it. Already I am envisioning what 2010 will look like in this corner of the garden--crabapple in a ninebark. Maybe it will be a new design fad. Did I mention a 'Snowbank' boltonia is on the other side, and that I hate to cut it back because I like those puppies tall? Crabapple sandwich.

Tall perennials are like a strong narcotic. Low perennials are like sugar in a stick.

4) A higher fence. Much higher. Say, 30'. Neighbor's dog toys shall not bombard my garden like meteors. Better, yet, a moat. A 5 acre moat.

Machine guns that sense movement, zero in, and blast tennis balls out of the air seem appropriate. I've seen these on Ebay.

5) The garden is too small. Not really. But it is. To have shrubs I need fewer perennials. This won't happen. I had so many more insects this year as my perennials matured. Butterflies galore, honeybees en masse. I am becoming entangled in the web of my perennials.

I need more shrubbery to detox me. Ni!

6) Machine guns that also target rabbits. However, I am getting some winter trimming done on my willow 'Nana' don't you know. However, the trimming is becoming most over the top--as in, where did that half of the willow go that was there yesterday?

Ratta tatta tatta rabbit shrapnel.

7) A divine number. What I feel most stupid about is basically a design quandary. Most designers say that in a smaller space like mine (is 1500 feet small?), you should go for repetition, use swaths of the same plants, or at least similar textures and colors. Whatever. I don't think my garden--or most prairies I've seen--look like cottage gardens, so what do I have to fear? But, I do have repetition in plants around the garden, just not together. Is it cohesive enough, or too chaotic to the eye? I'll find out for certain this year, barring a hail storm.

A private backyard garden cannot be a prairie. I'm learning this painfully slow. Native plants or not, I have a manicured garden like those English uptight snobs who have poisoned this country's sense of its natural and ecological self. You can check me on this if you want, because I'll agree with you tomorrow. Hate mail from England in 3, 2....

But I worry too much. I think about my garden late at night when I can't sleep, thus making me stay awake longer doing calculations and line drawings and doodles of shrubs in my head. Let it go. If you love something, just let it grow.


Shirley said...

Well hello Benjamin! Just followed your comment link at Robin’s Nest re your cardinal in flight. Yep, clicking fast is good advice. Keep trying that myself… thing is you need to be watching when they move :-D

LOL… now tell me… do you see England as the whole of Britain/UK? If so… you’ve got your first hate mail :-o

LOL… not really, but you’ve got a comment from Scotland to say I’ve found this a very amusing posting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your ramble… I’d have to say that being a rambler myself. That would be the chatting sort not the one that hikes over hills and mountains ;-)

Many of your points (except the rabbits) I could relate to but ultimately as you conclude… if you love something, just let it grow.

Mm… I might add there that my plants are permanently travelling around my garden (with my help of course) and to be honest that for me is the fun part of gardening to be able to mix things up.

On final LOL… I’m a bit keen with pruners too… but give me a pair of loppers to trim back tree branches… oops ;-)

PS… pop by here should you fancy a few garden visits in Scotland and two from England… neither uptight and one was designed by a very English gentleman!

Les said...

Perhaps some of the technology from the missle defense program will trickle down to gardeners and solve your tennis ball/rabbit problem - kind of like how we got Tang from the space program.

Barry said...

I can relate to this post on so many levels... but 1500', Sweet Jesus, from this thimble sized sliver of property, thats bloody ginormous!

Shrubs have and will be the bane of my existence. I had a winterberry covering a rather ghastly gas meter, it of arching branches and gorgeous pink berries in the winter... perfect, right? And then it sprawled itself pretty much spread-eagle over all of its companions.... out you go you most brazen of philanderers.... leaving me a gap of a very specific size.

And Mahonia that should have filled into a lush beauty of its own.... yeah, three leaves, none of which would work for Adam, unless... well we won't go there!

Drifts? More than one specimen of each plant? Rue the thought... but then it comes back to my sliver sized my own private Idaho (not really but the connotations work perfectly!) Benjamin, your garden is your sanctuary, it is your palette of creativity and expression. Oh, and I vote for the moat - we here in Canada think you can only have one to surround a castle! Good luck with classes..... but leave those weapons you describe at home..... don't want to see your mug on CNN anytime soon!

Layanee said...

Oh, made me LOL and really, stop thinking so hard. Your garden pictures were lush and gorgeous this past season. I do have to disagree with the shrub comment concerning adding them to a perennial border at a later date. Of course you can do this. No garden is ever 'done' and most perennials actually like to be dug up and re-planted every three years or so(taprooted are the exception). Go for a few evergreen shrubs. Alos, chop that ninebark back hard. Chop that dogwood back, the slow one. It may leap for you. Prune hard in late spring on those late blooming shrubs. They always look better for it. You probably know all this but I have been called 'Scissorhands' once or twice in my life. As for the critters, get a bigger dog than those that enter. He will take care of the bunnies too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Benjamin, I was trying to think of something intelligent to say whilest reading through the comments. Layanee says it best. Of course you can move anything, anytime. One thing about gardening is, it is always changing. Maybe don't move the trees, but move the other stuff to make way for the trees, you need them, the trees that is. And maybe a dog. :-)

Benjamin Vogt said...

Shirl--I see England as England, not the UK. I do know the difference, and I was intentional in what I said. Friends? I try very hard not to move things--I hate to lose a year, which always happen, no matter when I move things.
Les--Tang. Suddenly, I'm thirsty. (not really, though i was once forced to develop taste buds for Gatorade / pee water.)
Teza--Come build me a moat. Do you need permits for that? I'm hoping one ninebark I have actually will grow tall then arc over the path. We shall see.
Layanee--I think a lot of my prairie natives are deeply rooted, so I might be in trouble moving things. I need a tree spade to use on some baptisia. I think when I move that red dogwood, I'll chop it down hard--good advice. I'm wary to cut back one ninebark I have, but they do seem to grow several feet each year so I suppose I'm ok. I'm a guy, chopping off long hard twigs just makes my spine twinge a bit, you know? Did I make that over the top enough for you? :)
Frances--Oh my, no dogs. No dogs! They smell, thir poop is large and everywhere, and they jump on you and bark. OR worse, yip. No no no no. I mean no offense to dog lovers, but no no no no. I'll stick with machine guns for the rabbits. And more small tree might be coming, a curly willow thing.

Noelle Johnson said...

Hello Benjamin,

I think your post clearly illustrates that a garden is always meant to be manipulated and changed as we learn what looks and grows best. You made such great observations and recommendations.

Unknown said...

Benjamin, this is one of the best posts you've ever written, in my opinion. A total delight. And I was nodding along as I was chortling. Brown vomit? Check. Got some areas of that. I've been adding trees and shrubs around the place for the past five years or so, and plan to put in even more this year, especially small colourful evergreens. Ni! Indeed. Try some dwarf varieties of conifers and deciduous shrubs--there are lots out there and surely some will appeal to you.

Anonymous said...

You still have a plants left after this freeze? I'm redesigning now, anticipating ripping up the ginger, the clerodendrum ugandese, and my TWO YEAR old, blooming tomato plant. I was trying to see how long it could last. I guess I found out. I rolled up most of my 30 foot square garden five years ago when 4 feet of stinky water from the levee break covered it. Time for changes. It gets easier each time: pull up things I loved and find something new for attachments. I only hope this killed off the mosquitoes too. Do I want to switch to your huge yard for your weather? I just don't know.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

We have the same problems. I wish I had more shrubs, but I don't want to give up valuable real estate now occupied by perennials. And large drifts of a single plant? Not here. I just can't seem to get that to work.
As for trees & shrubs not rooting properly, I've decided that balled & burlapped must be avoided at all costs, and that container plants should be barerooted before planting. I also untangle the roots as best I can. Too many plants for sale are rootbound. I like your rabbit defense system, but I need a rocket launcher to take out the deer.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Noelle--Thanks! But I prefer to add to teh garden (mke it bigger) than change it. But that requies $$$.
Jodi--Oh yes, will def look at some dwarf things, but then wory about my doped up perennials crowding them out. Klehm's Song Sparrow has lovely dwarfs / dwarves.
Naomi--What a mess! So sorry! Last year was a quiet year for skeeters here, but the year before it was awful. Obviously, it was dry this spring and summer, so that helped, and as my plants are establishing well now, I even watered less!
MMD--So do you wash the soil away from containers shrubs and trees? I've heard people do this, but it sounds terrifying. I cut up that root ball pretty well, but not well enough. And I will send youa rocket launcher when I win the lottery.

Pam said...

I want a moat too - and I kinda have one, around two sides of the place. I wonder if the neighborhood would mind if I dug up the road and connected the sides? Oh, and I want a dragon in my moat too. A grumpy roaring one that likes my cat.

Trees - you do get to a point in a space where you realize that you can really (easily, reasonably) plant one. I think some shrubs can go in now - but trees would be tough. When I first moved into my place, there were of course the huge live oaks and I didn't think about the fact that the small one in the front might actually GROW (imagine that!). And so I foolishly planted all of this stuff in that area that is now deep shade. Oops.

Delightful post.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Pam--I do get frustrated driving around and seeing dumbly-placed trees. One in my hood is a clump river birch about 4-6 feet from a front window. Come on. You're just dooming that poor tree to an early death--or a roof to an early hole.

allanbecker.gardenguru said...

Welcome to that very special group of those that are passionate about gardening in general and perennials in particular. We all need to ensure that our gardens are staged, because a beautiful garden satisfies a deep seated need.

In that spirit, I apologize for offering unsolicited advice. My goal in life is to see that everyone who gardens derives pleasure from their work. That you compare dead perennials to brown vomit confirms that the winter garden offends your sensibilities.

Consider tall background shrubs as a proscenium that makes the actors, the perennials, look good. In addition, think about adding a few low growing, flowering, ornamental shrubs into the perennial compositions and some tall ornamental grasses. Not only will they enhance the garden in summer but they will also provide the visual interest in winter that you have already discovered to be missing.

No one will ever recommend that you insert shrubs into an established garden. But not having them will guarantee that you will never be satisfied.

Have you considered uprooting the garden and starting anew?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Alan--thanks for stopping by! I love getting comments. Fist off, let me say that I am prone to hyperbole. I love the winter garden, but I am not happy with mine now. No, I am impatient.

I do have many shrubs, and many grasses, but they are young. I favor taller perennials with interesting seed heads, as well, so I can see them through mounds of snow in winter and create interest (I ust need more). I do very much enjoy the challenge of gardening for winter, and strongly believe the winter garden can be just as exciting as the summer one--if not more so, in some ways, for the echo, the absence of what was and will be again (and it helps see what negative space can do to enhance the summer design). I am a misanthrope who sees the glass half empty, but that does not mean the glass is wasted.

I am, genuinely, very pleased with my two year old garden. I'll be moving in a few years, so massive structural changes aren't going to happen--though they might out front with some foundation beds, but not the main garden.

Patrick Muir said...

Amen to the plugging in shrubs. after i see a phenom mixed border in a mag, i always lust and thoink how can i achieve in an established garden. you can't. Any new gardendesigns will start with the shrubs.
Ia've alresdy added the concept for my next mastrer gardener garden club talk hrere in kanaas city. big thank you

Benjamin Vogt said...

Patrick--The first summer I focused on trees. The second summer I stopped myself midway in heavy perennial planting and said, hey, what about shrubs? What happens in winter? Then, what about food and over for birds and other animals? In came the dogwood, viburnum, chokeberry, sumac, willow, itea, and thuja.