Last fall I decided not to fight with the bermudagrass at the back of the perennial bed anymore. If bermuda is going to grow there, then that's where the path should be.
Below is the back of the bed in '08. We must have had a spring with a lot of rain that year. The aromatic aster and Small's beardtongue were thriving.
A couple of drought summers later and no watering and those plants are history. Everything was from division and seed, so while I was sorry to lose them it didn't really cost me anything. The Zigzag Iris and Amsonia tabernaemontana were still alive, but they go underground in a drought and let the bermudagrass take over. I moved the amsonia out to another part of the gardens and did those ever have big roots! The root system of one plant barely fit into a 5 gallon bucket.
I've tried Mapleleaf Viburnum, Carolina Bush Pea and Baptisias at the back of the bed, and they were all no-gos. The chief reasons are the three nearby Loblolly Pines which hog food and water and create a lot of summer stress for other plants, especially young ones, but don't affect the bermuda. Drought didn't get the Mapleleaf Viburnums, but some type of wilt or other disease did. Time to say uncle.
The new path cuts between the Winter Honeysuckle and Carolina Rose and curves to run parallel to the length of the bed. The old path is now covered in layers of newspaper, compost and hay in an attempt to further enrich the soil and slow down the bermuda next spring.
Thermopsis and Baptisia are tough as well as beautiful. The Carolina rose will fill in too, since it's already sent runners under the old path.
There's still room for a couple of things at the very back; I have a cutting from my St. John's Wort that has rooted but hasn't yet put out any new growth, so it'll probably go in next fall. And I'd love to try Mapleleaf Viburnum again, this time not in the rich soil of a bed of new compost.
I added about 3 dozen Baptisia to this bed last fall, all home-grown seedlings. In this bed I need plants that are tougher than most perennials and cast a deep shade to keep weeds down. After flowering the Baptisias are just like shrubs, as you can see in the below picture from June of '10, to the left. The big ones cast a shade so dense that very little will grow under them after they flower.
Baptisias are as good as any shrub as far as toughness, depth of shade, and longevity, but they aren't very tall, so they provide a good height contrast with other woody plants. Back when this garden bed was surrounded by trees, opening up at the end of the driveway to the fields beyond, the chief effect of this garden needed to be color -- otherwise the effect was too feeble in relation to the larger landscape. The garden really needed to "shout" to be noticed, and too many shrubs would have been lost with the thick woods as a backdrop when they weren't flowering, essentially becoming invisible. Now that the bed is out in the open and there are more gardens above it ~ around the house ~ differences in size and texture, voids and spaces have become much more important.
In its youth the garden looked very open, almost naked in early spring.
April '08, looking across the bed to the neighbor's land, one year after the house was moved. The twigs sticking up in the foreground just beginning to leaf out are my dearly departed Mapleleaf Viburnum, two purchased from the Botanical Garden and two from my father-in-law's woods.
Once the April flowers got going the bed looked fine, but there was a lot of weeding to do until the summer perennials sized up. Uncle!
It'll be interesting to see how the Baptisia seedlings turn out. The seeds were open pollinated. This seedling by the neighbor's pasture, an alba/ australis hybrid, was the first homegrown to bloom starting a couple of years ago. I lurve it!
There should be some pure alba too, because some don't bloom until June or July, 2 months after the others.
These perennials are beautiful and attract a lot of insects and hummingbirds, but they are heavy feeders and look like h-e-double hockeysticks during a drought. Now I have put divisions in beds close to the house and will let the rest duke it out in the big bed with the Baptisia seedlings as they grow.
There will be more green in the summer in this bed but more color closer to the house and besides, who can resist a big spring show?
To be continued..