Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


that celebrate the unique history, ecology and character of our island home.

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A horse of a different color

I had ten yards of arborist chips delivered last week for mulching the garden beds.  The delivery man said, “Wow, you’ve got the thickest stand of horsetail I’ve ever seen on this island.”  Now I like commiserating as much as the next gardener, but shouldn’t he have offered a compliment first?  Or maybe he was . . .The horsetail is rather lush looking.  I have a very healthy 12′ x 100′  swath of it down one entire side of my garden.

The good news is that shrubs and the horsetail seem to co-exist quite happily.

Potentilla with horsetail

Potentilla with horsetail

The bad news is that you can’t even see the choice perennials that I sometimes succumb to. Maybe there’s a lesson there too.  Can I get rid of the horsetail?  I don’t think so.  Here’s what hasn’t worked: lime; gravel; covering a patch with black plastic to burn it out; pulling; mulching with compost, bark or wood chips.  We did some drainage work last spring to dry things out a bit, are now just snapping the horsetail stems at ground level and are adding high nitrogen via blood meal.  We’ll see whether those things plus doing more dense planting of shrubs will help convince the horsetail to eventually go the way of its pals, the dinosaurs.   But the horsetail has those thousands of years of survival skills on its side.  I’d better starting learning to live with it.

I’ve had to do some serious rethinking about beauty and what makes a good garden since moving to Whidbey’s more rural environment as in: a gravel drive needs some softening grass in it; windswept trees and shrubs are picturesque; the deer are always with us;  caterpillars drop nutrient rich poop.  I’m not so in charge here as I was in my suburban garden and most of the time that’s the way I like it.

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Aquilegia sp?

I love it when I find a plant that has seeded itself into my garden – like this columbine with stunning red stems and purple-flushed leaves or when I spy a cultivated plant like ajuga that has snuck its way into the grass at the side of the road.

Ajuga in the grass.

Ajuga in the grass.

I do promise to not share plants that may have shared the ground with horsetail as any little bit of root can regrow and populate quicky.  Obviously.  Because one gardener’s groundcover is another’s scourge.

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Don’t blame the plants

I’m allowing myself four hours of gardening every morning this beautiful fall.    This is what I accomplished this morning:

There was a hellbore in that hole, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Blue Lady’ to be exact.  I had meant to move her for the last three years, as she morphed from 1 gallon perennial to a two and half by three foot garden bully,  shading out both the pieris on the left and the podocarpus on the right, consequently ruining the shapes of both and the  symetry of my entry garden.  It took me the entire morning to take her out.

I first went in with my favorite trusty perennial spade and broke it – admittedly mis-using it like a lever trying to pop the hellebore out of the ground.   While at Ace buying a new spade, I decided to also buy some potting soil so I could repot that lady and think later about where to put her rather than walking around the garden looking for a spot.  Back at home I went back in with the garden fork.  Not even a budge.  I finally decided to use the Mr’s big shovel but had to hunt around for it first since I hardly ever use it, but that did the trick.

The root ball was huge and I decided to divide her into four pots.  I tried the hori-hori, then the two garden forks back-to-back trick and finally resorted to the axe.  As my gardening hours ticked away, I grumbled about  why anyone would want such a difficult plant anyway – one that crowded out her neighbors and refused to be moved or divided?  And then I remembered those beautiful purple flowers in March.  And her evergreen leaves, hardiness, adaptability.

What do I plan to put in the empty spot?  Nothing.  It would have looked  fine with just the pieris and podocarpus, without me cramming one more plant in.  And I’m hopeful that both plants will fill back out into lovely shapes and touch each other ever so gently.   Also that the little Amemone nemerosa “Robinsoniana’ I planted under the hellebore is still alive and will make an appearance next spring.

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Time to think

January is the traditional month for reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the new.  But for me, fall marks the slowing down, if not end of the gardening season.  I have some rainy days and dark evenings to review the list of projects I’d hoped to accomplish and  think about what I’ll do differently next season.  Island gardening is a different animal, so there are plenty of lessons I’ve learned  – usually the hard way.

You may recall in my post of August 17, titled Rework, I was ripping out a border next to our field.   It has taken me until this weekend (that’s about six weeks) to finally finish pulling up the unfortunate choice of groundcovers and the resulting network of weeds underneath.  I was actually despairing of being finished before the Greenbank winds drove me in for the year.  Then the Mr. stopped work on his project to join me in a whole weekend of weeding and our daughter and son-in-law spent this past weekend helping us lay down newsprint and mulch.  On a big piece of property, it’s not often you get to say you’re finished with something, but HOORAY! . ..

Here is the result.  All ready for filling in per the planting plan, early next spring.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t open up a patch of ground near an open field unless the time and budget exists for planting, mulching and diligent weeding until the plants are big enough to defend the territory. Get the biggest plants you can afford.

2. Short, spreading groundcovers are no match for the weeds from a field or forest.

3. Mow the field more frequently to keep weed seeds from blowing in especially nearest the border.

4. create a “mini ditch” between the field and border to help keep the field roots from crawling into the bed – may need to be done once a year.

5.  Keep a log of plants that did the job, hours spent weeding / mulching sections of the garden, how much mulch was used in each section and how long it lasted. (Actually a suggestion from my brilliant daughter.)

6. Get some help.

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Rework

One of the things I like about gardening is its physical requirements.  I am not enjoying this week of chores so much however.  I am ripping out a border adjacent to our field, one that I planned to be a drought and deer tolerant “no weed’s land”  between the field and the inner border.  I planted it shortly after we moved to Whidbey, using some tough groundcovers that I’d relied on when I lived and worked in the suburbs, such as Rubus pentalobus / Taiwan bramble,  Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Pt. Reyes’ / Point Reyes Creeper, Cistus salviifolius ‘Prostratus’ / Sageleaf Rockrose and Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ / Dwarf Japanese Juniper.  Of these, the only one that performed well enough to stay is the juniper, which looks good without water, is impervious to weeds, deer and rabbits.

The problem isn’t with these perfectly good plants – it’s with the placement next to a field and I’m guessing the same would happen adjacent to a wooded area where you not only get weeds creeping in (as in town) but blowing in constantly.   With most ground-hugging groundcovers, there’s  just enough tiny spaces for the weed seeds to sprout, but since the plants root along as they spread, you can’t lift branches to pull out the weeds.  Perhaps it’s also true, that with a bigger garden, I’m going to need some plants that can duke it out on their own for a longer period of time.   Plants that have worked to halt the weeds are taller – at least a foot  and allow me to pull up the “skirt” and weed underneath, if need be.  Prostanthera cuneata / Alpine Mint Bush and surprisingly enough, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low / Catmint, a perennial are doing a great job.  Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’ / Maiden Grass has been fiercely territorial.  So after I finally get done taking out my hard-earned lessons, it’s back to the nursery.   Along with more Prostanthera and Nepeta, I’m going to try Berberis, shrubby Cotoneaster, shrubby Potentilla, Caryopteris and some smaller mugo pines.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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Subtle

Someone walking along our road took photos of my garden this weekend.  Of a  stunning combination, rare perennial or majestic tree?  Nope – of a colorful blunder.

In the fall of 2009,  Whidbey Telecom dug a  line across our property for the neighbors at the end of our little dirt road.  The company promised and did put it back just about how they found it – filled the ditch back in and spread compost and grass seed.  Having admired those simple, little, white English daisies (Bellis perennis) in lawns and along roadsides, I quickly ordered some seed and scattered it over the compost as well,  just in time for the nasty weather of November.

I was dubious I’d see anything but thistle and nettle growing there the following spring, but there they were – the little spoon shaped leaves and white flowers with pink tipped petals.  And hmmm – there were also few double flowers and darker pink flowers as well.

This year the effect is about as “natural” looking or subtle as a basket full of plastic Easter eggs.  And so I have my own paparazzi – or my garden does.

 

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  • May 3, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
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  • Deborah