Saturday, February 10, 2018

Backwards or forwards?

The beds around the house came together much faster than my older beds. I find this a little ironic because when the site was graded, everything was demolished and then pounded to the finish of cement in preparation for the house foundation. The ground remained so hard that a few years later Baptisia roots couldn't penetrate it; they'd go down around a foot through the compost I put down and the super acidic sandy topsoil the contractor put down, hit the hardpan and then just run parallel to it. Sounds terrible, right? Yet I got great results. I put down a thick layer of compost, put plants in, and they took off, unhindered by competition from other things like the blackberry canes, native bamboo, Chinese privet and various vines that compete with plantings in my other beds.

Some areas of the garden have gotten better and better, such as the daylilies, but the May garden I liked better a few years ago. It'd be nice if gardening was always a steady progression forward but it isn't always so. In fact in my garden that's hardly ever the case.

The area east of the house ranges from almost xeric to downright soggy. The bed next to the house is dry, while the larger beds get runoff from both the roof and areas further uphill.

Geranium from Powell Nursery, May 2015

Geranium and foxglove, smooth beardtongue, and evening primrose.

The peonies and foxglove appreciate the sharp drainage next to the house. I should add more peonies in spite of their short bloom time. The flowers are so spectacular. Unfortunately voles have eaten the roots of almost all of the columbine the past 2 winters. I was so fond of them too, especially the purple ones.

The old Southern standby 'Festiva Maxima'.

Further east there is a large bed dominated by daylilies on one half

with the rugosa cross 'Sir Thomas Lipton', a mockorange, and bee
balm 'Raspberry Wine' on the other. The two halves are separated
by a narrow path covered with the flowering groundcover Mazus reptans.
I first saw Mazus at Niche Gardens in their display garden, in a half shaded area next to a pond. It completely covered an area of at least 20' square. I bought some from Niche to try it out. Honestly I expected it to shrivel up and die in the full sun, as wet areas in my yard tend to spend as much time crispy as they do soggy, but not only has it lived, it's spread over 20 feet to cover the length of the path.

I never meant to end up with as many daylilies as I have, but daylilies are one of those plants that entice one to collect them, like roses, iris, and dahlias. Like iris they can be tricky to incorporate into a mixed planting.

I have tried to add some spring interest among the daylilies, with varying degrees of success.

Smooth beardtongue

In the past I've had a good stand of smooth beardtongue but they have not persisted as they have in some other places in my garden. In my my azalea bed are some smooth beardtongue that's been there about 10 years now. In addition to perhaps not enjoying wet winters, they also likely suffer from competition from the daylilies. A few of them, such as 'Bleu Celeste' and citron daylily (Hemerocallis citrina ) form quite large clumps of foliage, and even though newer cultivars have less of the strappy foliage, I have so many crammed together that the effect is the same. Still another issue is that mistflower has snuck in there and that spreads quite aggressively. I like it but it's a bit weedy, to the point of crowding the daylilies. Inevitably part of it dies from wilt too.

I've tried a few other plants as well, such as marsh phlox,

wild geranium,

purple geranium,


and Gulf Coast penstemon.

Gulf Coast penstemon appears to just be a biennial, so I have to keep those going from seed.

Some years I get the effect I want, sometimes I don't.

The plant that has flourished the best is the purple geranium. Some years it blooms before the daylilies and some years with, which is very nice. All of that purple is a good complement to the daylilies.

The effect of the May garden is currently overwhelmingly white, due to the size of both the mockorange and 'Sir Thomas Lipton'. I knew that mockorange can get big, as our neighbor in Pennsylvania had several large mockorange, but I didn't know they got this huge in the South. I also didn't know that 'Sir Thomas Lipton' could get as it has big here. It's an offspring of 'Clotilde Soupert' and Rosa rugosa alba, and neither one of those gets above 4' in my garden.

In fact, 'Clotilde Soupert' has never topped 2' in my garden.
I'm still looking for just the right spots for the 2 I have.

A few years ago two 'Hansa's and the China/Gallica hybrid
nicknamed 'Delia's Purple' featured prominently in the scene.

'Clotilde Soupert' in front, 'Hansa' on the left and 'Sir Thomas Lipton' on the right, 2010.

'Blush Noisette' with 'Hansa', 2010

'Hansa' and 'Sir Thomas Lipton', 2011.

Delia's Purple, 2013


Delia's Purple with Cl Caldwell Pink

The 'Hansa's melted away after three or four years, as all of mine have, but I keep replacing them as I love the color. 'Delia's Purple' has been overwhelmed by the mockorange. I moved it into a pot for planting next year, and I hope I don't lose it this winter. I wasn't expecting a low of 5 degrees.

I still have one decently sized purple rose just across the driveway from the mockorange, but it blooms later. 'Violette' is a climber that may produce more lateral blooming canes if it had support, but for now it grows among the asters and the bee balm.

And the honeysuckle. 2 or 3 times a year I have to whack back several feet of
honeysuckle that throws long tendrils out among the plantings next to the drive.

Best fragrance in the world though. It's absolutely divine.

So until the two newest 'Hansa's size up, I'm relying on other plants to counteract all of the white.

Mockorange with rugosa 'Foxi Pavement'

Marsh phlox in the background

This really vibrant variant of rugosa rubra has very vibrant fall color too.

Iris virginica

I'd really love to reintroduce more jewel tones with columbine and iris. Columbine would need to go into bottomless pots, as voles have eaten almost every columbine I had, and the way the woody plants and bee balm has grown has made finding good spots for iris a bit harder. Iris would need to be protected from voles, too. I'm experimenting with placing them atop metal mesh in other garden beds. If that works I will try iris here again.

Examples of what I'd love to grow successfully around the house (again):

'Crimson King'

Last year I set out several Siberian iris in bottomless pots. For several years I
enjoyed big clumps of flowers like these, then the voles discovered and ate most of them.


Noid iris

'Dusky Challenger'

Seedling of Geranium 'Brookside'

Another noid from Gene's grandmother and 'Jesse's Song'

Not a jewel tone, but I miss the short white accents from this iris from Gene's grandmother's garden.


  1. Gosh, I don't know where to start--there are so many lovelies here. And some of this is blooming in your garden now, while others will bloom through the spring--did I get that right? Awesome! The effect of those patches of purple and blue Geraniums is delightful and dreamy. When I saw the shrub with white flowers, I immediately thought Mock Orange ... that is a shrub that we have in our garden, too. You have some incredible roses, as well!

    1. Sorry, no, this stuff isn't blooming now. My garden is still mostly asleep. :) I've put an edit in there to make things clearer.

  2. I'm quite envious of the borders around your house, sweetbay! You've so many plants that I struggle to grow here, especially now that the dratted drought has retaken hold of southern California. I wish I had more white flowers surrounding the house - I need to address that in the coming year. I love the jewel tones too.

  3. I always enjoy seeing all of the beautiful blues and purples of your gardens and your wonderful roses too.

    Thanks for sharing so much, very inspiring to me to keep working in my gardens down here in sub-tropical s.e. FL.

    Happy Valentine's week ~ FlowerLady

  4. Backwards or forwards, no matter :) You have the most marvellous purple garden, Sweetbay !

  5. Sweetbay, I have always admired the wonderful sweeps of color in your garden, and you continue to successfully meet the ever-changing challenges of gardening. But you are so right: without the constant love of a gardener, the garden too quickly moves away from our plans. And even with that love, we gardeners usually have to adapt to the demands of the garden and not the other way around!

  6. Dear Sweetbay,
    your garden looks most lovely! I really like your colour scheme! Looks so natural. I think it´s great how all the colours and plants you use fit so lovely into the landscape! So delicate! It´s exactly to my tastes. If you hand´t mentioned it, I would´t have thought that you experienced problems with some plants as everything looks so great. I guess sometimes plants struggle and don´t turn out the way you want them to be, but isn´t that the exciting thing about gardening? In my garden some plants struggle too, but the more it makes me happy if a plant thrives and creates the effect I had hoped for. Two years ago, I gave up my small garden and took over my parent´s former garden. The new garden is larger and very different from my old garden. It is much sunnier, the soil much dryer and not as rich. I planted many new roses as I love roses. At some areas in the garden they have been doing wonderfully. However, near the fence of the garden the soil is so bad that they haven´t been doing well at all. It´s quite a challenge, but I won´t give up. I will see whether I can enrich the soil and if this doesn´t work either then I guess I need to think about some replanting. I am looking forward to see how your garden will look this gardening season!
    Best wishes,

  7. I love all the jewel tones in your garden! I wish foxglove were happy here, but I just haven't had any luck with them. I was just thinking how I associate certain plants with certain bloggers--when I think of your garden, Sweetbay, I always think of your beautiful iris 'Jesse's Song.'

  8. I need to find out what I am doing wrong with my iris. No voles here. I have plenty of leaves, but no flowers. Planted too deep? Not enough water??

    1. The most common reasons for iris not blooming are being buried too deep or because they need to be divided. Most of the rhizome is supposed to be above the ground. They typically need to be divided every 3-5 years. If you have plenty of leaves it doesn't sound as though lack of water is the issue (and bearded iris are quite drought tolerant), but your drought sounds very severe.

  9. Bonjour. J'ai fait un clic chez Hélène, est ce que je découvre ce n'ai que du bonheur c'est tout ce aime .Ce n'ai plu un jardin c'est un Parc est quel parc. Je m'abonne est je revient. Merci a vous pour ce beau partage. A bientôt. J’habite la Sologne (Chambord)

  10. What colors! Really needed this inspiration this morning.


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