Saturday, March 29, 2014

A gardener's hardest lesson...


Once again I am reminded of an article I read a very long time ago... it was a story about the late and truly great gardener Jane Platt, who gardened in Oregon as I recall. I can't tell you how many times I have struggled with the wisdom shared in that article... in a nutshell... a gardener plants two very rare and beautiful trees and they both grow beautifully over time... unfortunately, they were planted too close to each other... the wisdom is simply this... one has to go or both will be ruined. Jane Platt was a mature gardener and realized those decisions had to be made. I struggle with this to this very day in every sense of the word. I know what is right, but have a very hard time dealing with it.

The photo above is from almost four years ago... this an area that came about by accident actually. I had ordered a partial semi load of plants out of Oregon and when they arrived and were unloaded, I realized they weren't my order. The trucker said he was headed for Illinois and there was no way he could take these... suggested I call the nursery and I did. The response was that it would be way to expensive to return the plants so I should keep them, but my order would be arriving the following week. I quickly came up with a design and my youngest son and I dug holes like there was no tomorrow!!


I have really enjoyed this space over the years as one of my favorite spots in the gardens... I love blue spruces of any sort but the smaller Montgomery spruces were perfect because they top out somewhere around twelve feet. The problem is that they have disease concerns in our climate and what I call needle cast is thinning them out to the point that they aren't as attractive any longer. Just to the left of the columns above is the 'gazebo path' and to the left of that I removed several conifers, shrubs, and a magnolia this past fall... I moved in some rocks and am preparing to create a miniature conifer rock garden in the space... progress was curtailed because we were hit with lots of rain in later fall but at this point the area simply needs a goodly amount of additional amended soil in prep for planting and some edging work. The area really was overgrown and needed this work... progress to this point is pictured below....




I am very excited about the acquisition of close to fifty new conifers this spring of a number of species and cultivars, although a third of them will be very small and go into a nursery bed... it dawned on me that it's time to think in terms of what could well be the last fifteen to twenty years of my life... realistically I can't expect to  continue with these gardens forever as I have for the past 43 years. I remember reading a book by the great gardener Helen Van Pelt Wilson many years ago and being blown away with the scope and creativity of her acreage... it was pure inspiration. After a number of years I read her newer book about her downsizing to a new smaller garden and recall feeling a sense of loss that she had to make this adjustment. Of course I now understand this and need to plan for the future myself. My goal is to gradually turn over the gardens to conifers, flowering trees, and what I consider to be staples in the world of perennials and bulbs... this would include things like hellebores, daffodils, ferns, lilies and hostas. I hope to have a garden of great interest that requires only the general application of mulch which I could eventually hire done if needed, and not a lot of upkeep. Realistically a long term future for these gardens is very unlikely and I know much of them will be bulldozed once Sarah and I are gone... it would be a dream to have offspring with a heart for the gardens but each has their own dream and understandably they are entitled to that... these gardens are for now and the immediate future, to enjoy and share with others as long as I am able.



So the issue in the photo pictured above is that these conifers are getting a bit rattier since this photo was taken because of the diseases that affect Picea pungens cultivars in our climate. The question I have to ask myself is whether this condition will improve and the answer is a resounding no... the second question is whether I want to be dealing with this when I'm seventy years old, five years from now. Considering that I'm sitting here in pain with a slipped disk from moving the wrong way, the answer is again no. It only makes good sense to clear out the area almost completely and begin again with a couple exceptions such as the weeping norway being left remaining. Additionally, with these new possibilities coming, it wouldn't make sense to plant things too close together... I need to plan for at least twenty years (I'm an optimistic sort of fellow). Since I don't care to add more beds even if there was room, it makes sense to clear out the aged and more decrepit looking trees, and work on a fresh look for the future. The down side is that I will miss the mature appearance I now have in these areas.



So... if this all comes together, the gazebo path will take on a new look for sure... the grass path may go or be renewed...I actually prefer keeping it but it has grown narrower over time and with the addition of the rocks not shown in this photo, it is narrower than ever... I'm not interested in removing all the daffodils on the left side and actually would prefer extending the planting...the wonderful Juniperus wiltonii to the far left will certainly stay and possibly at least a couple of the birdsnest spruces... additionally a few large boulders need to be brought in to the left area amongst the new conifer plantings. Finally some extensions of the corner stone wall accents should probably added. It will be a quite a change but will allow for increased air flow into the gazebo which will be a positive.



I am wary of sharing photos before my vision for an area is completed... but I do know where I'm headed...



This will be a spring of many changes and it will be a physical stretch for me.... the area pictured below has been pretty much deconstructed with the large trees (garbage varieties) going this past spring as well as numerous others... many small starts of newer magnolias have been added and there is room for a number of conifers as well... Much of what was flower areas will need additional soil and be sodded over...





These areas as well as the azalea walk will require a total of three additional larger rustic arbors and I need to do some 'logging' as soon as possible for the raw materials, although it may be well into the summer before they actually get completed.


Finally, the terraces that were begun in the fall just prior to the rains will also need immediate attention so they will be ready for the addition of new conifers... for now the flowers in this area will remain.





Additionally I have ordered a semi load of walnut colored bark to be spread throughout the gardens, so this will be a year of changes with the future in mind and I can't imagine how yards of soil I will have to move from my monster compost heap. I still look forward to these challenges but know that the work will be tempered by my arthritis... but that's pretty much par for the course...

I also need to find an area to create a 'conifer nursery' as I will be growing on about 20 unusual plants from a small size... I will use the old "victory Garden' show technique of potting them on in a loose mix as needed until they reach garden worthy size.

(ordering conifers isn't always a sure thing so there may be some surprises as nurseries don't always release what they expected to in the previous fall)

Small plants for growing on will include several dwarf cultivars of Picea abies, glauca, omorika, sitchensis, orientalis, and interestingly colored pungens. In terms of pines,there will hopefully be several cultivars of each of the following including dens, heldreichii, mugo. nigra, parviflora, pumila, and thunbergianas.

Larger specimens of dwarf and miniatures for the most part, and ready for the gardens, will hopefully include many Abies koreanas in different cultivars, nordmaniana, cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa and pisifera, Picea abies and engelmanii, glaucas, and orientalis. pines should include leucodermis, mugos, parvifloras and an Angel's Falls' which is a strobus. 

The garden of my old age will commence this spring as I lay down the blueprint for the future and what fun it will be... not unlike setting up a battle scene in a mass display of toy soldiers, getting each character in its proper orientation.

That said, I'd like to share some of the best garden wisdom I've gotten in awhile... this from my horticulturalist friend Scott... as you probably picked up on, I've been obsessing over the winter desiccation of many conifers and I wish I'd talked to him sooner. His sense is that it's all about the candles and one way to look at it is that most of needles fall eventually... it will simply be a more major drop this year... the best recommendation however was... don't even look at the confers until June 15th... by then if they are alive the new flush will have begun, and if they are dead, there will be so many other neat things happening in the gardens, it probably will be much less painful. Despite my negativity about gardening advice a couple posts back, this is what I consider excellent advice that I will definitely take to heart in the future!!
Larry

Sarah in one of her favorite pastimes... deadheading daylilies at first light in prep for the new blooms that will open later in the morning...


14 comments:

Mary@mydogsmygardenandmary said...

Larry, I so enjoy seeing your beautiful gardens. I know exactly how you feel. I will be 79 this July and if I get down on my knees I can't get up so I have to hire young men to plant. I am pretty sure if God is willing that I can have at least 2 more years here in my home before I move into a retirement apartment. As we get olden things have to change to make it more livable for us. I will truly miss my gardens. And more than likely how ever buys my home will not want to do all this gardening. But I will have wonderful memories to last the rest of my life.
The weather man said that we will now be getting our winter, which is not cold at all, but they are predicting rain all week. Crazy weather and we have been having so many earth quakes since Friday night - its scary. I have had a lot of damage, but no structural.
That's what is going on here in Sunny CA.
Have a wonderful Sunday and I truly love your gardens.
Mary

Larry said...

Mary... it breaks my heart to think of a gardener having to leave their gardens ever. My goal is to be able to spend my last years sitting in the gardens on a bench and just soaking them up... I know I will have to get past my perfectionistic ways but that's ok. I have fond memories of my grandmother sitting in her late 90's and watching the world go by around her... to be honest, I already enjoy some of this... it's amazing the things you see... birds especially that you never knew visited and the like. I sincerely hope that you can stay right where you are for as long as you want and may God bless you in whatever you decide down the road... Larry

Toni said...

Just when I think your gardens couldn't get more amazing, you add more beds to do just that, make your garden more amazing! And you are not talking little projects here -- this is heavy duty work! Hopefully we can all grow old in our gardens, being grateful for whatever we can still do in them and always amazed by God's creation. Keep up the good work, but please pace yourself because injuries are no fun, as you well know! Take care...

Larry said...

Toni... so nice to hear from you... hope you are doing well! Larry

Denise Presland said...

Larry, Your gardens are so tranquil and vibrant, I enjoy walking though them (through the camera's eyes). I also enjoy reading your "garden journal" filled with love and creativity. I have 8 acres that I maintain and create and recreate. My garden is still in its infancy. The garden being only 10 years old and younger. My husband helps, he loves to do all the hardscape, he makes all the faux rocks, so that I can carry them. He helps me dig holes and start new beds. Then I take over. My father is always telling me I work too hard and should give it up, it's not worth it. Only a gardener understands. I see your gardens and only look forward to mine maturing. Thank you for sharing this, you are an inspiration.

Larry said...

Denise... nice to meet you! Your garden sounds wonderful and I will check it out here in a bit, assuming you have a blog. I can't imagine ten acres... two acres is a handful!! Your comment about faux rocks caught my interest as well... several years ago I spent $100 on tapes out of Australia on how to make them... at least I think it was Australia...could have been New Zealand... I need to get those out and try the techniques! Larry


HELENE said...

Fifty new conifers! That’s a big order.
I understand the dilemma of planning a garden for the future whilst trying to make it look great for today and tomorrow – not easy with slow growing plants and trees. Sometimes I suppose we just have to plant a bit too close and take out things later - even though I do things on a very much smaller scale than you.

I hope you will be able to enjoy your garden for many more years to come and that your plan comes together. Sorry to hear about your slipped disk, I have had 7 in the past, I know what you are going through! Take care of yourself my friend.

Larry said...

Thanks Helene... I went in for help immediately and it is better already... Larry

Garden Fancy said...

Larry, your gardens so incredibly beautiful and I'm glad you are planning to keep working on them even as it grows harder (I'm only 43 and have already given some thought to future maintenance burdens in designing my gardens, although I'm still adding areas). I have to mention that the photos of your gardens have changed my mind about island beds; most of my garden beds are formal geometric shapes, but I think I will add some islands this year, because your garden (and Butchart and the MOBOT Japanese garden -- you're in great company) are so beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. I hope you recover from your back injury soon. -Beth

Larry said...

Thanks Beth... my style of designing really doesn't work well with formally laid out beds which don't seem to accept size changes as easily. Additionally... this is farm country and formality really doesn't fit the style of this 150 year old cheese factory, or its surroundings. Sometimes I think that if I were younger and healthier, I would start all over again, trying to incorporate all I've learned about design into something fresh and new... alas, that ship has sailed but truth be told, I'll never entirely stop changing out the gardens as long as I have the ability to move and a dollar or two in my pockets... it's in my blood! Hoping you enjoyed your 70's yesterday... we've made a very cold and windy 50's which isn't going to last past today as the week will be wet and slushy... Larry

Garden Fancy said...

Hi Larry, I'm sure you're right about geometric beds not being as stylistically appropriate for your country property as informal island beds, particularly when designing with trees (and since I have a country garden too, it's probably appropriate for mine as well).
I have a couple of questions for you as an expert, since I'm thinking of adding some islands: 1) would you mind taking a look at my plans that I posted about: http://gardenfancy.blogspot.com/2014/03/an-idea-occurs-uh-oh-hard-work-and.html and giving me your opinions about my plans? Number and shape of beds, amount of maintenance required, general plant type choices, tree removal question, etc.?
and 2) what sort of mulch do you recommend? I'm thinking of using leaf compost, which I can get relatively affordably from our local landfill by the truckload, but I don't know if that will prevent water evaporation, make the beds hotter in the sun from the dark color, need to be replaced more often, etc. The landfill also has wood chip mulch, but I've read that using that on perennials can hurt their growth, tying up nitrogen -- would that be the case for using it around trees, shrubs and bulbs? The bagged mulches seem so exorbitant for the amounts I'd need. Thanks for your advice! -Beth

Larry said...

Beth... while I definitely don't consider myself an expert by any means, I'll be glad to offer my input... I'll see if I can find an e-mail for you on your site... I don't know much about Google Plus so it could take a bit... also I've got a horrible cold and back pain from the slipped disk so may not do this today...then again, maybe after my chiropractic appointment... think I'm going to become a hermit... for several years no cold and this is the third one this winter since I started singing with a large chorale and teaching again! lol
I'll be in touch one way or the other...Larry

Larry said...

Beth... since I can't locate your e-mail, could you contact me at my Facebook link and message me your e-mail address? I will then return e-mail you mine and we should be able to discuss your questions... thanks, Larry

Larry said...

https://www.facebook.com/larry.conrad.96