March 27, 2008
From the Producer: 3/29
I never thought the garden would recover from its recent trauma, especially after three weather-hard years. Then, I walked out last Saturday morning into a Technicolor movie! It’s a testament to my loyal hardy gang, but I’m sure that compost day gets some of the credit. Spots that were almost bare four months ago are totally engulfed in foliage and flowers. Even new plants have tripled in size in just a few weeks and the new columbines are already blooming. Only a few poppies germinated from last fall’s scattering, but they’re huge! The asters are a carpet. The daylilies I thought I’d lost have been re-born.
Since our last meeting, I added some burgundy-leafed “Sangria” crinums — one to the rental fence and the other to the back fence. Oh so lovely! But, with my renewed interest in the rental fence, I realize I need to add one more variegated ginger. For the cat cove, I got two catnip plants, another blue-eyed grass, and a true sweetheart, Spring Starflower (Ipheion uniforum). Want more!
I added a few things to the patio cove, too. Framing it is the rental side fence, 8′ of front fence, the back bedrooms, and the patio. The former owners built up a hill in the center for vegetables. Sadly, they used “;Red Death” sandy loam, so this area is a drainage nightmare. A few years ago we improved it with a gutter and a modified French drain, since in every gullywasher we had water over the patio and sometimes to the door. Now that we’ve dealt with that, I rather like the hill.
The first few years the cove was in total sun. We broke it up with our first shade tree, a Chinese tallow that cost $9.99, smack dab in the middle of the hill. I documented its planting with a roll of film. Then I added a banana to the wall between the bedroom windows, and a very straight row of euyonmous shrubs and monkey grass (divided from a single quart pot) to line the patio. We were so proud!
Don’t ever buy euyonmous, unless you’re addicted to pesticides. They finally succumbed to scale and poor drainage. In an extended hard freeze, so did the banana and the tallow. You’ll see remnants of Chinese tallow around town, but don’t fall for their enticing fall color. They’re not a good species for us, and terribly invasive in areas where freeze doesn’t kill them. Bananas are still a fine plant to grow in sun and with winter protection.
Along the way, I put in one or two primrose jasmines at the fence intersection. I divided them until I learned that they handled that job very well on their own! Thanks to them, we got low maintenance privacy from the oft-times “too weird, even for Austin” rentals. We planted the Mexican plum on the fence, not in the cove, a much better idea, and certainly, a better tree to plant (for variety and size near the house).
But, I’d made the mistake of nurturing a hackberry at the fence intersection, as a free shade tree (didn’t know what it was, at first). When it threatened to take out the roof, my garden budget went for its removal.
Over the years, this area became shady. In addition, since we hang out on the patio, that’s where the pets want to be, too, so the idea was to make this pet-tough in soil so tough I made pottery out of it one year. Really! Along with the monkey grass, which I’d spread, I planted three clumps of liriope from a friend. The minute they spread, I started dividing. In a few years, they took over. Now that it’s thick and lush, the pets bury themselves in its cool refreshment. And no maintenance for me! The only water they get is from the sky.
In the wall space, I planted a variegated privet, after seeing it on one of the first gardens I taped. Now as tall as the roof, we’ve pruned its lower branches bare for a sort of sculptural look. I really want to take it out and put in a disappearing fountain, but that’s a project for next year. Around it, I planted a few gingers and the recently moved cycad. I’d like to buy more gingers, but for now, I’ve divided the ones I have.
I added flagstones for some definition where it’s too shady for even liriope. The cats love that path, and they use it on their way to the ladder we built them to patrol the roof. I painted it sage green to blend in with the jasmines. It’s been great — the cats get their scratching and climbing done outside before they come in for the night, and when they’re on the roof, I know where they are!
We added a few sculptures: a huge horned toad that the cats like to nuzzle, and a tall, flat, orange-tinted Mayan-looking cat I nabbed when an import place went out of business.
Eventually, I decided to get rid of all the grass and make this liriope heaven. I didn’t have enough liriope for the job, however, so I just carved into the grass on the hill, making it a circular area. Bingo, the cove was born! It’s sort of a pain to mow this little circle of grass, but its carpet beautifully offsets the upright and sprawling textures below and around it. I’ve thought about granite, but with all the trees, it would be a clean-up nightmare. Two minutes with the mower and it’s done.
At the yard entrance to the cove, there’s the rosemary on one side, and across the way at the patio, the star jasmine on its trellis. In the bed next to the jasmine, which gets some sun, there’s the fragrant Marie Pavie rose, daylilies, and all kinds of bulbs. When the spring bulbs go down, Eupatorium greggii takes over, bringing crowds of butterflies just feet from the patio table. Along the patio edge, instead of euyonmous, turks cap towers over the liriope, bringing hummingbirds and fall Monarch butterflies within touching distance. And in fall, lycoris and oxblood lilies join its symphony of red.
Last weekend I added an East Indian holly fern to the trunk of the privet. Then, in the cove’s house apex, recently extended when I moved some primrose, I added liriope and a new one for me, Phalaris. It looks sort of like Aztec grass with white variegated leaves, blushed with pink. It’s possibly invasive, but that’s no problem in this area. What I like is its white-striped leaves, which will stand out on a summer’s night, and every day, counterpoint the greenery around it.
Until next week, Linda