Wednesday, February 2, 2011


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.

There was woodland phlox too.

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 Carolina Rose is still going strong though.

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.

In the old path I plan to plant Carolina Bush Pea (Thermopsis villosa)

and Baptisia.

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!

April '08, with Cl. Old Blush

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.

I planted the seedlings among the Monarda,

Achillea millefolium

and Brazilian Blue Sage.

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?

Baptisia australis, 2010

B. 'Purple Smoke' and Baptisia alba

To be continued..


  1. Interesting story - it looks like baptisia loves your property, so your seedlings ought to do well. I planted Thermopsis in a garden maintained for senior housing here and it hasn't really taken off yet - hopefully next year, as it's a sweet looking plant.

  2. Aaaahhhh, another great tour of your lovely place. Your Carolina roses are wonderful, and everything else is lovely too.


  3. I am always jealous of your flowers! I can't to wait to see spring come to life on your blog. Carla

  4. Ok ok, I will plant some Baptista! You have a great group of them and really make them 'the plant to plant'. I have always been a sucker for purple plants, I will be adding Baptista into my garden this spring.
    I think you did the best thing for the bermuda, though even under all the newspaper and straw, etc. it may still run. Will be more manageable though.
    I am going to Google Mapleleaf Viburnum when I finish this comment...sounds like a nice plant with the maple leaf.

  5. Janet ~ Yes, the newspaper will not stop the bermuda, only slow it down. Right now there is a thick layer of newspaper, compost and hay on top of it, a lot of which will be broken down by May. I'll have to see if any Carolina Rose and Brazilian Blue Sage runners make it over there early this summer. If not I'll lay down more newspaper or scatter 4 o'clock seeds. I'm going to plant the Carolina Bush pea and Baptisia in the fall. It will take a long time for those to size up (at least 3 years), so I plan on encouraging other plants or mulching in the meantime. The new path is the bermuda that was growing where the old back of the bed was.

  6. Mapleleaf viburnum (V. opulus) is highly susceptible to viburnum leaf beetle. I lost mine too. Check out Cornell University's site on viburnums. It's such a lovely shrub, but a problem to keep in the garden.

    I can't get enough of your baptisias! You're right, they do act as shrubs rather than perennials. I love this series of garden development posts, keep them coming!

  7. Laurrie,

    Oh great, just what we need, another destructive exotic insect. :( I can't remember if the plants were defoliated but they are gone nevertheless. I'm sorry you lost yours too. I hope the beetle doesn't kill the wild populations. It's a lovely shrub in all seasons, especially fall.

  8. Your garden is so beautiful. I love the picture of the Carolina rose. The baptisias look like delicate lacework in that picture with a rose in the background.

    I am sorry you have trouble with bermuda - so do I. Here it is indestructible no matter what you do.... It will be interesting to see how your treatment of it will turn out.

    I am looking to seeing more of your garden.

  9. An interesting story as your garden evolves. I know baptisias are very much part of your piece of NC.

    The Carolina rose is really something.

  10. The images are a delight to view!
    I'm sure many who are experiencing winter freeze appreciate you sharing these beautiful images of your garden!

  11. The sun is shining here today, but the pictures of all your purple blooms have brightened my day even more.

    Such energy you have and you're a treasure chest of information.

    It's always a pleasure to see your Carolina Rose....I just luv it.


  12. Wow that Baptisia is amazing. Just lovely. Love the Carolina Rose too.

  13. I'd be crying "uncle" continually with such a big garden to care for. From what I see in your photos, you do a marvelous job.

  14. Your baptisias are absolutely beautiful, Sweetbay! I hope this summer is not as dry as the last one and that all your new seedlings thrive. What a gorgeous display of purple and white you will have in the spring! Your garden is so lovely, and I love the way it seems such a natural extension of the existing landscape.

  15. I have been looking through the last couple of posts and catching up. You know what I always love about your garden? It is the seamless way it fits right into the surrounding landscape.
    I have a blue baptisiain my garden, which I so adore. It took its time getting going, but after a few years is a generous sized clump. I really like the purple and white varieties you have in your garden and am putting them at the top of my spring shopping list. Have a great weekend!

  16. These lovely photos have done nothing but agitate my urge for spring to arrive and for me to get out into the garden. Despite the high of only 40 today, I tried to get the back garden cleaned up, but was run inside by sleet.

  17. Sweetbay, Wow the Bermuda grass is aggressive; a lot, like vinca here. The babtisias are gorgeous. If I didn't think roses were a signature plant I would say baptisias are! I love a good spring show~ gail

  18. It's always interesting to see what survives and what doesn't. Your garden looks beautiful! If only it would rain every other day for 30 mins or so, we could grow whatever we wanted and never worry!

  19. I do like your mix of planting. Your pictures make me think I might try Baptisias again - I have difficulty getting them to establish. I though it was our light dry soil (which I blame for every failure) - perhaps it could be me not taking care by watering them until they get settled in. Surely not!

  20. So many beautiful flowers! your plot has gone through a lot for sure, but it remains looking great!

  21. I agree moving the path was an excellent idea. I hope it helps confine the Bermuda grass a bit. The only other thing you can do is work with it which you seem really adept at doing. I think your signature plant should be the baptisias! You have the most beautiful stands of them I've ever seen. You also have a lot of energy to plant so many! I hope more than half survive after all that work.

  22. With such extensive gardens thank goodness for seedlings! Beautiful as usual. :)

  23. Dear Sweetbay, Your gardens are so magical. Your place looks like a park! I love your lush Baptisia. I hope your seedlings all take hold . . . what a sight that will be. I think romance when I see your gardens this way. Just knowing there is a Prince about there too paints such a lovely picture. Beautiful photos and your story about your garden is very interesting.


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