I have spent the last five days working hard in the gardens. The weather has been up and down, at times a bit chilly and overcast and at other times some nice sunshine. I've been on a roll averaging about 10 hours a day working on the most neglected areas. Lots of weeding, adding compost, some planting, and lots of mulching. I should have been mixing it up with easier areas but I kept pushing on and boy oh boy is my lower back complaining about it. It doesn't seem too bad when I am gardening, but once I stop I can hardly move. When I'm finished for the day I've been taking a hot bath soaking with epsom salts, a few doses of Tylenol off and on when the aches are at their worst, and then using a heating pad for the rest of the evening and through the night. These aches will pass. Well, at least I hope they do
The gardens that I've been concentrating on are the Gazebo Garden, the Iris Bed, and the Vegetable Garden. They are all shaping up nicely. This is what I'm dealing with. The first is the Vegetable Garden that is enclosed in a deer fence. I haven't had vegetables other than in containers on the patio for several years. There are actually tall tomato cages in there and the weeds have completely covered them. I had to laugh at River's caution about going in there! The other is the Iris Bed that had gotten overrun with thistles.
Today the weather is going to be glorious but I need to move on to something less strenuous to give my sore body and aching back a respite. I've got herbs to plant in containers on the kitchen deck and new succulents to fill in where the turtle topiary form is looking ratty. I'll also plant the tall purple containers. Easy jobs.
I took a break late yesterday afternoon and strolled about with my camera. Here is just a sampling of some of the gardens.
The Turtle Garden. This is a garden area that needed lots of weeding. The first pass getting out all the thorn bushes and accumulated leaves is done. The second pass getting out all the stilt grass and putting down mulch is halfway done. Bench and bird bath now have base stones to stabilize them.
The Stepping Stone Garden. Roof Iris, Big Root Geranium, and Brunnera are in bloom.
Shredded Umbrella Plant. One of my all time favorite plants. Growing in Hillside Shade Garden Area 3.
The Gazebo Garden. This is the area that I worked on over the weekend. The bed has been expanded to the right. I added lots of bags of compost, planted 5 peonies and 8 iris, and topped with mulch. Deutzia 'Nikko' blooming in the foreground is about 20 years old. Adding the stepping stones last year really sets it off.
The Cottage Garden. Lilac 'Miss Kim', Iris 'Mary Frances', and Clematis 'Diamantina' blooming. This garden needs some thinning out of siberian iris and lilies.
Huge white azaleas that Mike brought home from a job site. The home owner wanted Mike to dig them up from her front foundation beds while he was there with the equipment for a sewer repair job. She was really happy that they might find a home here instead of the compost heap at the landfill. They were too crowded and overgrown so they are very leggy, but I am liking the leggy look, gives them a nice architectural element. They are settling in on the Lower Hillside.
On Tuesday when the rain let up, I took the measuring wheel and got measurements of all the garden areas. River followed me everywhere, taking special delight when we went to all the outlying areas. It was a good way to spend the day in a gardening activity when it was just too wet to do the usual weeding, planting, and mulching. It took a while to enter all the notes into my database and calculate the square footages, but I finished it up this morning. I now have the specific details I wanted to put real data to the scope of what I am attempting to do with the gardens of Aspen Hill.
The total square footage is 80,688 broken down as follows:
22,301 square feet of gardens requiring a full level of attention - leaf removal, weeding, planting, thinning, dividing, mulching
12,449 square feet of gardens requiring a mid level of attention - leaf and debris management, occasional weeding, some planting
35,694 square feet of gardens requiring a minimal level of attention - leaf and debris management
10,244 square feet of gardens planned but not yet established
Thirty garden areas requiring a full level of attention:
Front Foundation Beds (580 sq ft), Front Island Bed (450 sq ft), Front Steps Bed (520 sq ft), Epimedium Walk (510 sq ft), Fern Bank (420 sq ft), Driveway Circle Area (3958 sq ft), Camellia Corner (674 sq ft), Turtle Garden (1762 sq ft), Vegetable Garden (600 sq ft)
Turret Foundation Beds (652 sq ft), Coach Light Bed (360 sq ft), Hillside Shade Garden Area1 (760 sq ft), Hillside Shade Garden Area2 (523 sq ft), Hillside Shade Garden Area3 (377 sq ft), Stepping Stone Garden (970 sq ft), Hillside Shade Garden Area4 (621 sq ft), Hillside Shade Garden Area5 (1035 sq ft)
Cottage Garden (254 sq ft), Cherry Tree Nook (1344 sq ft), Iris Bed (632 sq ft), Gazebo Garden (1034 sq ft), Boxwood Parterre (380 sq ft), Side Yard Shade Garden (481 sq ft), Side Yard Weigela Bed (345 sq ft)
Conservatory Steps Garden (72 sq ft), Back Patio Foundation Beds (246 sq ft), Lower Front Shrub Area (405 sq ft), Millstone Fountain Garden (403 sq ft), Lemon Garden (1440 sq ft), Upper Back Shrub Area (493 sq ft)
Five garden areas requiring a mid level of attention:
Lower Hillside (3349 sq ft)
Hillside Boulder Path (810 sq ft)
Peacock Path (3795 sq ft), Stumpery (930 sq ft)
Woodland Walk (3565 sq ft)
Six garden areas requiring a minimal level of attention:
Upper Hillside (2232 sq ft), Driveway Drainfield Area (5603 sq ft), Easement (9920 sq ft), Property Entrance Area (12,199 sq ft)
Fire Pit Area (340 sq ft), Daffodil Trail (5400 sq ft)
Three garden areas still to be established:
Driveway Perimeter Beds (2870 sq ft)
Pond Edge (3774 sq ft)
Side Yard Rose Garden (3600 sq ft)
My sister Julie stopped by on Saturday morning after dropping groceries off to our parents. My family knows that I love gardening but have rarely seen the gardens themselves. My parents live up the hill, Julie lives close by, and my brother Michael and other sister Tina are within an hour drive. It isn't that we don't get together, it is just that most of the family gatherings are held at my parents' or Julie's houses. Julie and I are in frequent contact, but the last few years have been focused on our parents' failing health and their care giving needs. She is my rock, not only with the stress of aging parents, but also with my own self doubts and anxieties. On a beautiful day last year, we took an afternoon to just sit on my back deck and RELAX. What a novelty for both of us. It was wonderful and it was at that point that she realized the massive undertaking that I have taken on with my gardens. It is one thing to know that I garden but quite another to actually see it. Anyway, we told ourselves that we would make time to do this more often and so on Saturday she came for a mid spring stroll about.
Julie says that she "gets it" about my passion, but gardening on the scale that I do would overwhelm her. She likes things neat and tidy. She is so much more well rounded than I am and utilizes her time and energy on many different things. She and her husband have done some nice landscaping in their suburban yard but it is very manageable with the time she wants to allocate to it. I, on the other hand, am more solitary by nature and single focused. I want nothing more than to spend day in and day out working on my gardens, almost to the exclusion of everything else. The creative process of garden design and the physical work itself are essential to my well being. I have come to feel that gardening is my purpose in life.
I sometimes get frustrated that it isn't realistic to have all of the garden areas looking well tended simultaneously, but then I stop myself and know that it is the process that gives my days meaning. While not exactly turning a blind eye to the hundreds of things that need to be taken care of, I see the beauty in what is looking good at any given moment. It is probably the one and only aspect of my life that I see as "glass half full" vs "glass half empty". I often wonder if people who come after me will wonder who did whatever might be left behind the same way that I wonder who planted those daffodils by the long ago abandoned teeny tiny house foundation by the driveway we hacked through the over growth when we bought the land or who planted the pink and white dogwoods that intertwine together like a single tree in the clearing along the lane. Somebody spent their time there just like I am spending my time here.
Ever since Julie's visit on Saturday, I've been wondering exactly how much square footage that I have in gardens. I already have a list of the distinct garden areas but now I want to add the dimensions just to see some cold hard facts with what it really is that I am attempting to do. The other thing that I would love to get done is a scaled drawing/mapping of it all. I have no talent to do it myself but wonder who I could get to do it without it costing an arm and a leg.
As far as my ability to work on my gardens day in and day out, I am now 58 years old. I know I am feeling aches and pains and my strength isn't great either but I keep plugging away. I go slow but I can go for hours and hours for days on end. Feeling physically tired is sure a heck of a lot better than feeling mentally tired and I hope I have many more years of physical ability left in me. Now, if only the weather would cooperate I could make some real progress!!!
Living almost a mile off a state road, we have quite a long private lane that is shared with five other homes. About a half mile in, it splits off for the driveway that leads back to our house. It winds through an area where there used to be a teeny tiny house that has been reduced to a ruined stone foundation and abandoned since the 1930s. The forested area around it had been cleared at some point and is now overgrown with scrub trees and sticker bushes. Then it dips down into the forest and winds along a creek, crossing over the creek by the Turtle Garden, then up a short steep hill, culminating in a loop (105' x 48') in front of the house.
I named the area enclosed in the loop the unimaginative "Driveway Circle Garden". My vision for this area, starting at the very beginning in the early 1990s, is still the same today. I wanted to supplement the native forest oaks and maples with flowering white dogwoods and redbuds, supplement the native forest mountain laurel understory with azaleas and rhododendrons, and lastly carpet the forest floor with spring blooming perennials.
Many years ago I planted three white dogwoods and two redbuds. Over the course of time, one of the dogwoods and one of the redbuds died off and the remaining ones never bloomed. In theory, dogwoods and redbuds thrive in shaded woodland conditions, but I'm guessing that it was too much shade. Then the white dogwood closest to the house side of the circle bloomed three seasons ago, right after several oaks died in the front yard and had to be cut down. Last year several more oaks died in the driveway circle itself and had to be cut down. Lo and behold, the redbud and the other white dogwood bloomed this spring.
Also many years ago, I planted about twenty very small azaleas that I had gotten on sale for $3 a piece, hoping to make a start on that spring blossom filled understory. Over the years I've occasionally added other rhododendrons and azaleas, mostly picking up onesies and twosies at end of season sales. Sad to say that this is one of those garden disappointments. Very few of the very small azaleas made it to maturity and not many of the onesies and twosies planted over the years have survived either. There are a few exceptions, most notably the small leafed rhododendron 'PJM'. I've planted a half dozen of them and although not maturing at a rate that they should be, all have survived and bloom a very pretty lavender. This cultivar is readily found at box stores and local nurseries. My goal is to get a lot more of them, changing the implementation of my vision to masses of this single cultivar.
One of the original small azaleas that has survived and matured is 'Blaauw's Pink'. A little forlorn blooming all by its lonesome, but it always makes me smile at the tenacity of it hanging on when most of its contemporaries gave up the ghost so long ago. On Tuesday, I decided I should restock some of my freezer items and ventured out for my first trip to Costco since the pandemic stay at home restrictions. At the entry, there were several racks of azaleas in full bloom. All of them were either a red or a white cultivar, but a lone pink up on the top shelf stuck out like a sore thumb. I did a double take. It sure looked like 'Blaauw's Pink' to me. One of the frustrating things about being so short at just under 5' tall, is that I can't reach things that people of normal height can reach. I've gotten pretty good at spotting likely candidates to help me out, but still it is aggravating to often be put in that situation. Well, I did spot a tall masked man with kindly eyes and he reached it for me in a jiffy. Sure enough the tag said 'Blaauw's Pink'!!! That score alone made the Costco trip worth while even though I was shocked at how empty all the meat cases were. I will plant it near the old 'Blaauw's Pink' to keep it company. I think I will also try to add a few paler pink cultivars to make a grouping there and maybe repeat the combination at two other locations in the driveway circle.
Last but not least are the perennials for the forest floor. I have been slowly but steadily adding to it for the last five years. I started with flats of wholesale plugs of jacobs ladder (polemonium reptans), epimedium 'Pink Elf', epimedium 'Lilafee', lungwort 'Bertram Anderson', turtle head 'Tiny Tortuga', bowman's root 'Pink Profusion', and hellebores. The jacobs ladder, epimediums, and hellebores are thriving, the others are only so so. Each year I have also been purchasing small pots of bleeding heart from the nursery in Lancaster and adding tradescantia, ostrich ferns, and solomon's seal pass alongs from Mid Atlantic gardening friends. The perennials are starting to shape up but the garden area is large and it will take many more years for them to really fill in.
Gardens are forever changing over time. In best case scenarios the plantings mature, becoming more spectacular as the decades move on. In other scenarios though, things just don't work out as envisioned, becoming derelict or dying out. Such is the case with the native clump of mountain laurel that I carefully saved in what became the front yard when we built the house. It has been steadily declining over the last six or seven years. I'm not exactly sure what has caused the decline, but I have my suspicions. With the woods cleared around it for the house site, it has been getting the full brunt of water run-off as it coursed down the hill with the recent wet, wet seasons that we've had. I would have guessed that it was too exposed without enough tree canopy to survive and thrive, but that didn't seem to deter it at all for 20+ years, so my best guess is too much water. At this point, only half of the original clump is alive but even that part is sparse and straggly.
I miss the beauty of it blooming in late May. But, time moves on and changes, whether good or bad, come with the territory. I'll likely remove the clump sometime this year and plant a flowering tree in its place. I'm leaning towards a white dogwood, which would carry the eye from a white dogwood uphill of it and another white dogwood downhill of it, making a nice line of site of white blossoms when the dogwoods bloom in April.
Late April 2020
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