Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Is In My Hair…

...of course I mean in the air !  And spring is in my step.  It is not the view from my window of slushy brown roads nor the messages left months ago by dogs on my lawn that has elicited this feeling. 

Nay. 'Twas a newsletter from Garden Guru Doug Green. Reading his Perennial Garden Design section caused a fine perspiration to break out on my troubled brow. If only I had had this helpful advice when I was a young gardener. 

My garden is shaded by several venerable pines and some not so large maples.  These gnarled trees have withstood near hurricane winds, been bowed under the weight of snow and lashed by rain.  Far be it from me to cut them down in their prime. So, this old tree hugger will just work around them. 

Besides if there were no trees where would the fairies play?  That is Miss Grimm on the right.  She loves to read in the shade...usually tales by the Brothers Grimm.

But in my enthusiastic new property owner phase I dug up a large strip along the driveway and under the trees with an eye to planting shade loving plants, ferns, hosta and their ilk.

My first hint that things might not go well was discovering the red roots of ancient peonies struggling there... but I did not let that deter me!   Oh, no I moved the peony roots to the front bed where they would get more sun and blithely planted shade lovers under the trees.  The peonies took off and never looked back to the hardships of their former life.

The new plants may have loved shade but they also loved to drink. Who doesn't? I needed several myself by the time I got through with this travail.

Year one: Dig holes, fill with organic material, plant shade loving plants. Easy Peasy. Haul many, many 10 gallon buckets (@ 50 pounds each) of rain water from 100 feet away - daily. 
Result? Lost ten pounds, had very long arms and shade loving plants that appeared happy that first year.

Year two: Dig up languishing shade lovers, remove many fine tree roots that have galloped over to the clumps of rich organic material. On the theory that if there is plenty to go around the trees won't hog it all, dig in lots more organic material, re-install plants, mulch heavily.  Continue hauling rain water. 
Result?  Exuberant trees that are now taller and more shade casting than before. Perky but puny plants, knuckles that scrape the ground when gardener is standing upright.

Year three: Buy longer hoses to connect to the outside faucet. Wrestle the permanently kinked hoses across lawn and driveway. Attach them to old soaker hoses wound amongst the plants. Alternate between rain water and well water. Spend hours pouring water down the throats of those ungrateful little bleeders, the shade loving plants. 
Result?  Well developed biceps. Knuckles healing nicely.

Year four:  Single handedly install an elaborate watering system sold by a major Ottawa based tool and garden company.  
Result?  Large Credit Card bills, miles of black hose and thousands of gallons of well water later the plants were looking great. As were the trees.  My arms had returned to their normal length, knuckles healed, biceps no longer aching. The water pump for the well?  Toast!

Year five: Ask Doug how best to care for shade loving plants under trees. His advice?  DON’T even try.  Hang head in defeat and begin the daunting task of moving about a hundred plants out from under the trees and over to the other side of the driveway. 
Result? Less shade and less root competition but plants still puny from the stress they suffered in years one, two, three and four. Some never did recover.

Bottom line is my advice to those of you who are only as smart as I am: Do your homework before you spend money and time to design an un-maintainable garden.

You can catch a lot of great advice from Doug Green by clicking on this link


Doug said...

Hah - you give me too much credit - heck, I'm still learning all this stuff too but I thank you for the kind words. :-)

Joyce said...

What a great post!! I'm so with you on under big tree gardening. Last year I ventured down that Ave. But I have used a lot of plants that only need the top 12" of amended soil and so far so good. Am using a lot of smaller perenials. Don't know about this year yet, will let you know.

Thanks for the garden chuckles.....j