State of the Plants and Some Revisions

In my quest to have beautiful gardens that are easy to maintain, I’ve been working on building communities of native plants that are knit together like a tapestry, using plants that provide pollinator value at different times of the year. A densely-planted community means less need for ongoing maintenance and fewer years when a redesign is needed.  Still, each year I do a close evaluation to see how each space is doing and whether it needs a refresh.  Most planting areas are doing well this spring, but I found, as usual, the need for a few updates or small projects.

Woodland Garden

I love this garden, and it has become the lush tapestry that I had envisioned.  But the planting had some holes thanks to the rabbits. Last year, I added black huckleberry, some Christmas and wood ferns, and goatsbeard, and encouraged the wild strawberry, and this year it’s looking good, so no revisions needed here!

Blooming in front is the goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus); behind in the upper left is black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccala), and a Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)is just visible in the upper right.

Along the pathway were originally a row of blueberries, but the rabbits got these, too. This year I wanted to fill those holes and chose the native ginger, which will spread over time.  While somewhat similar to the non-native ginger, the leaf is larger and not shiny, and the clumps are looser and slower growing. It seems to fit well into the woodland setting and I like the contrast of the leaf size and shape compared to the wild strawberry.

The far end of the woodland garden is now quite sunny after losing some Norway spruce trees there, so I am slowly adding sun-tolerant plants.  I’m trying a golden groundsel which has lovely yellow daisy-like flowers in the spring. It is supposed to grow anywhere, but I remain skeptical until I see it actually work in my garden.

My single test plant, golden groundsel (Packera aurea)

I’ve also added a couple of prairie dropseed grasses to make a soft edge to the pathway, between a dwarf viburnum and some bayberry.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) with stakes to mark them so the lawn mowers know to leave them alone.

The latest addition is this baby red maple tree.  The Chatham Conservation Foundation was giving these away for Arbor Day, courtesy of Bartlett Tree Company, so I grabbed one.  One day this should restore a lot of shade to that area.

Red maple seedling (Acer rubra), with fencing around it just in case the rabbits are interested.

New Native Plant Nursery

To digress a bit, there is a new native plant nursery in Norwell Mass, called Blue Stem Natives.  I stopped there last week and found a wonderful place with well-grown, healthy plants.  That’s where I got Solomon seal, the groundsel, some blue lobelia, and a couple of other things, at prices comparable to the more commercial nurseries. The business is run by three women who grow their plants right on site and move them from the growing area to the retail area when they are ready.  Their selection is excellent, and they mostly carry the straight species, which are hard to find here on Cape Cod.  Their website shows a what is in stock and what is not yet ready, and they let you pre-order for pickup.  The nursery is right off Exit 32 on Rt. 3, the old Hanover Mall exit, so it’s about 40 minutes north of the bridge. Well worth a visit if you are looking for straight species native plants!

Under the Crabapple

This section of the South Border is closest to the street and has been planted for many years with more traditional plants – a crabapple tree, sedum Autumn Joy, some irises, a non-native hardy geranium, a non-native stonecrop, and daffodils in the spring.  As the crabapple has gotten larger, it is shading out the sedum and daffodils, so this year I decided it’s time to start the transition to native plants.

I’m not ready to tear this whole space up, and I am going to keep the crabapple, so this first phase of the transition is to clear out the shadiest spaces in the center and between the sedum, and plant that with my tried-and-true groundcover of wild strawberry and white wood aster.  They will take a year or two to establish and spread out, and at that point I can think about replacing the sedum and other plants.  Thankfully, there is plenty of extra strawberry and aster spreading out from the woodland garden into the adjacent pathway, so it was an easy task to dig up some small plants and transplant them.  Some woodland sedge and tufted hairgrass came along for the ride, too.

At bottom center is the tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa), and straight up the middle of the photo are baby plants of white wood aster ((Eurybia divaricata) and wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). The woodland sedge (Carex sylvatica) is just behind the irises on the left.

Front Corner Garden

I’ve been worried about this space – it was designed as a mostly-shade garden, but the wild cherry tree that was providing the shade was blown over in a storm last year.  Now it is mostly sunny, and I am watching it closely to see if the plants adapt.  In the meanwhile, I wanted a few more plants to fill in some empty spaces, where there had been ferns that the rabbits ate when the space was first planted in 2020.  The space also needed some plants that bloom in the summer, between the strawberry and columbine in the spring and the white wood aster in the fall.  I chose bluestar and blue lobelia. Bluestar gets to be about 2′ tall and blooms in early June. The blue lobelia will be a little taller and blooms in July or August.

The bluestar (Amsonia tabernamontana) are just blooming in front of the oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). The blue lobelia (Lobelia silphilitica) are small broad-leafed plants to the right of the dark-leafed black cohosh against the shed). The red and yellow flower is wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).

Shed Door

The potting shed faces west and gets at least 8 hours of sun each day, and I have puzzled over what to plant on either side of the door.  The right side of the shed door is now settled – there is a stand of volunteer goldenrod and a cleared spot for planters for hot pepper plants, which appreciate the heat they get there.

The left side was a jumble of old daylilies and a pot of hostas, so this year I wanted to spruce it up.  The two starting points were the positioning of two blue pots to define the space, and the transplant of a fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low”) which was not doing well in the shady spot I had planted it in last year.  I took the hostas out of the pots and added some black-eyed Susan (Ridbeckia sp.) and a cultivar of the anise hyssop (Agastache sp.) – both in yellows to contrast with the blue pots.  On the right I kept the daylilies, at least for now, and in the middle went the sumac, some non-native stonecrop. A different anise hyssop cultivar (purple), a penstemon that had seeded from another planting bed, and a different black-eyed Susan.  So far, things seem to be doing well.

One Last Note

The field that was planted last year with native trees and shrubs continues to settle in.  The eventual plan is to remove a large oval of sod around the beach plums and install a meadow, but for this season we will just keep it mowed to control the bayberry.  The big new addition is the custom-made bench, courtesy of my brother-in-law Jim, who brought his chain saw and transformed an old Norway spruce log into a piece of functional art.  Thank you, Jim!

One comment

  1. I loved this, Cathy!! Very inspirational!! The time to garden in Asheville is early morning, I’ve decided. Otherwise it’s too hot and humid! Even in the mountains!

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