Now that it’s June, a lot of the flowers in our garden are starting their blooming season. I like big, showy blooms – think puffy hydrangeas, petal-packed peonies and dinner-plate dahlias – and I’m trying my darndest to grow some at my house. But it’s tough y’all.
My dream garden is Ina Garten’s amazing home garden. Or P. Allen Smith’s gardens at Moss Mountain Farm. In particular, I commune with – and hope to implement – Smith’s concept of the “garden home,” where your outside space is designed the around the idea of creating functional garden “rooms” that extend the inside square footage of your home. Obviously, both Garten and Smith have huge properties and maintaining beautiful gardens is part of their job. But I do believe that the concepts can be re-sized to fit whatever kind of space you have available, whether it’s acreage, half an acre (like we have), a balcony or a window sill.
Our lot is pretty heavily wooded. We love it – at this time of year, it’s verdant. All the deciduous trees have filled in and the outdoors are alive with animals and insects settling in for summer. The frogs and fireflies come out promptly at dusk each evening. It’s great.
But the wooded lot also produces lots of shade – which can be in direct contrast with my goals of a garden full of big luxurious blooms. Many of those showy flowers need multiple hours of direct sunlight, and that’s just not happening when there’s a heavily treed canopy blocking out all the light. Happily, there are a few exception – we have a few spaces that manage to get about 5 or 6 hours of pretty good sunlight each day. The largest area is in the front yard along the sidewalk that leads to the front of the house. Though the light is good, there is a lot of gravel mixed in with soil in this bed, which can be challenging for some plants, especially when starting from bulb or seed. Because of this, I’ll likely be incorporating some containers in this space eventually, so I can have a shot at more consistently favorable soil conditions. But regardless of the challenges, I am determined to make it work.
We’ve been in our house for three years this month. As soon as we got settled in, I started planting all types of plants in this sunny front-yard spot. I’ve tried to take up my husband’s laid back mindset when it comes to gardening: experiment. I could spend a lot of time hand-wringing about exactly where and how I want to plant my bulbs (rows, clusters, etc), but he’s more likely to pop different bulbs in different places and seeing where they grow best. He believes in letting the plants tell us where the conditions are right for success.
Voles Stand in the Way of My Greatness
As part of my gardening journey, I’ve learned that we have voles (an important fact to know)…and they are hungry. They must’ve felt like they hit the lottery the first year we moved in and I planted a bunch of exotic roselily bulbs. They. FEASTED. Of the 12 I planted, only two remain. But when they bloom, they are so pretty! (Check them out. I ordered them from White Flower Farm.) I wish more of these had made it, but I’m open to getting more and replanting. If I do, though, I’m going to look into using a bulb cage to keep the critters away.
I’m also excited about my hydrangeas. I have four, including two Nantucket Blues, and two macrophyllas (big pink blooms that age to green similar to the Tilt-a-Swirl variety). I ordered the Nantucket Blues from White Flower Farm. Though the other two were a similar style, I ordered one from White Flower and purchased the other from the beloved Behnke’s nursery, which, sadly, is closing after nearly 90 years. The one I ordered from White Flower Farm didn’t bloom last year, it’s second year in the ground, I think because of some over-aggressive early-spring pruning. My hubby didn’t know that these perennials bloom on old wood and took a little too much off. Lesson learned.
Daylilies: Before last year, I didn’t think I liked daylilies. I’m not a fan of the ubiquitous yellowish-orange variety that’s really popular around here. But what I didn’t realize was that there’s so much variety in the types of daylilies you can plant. Last year, Behnke’s had at least 15 to 20 colors. I think we planted five different types, mostly in the two-toned style that I like. This one was the first to show up. I absolutely love the ruffled edge and the crimson throat on the orange flower. So pretty. I can’t wait for the others to start blooming.
So though it will take years – decades even – to cultivate a garden on par with the likes of P. Allen Smith, Ina Garten and other master gardeners, I am inspired by the progress I’ve observed over the last few years. I’m so looking forward to what the garden will look like three years from now and all the new lessons it will teach me in the time in between.