Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rethinking My Garden

If you asked me today what I would have done differently in my garden,  I would say:

"Build raised beds!"

If I had a do over I would build lovely raised planters that would be filled with loamy, rich, moist well draining soil.
'Peachie's Pick'  Stokesia from 2011
That's my fantasy soil. It's the complete opposite of Clay and Limestone's heavy clay soil that sits on a limestone bedrock that only blasting could remove. It's sticky wet all winter and concrete dry all summer.

Granted, good soil is only one of the many factors to be considered in the garden. But, let me have this moment, while I sink into the soft, loamy soil of my imagined raised bed.
Tennessee Coneflower

If you asked me today what's the second thing I would have done differently, I would say:

"Remove at least a dozen trees, maybe more!"

If I had a do over I would take down a few of the trees that make this garden entirely too shady and too dry. Rain rarely penetrates the canopy and the understory is dry from late Spring until the leaves drop in December.
Oakleaf Hydrangea

Granted, sunlight is only one of the many factors to be considered in a garden. But, let me have this moment to bask in the warmth of my fantasy sunny garden.
Hydrangea arborescens

If you asked me what else I have done differently in my garden, I would say:

"Have more hardscape and fewer planting beds"

If I had a do over I would have put in more paths, walls and created a gravely patio.  I would have planted fewer beds. Fewer beds means less maintenance and hardscape gives a garden more bones.

Granted, hardscape and planting beds are a few of the many factors to be considered in a garden.  But, let me contemplate my free time while sitting on the gravel patio of my fantasy.
The Waiting Bench will be a good spot to ponder changes
But, what I would have done differently way back then is not the question that needs to be asked! What I shall do differently in the near future is the real issue and that's the one I am pondering.  It took me some time to figure out how to garden here, and, I did manage to create a pretty fine place for wildflowers and critters.  But, change is afoot!  Weather patterns are changing;  our winters are warmer, our springs shorter, our summers hotter and dryer. The gardener is changing; she's looking down the road and  wonders how she can make the garden easier to maintain.

Time is ripe for change. I'll let you know what I decide.

xoxogail

PS I wrote about  my journey to become a wildflower gardener at C and L for State By State's online publication, you can go here to see On Becoming A Wildflower Gardener. 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone." She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

45 comments:

  1. I've been doing the same thing, solving different problems than yours, but reducing my maintenance by installing wide gravel paths, the gravel garden and planting as many self-sowing, survival-of-the-fittest, drought-tolerant, full sun plants.

    I'm getting rid of wood-mulched areas (homes of voles) due to maintenance (weed, weed, weed) and going to gravel mulch (lower cost, retains moisture, easier to weed). Even my tropical ginger is happy in gravel! It's not just for drought-plants!

    I'm 58. I don't want to give up on gardening. This has been the most fun that I've had in years because we installed those gravel areas which freed up my time to be creative again instead of wearing myself out with hard work.

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  2. I think we all look at our gardens after a time and wish we had done this or that instead. I haven't been gardening nearly as long as you, but I wish now I had started with an overall plan instead doing things piecemeal so that I have a flowerbed here and one there, instead of one cohesive design. I also wish I hadn't been so impatient for things to grow and hadn't planted everything too close together:)

    When Lisa, Beckie, and I stopped by, we commented that your garden fit you so well--it was so full of wildlife that day, and Lisa especially was noticing all the birds. It's so beautiful! But I understand your feelings--even my little garden has me wondering if I can keep up with it in the coming years.

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  3. so beautiful! wonderful macro shots :)

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  4. Wow! those were indeed an inspiring post! Glad to read this page.

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  5. Great post Gail, exactly the kinds of thoughts I need to hear as I'm planning my gardens!!

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  6. I love that closeup of the spiderwort! Gorgeous. I'll have to look at mine to see if they have those incredible plumose stamens.

    For dry shade, your gardens are amazing. I struggle with that, too, although luckily my soil is more of a sandy loam. Here on the prairie, the big issue is keeping enough moisture in to combat the never-ceasing winds. I'm trying hard to design gardens with little need for extra watering - and finding it a particular challenge in the shade.

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  7. Hi Gail,

    Climate change is something we all have to consider these days. I have removed many plants from the garden that struggle and replaced with them natives or non-native that fit into a damp garden. At this time it is working well.
    I still have much to do and given time will put these things into place.

    I am interested to see the changes in your space but I do hope that you do not alter it too much, as it is a garden I love :)

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    1. I am thinking like Cheryl. But then again your Version 2 will have the same enticing charm, but less work for you.

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  8. Wonderful story, Gail! Kudos to you for seeing that change is needed and taking the time to contemplate it. I believe we all need to do just the same, while we enjoy the soft loam, warm sun and free time.
    xoxoxo
    Frances

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  9. Your garden looks absolutely beautiful, even with heavy clay soil, lots of tree roots and shade! You have done a great job with what you were given. Can't wait to see what else you have in store.

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  10. It is necessary to look ahead to future needs which have changed. Can I see your garden before the changes take place? Pretty please?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, you may....anytime you want to visit there's a place for you here! xo

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  11. Interesting and you are so right, we need to plan for the years to come..

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  12. At 35 and self-employed, I fortunately have time for lots of beds, but even so, I've found that after a point, all some of them want from me is a load of compost in early spring, followed by a load of mulch in late spring, and some spot weeding now and again.

    I have no idea how long this state of affairs will continue, mind you--I've only been in this garden for four years!--but the self-sufficiency of some of the beds gives me hope that as long as I can wield a mulch fork, the garden will age with me. (Or possibly the bee balm will kill me in my sleep. Either way.)

    But the best thing I've done is definitely to have very wide paths--if they're too wide and I start fretting about wasted space, I can always pop a container along the edge.

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  13. Gail, I love this post. It reminds us that every gardener looks backs with a wish list, yet we can only change by going forward. I feel like my garden didn't take shape until I brought in a garden designer who helped me lay out BIG beds and see potential in areas I had never considered. My garden and I are better for it. I look forward to reading more about your plans for the future.

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  14. Isn't there always things we would have done different in most areas of life...but I wonder how many things would we really have done differently...? None, it's this trial and error that has helped us with hindsight.....oh sheesh, here I go rambling. I believe you have done a beautiful job creating lush colorful gardens in your challenging gardening conditions...and your photography is gorgeous!

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  15. Oh, yes, you have me shaking my head in agreement on every point you make! Sometimes I have wild fantasies about having a blank canvas and starting over from scratch. But then I think about all the love and labor put into the garden and try to be content with where we both are. I look forward to seeing what you decide for your future garden but I always enjoy it where it is too ;)

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  16. Agreed...less maintenance is good. I understand every point.

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  17. Then do it!! I asked myself very similar questions last summer when I was unhappy with several areas in my garden. I had to remove the emotion and focus on what worked and didn't work and then make changes from there. I LOVE the outcome. Ok - blasting the limestone is insane but several of your other ideas are very do-able.

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  18. You imaginary garden is nice, but your real garden is awesome too.
    If I had a do over, I'd bring in better soil to start too and smother out all the grass at once instead of battling the edges for years.

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  19. Wow its a very good post. The information provided by you is really very good and helpful for me. Keep sharing good information..

    Garden Centre Coatbridge

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  20. Oh, Gail, I hear you loud and clear. If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it would be "you won't always have this much energy and stamina so set some boundaries for yourself, woman!"

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  21. I'm always thinking about things like that too. Gardens are ever changing and evolving. Most of the things I wished I should done when I first started out was simply a matter of finances. I wish I would have installed a sprinkler system and terracing but that would have cost a fortune.

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  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  23. You are not alone. I started my 11 year old garden with a wedding for my nephew. Everything was planted just for that wedding. Too many years (last year to be exact) later I realized the wedding is over and time for a redo. So last fall I began my yard face lift. Beginning around my back patio I have ripped out, replanted, added a sidewalk, move my herb garden to a sunnier sight, planted some trees and build 2 rock walls. This spring I added shrubs and more wildflowers. But that only made a dent. I have a list of more trees to plant to give me the shade I want to plant more wildflowers and ferns, redoing soil allow me to plant the things I desire, and garden art I want to make. I thought I had my list finished until last night. As I stood in the kitchen looking out the front yard I said out loud 'I'm tired of looking at those plants' so here I go again adding another project. That will mean I am redoing my entire yard! The good part is I have a nursery to shop in the bad part is I have a nursery to shop in! But I will never be done because that's what I love about gardening, it's alive and changing just like me!

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    1. Terri, The good thing is that you have a nursery to shop in and that's good for me, too!

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  24. Go Gail! I'm sure the changes will be very thoughtfully made. Maintenance free sounds good to me sometimes although I do enjoy my puttering. At least you aren't doing a lot of mowing ~ that gets old (at least to me) fast. It will be interesting to see how you adapt to the climate change & the way you want to garden in the future. Have a great weekend!

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  25. Lovely post Gail. Your words and photographs so beautifully illustrate the need to change with the reality around us. That our summers will become drier (we have had so much rain of late) and hotter . . . means we will all have to change our gardens as our plants and trees adapt or not to the climate change. You have an enchanting place to sit and ponder. ;>)

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  26. Good advice about the raised beds! Especially for a veggie/cut flower garden! Lovely images to accompany your prose. The blue bench provides an effective punch of color!

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  27. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.comJune 9, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    This is lovely thinking and will inspire folks to remember not everything is set in stone...

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  28. Beautiful post, Gail. Every year I say that it's time to dial it back a bit to make things easier. Yet I always end up adding more -- new plants, new beds-- because there's always something else to try. I know there always comes a time when a gardener has to say, "Enough!"

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    1. Gloria, me, too, but, this year, I must make some changes.

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  29. An excellent post! Gardens are always evolving, and even as you've created a wonderful garden honoring the spot that it is, there are always new directions to go (eg. more open space, less maintenance, more sun, etc.) -- following nature's lead and a changing climate.

    I've been particularly aware this winter and spring of what I enjoy doing in the garden and what I DON'T enjoy - eg. weed whacking & sawing out tree volunteers. And the point seems to me to enjoy the gardening -- not to be burdened with 'yard chores'.... A wonderful gardening friend as she became older extolled the virtues of flowering shrubs and it's hard to argue with that approach.

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  30. I love this post. Looking forward to your future garden. I know it will be lovely.

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  31. I am very glad to read this post. I love your garden, a quiet and cool place. I'll be back to learn more.

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  32. Scrolled through my bloglist, saw your subject line, and even tho I should be in the garden weeding, or downstairs ironing, or whatever, I thought - perfect, this is going to be a good read and it was. I sneered at straight lines - now I think, that would be easier to maintain and mow - thought drifts were dull, now I find them more restful than polka-dots species plantings - raised beds were for the elderly and infirm, no they create form & shape and make life easier. Hope you get out there today and start to measure in anticipation of plotting out this new dream garden.
    B.

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  33. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and your list may help a new gardener formulate a good plan to move forward with. More hardscape is often the surprising answer to enjoying a plant-packed garden, and I would like more of it too. You are so right -- it also helps to reduce maintenance. Still, it's never too late to add some of your wish list features. I look forward to seeing the changes, Gail!

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  34. Your garden looks lush and lovely to my eyes, but a gardener knows her garden's needs better than anyone else, so I'll take your word for it that there are things you need to do differently. I do think we are all going to be doing some re-thinking now that climate change has arrived.

    I am going through the same thinking in my garden, forced there by the terrible drought and heat of last summer. It was an easier decision for me to make, since half my garden died and left me with a clean slate. And yes, hardscaping is taking a much larger role in the new garden...

    At first the task seemed daunting and depressing, but oh my, how wonderful it is starting to look! It is a fresh start, and I find myself thinking that contrary to the old garden being lost, a new, more mature garden has sprung up from its roots. I'll have some new posts up this week showing even more changes.

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  35. Gail, I'll be very interested in reading about your thoughts, changes and choices. I think many of us are thinking about how to make our gardens more manageable spaces to enjoy as we age. -Jean

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  36. This is a great posting It’s exactly what I was looking for. I like your article.

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  37. Boy! Has this been a subject that has certainly been on my mind lately. It seems every year I think I'm going to get ahead and something steps in and keeps me out of the garden for a couple of months at the time. I have all these things that I want to do to the garden and yet I can barely take care of what I have now. My back really slows me down sometimes... for weeks at the time. I was just asking myself yesterday who is going to take care of all this in another ten or twenty years? My hope is by then I will be financially stable enough to pay someone else to do most of it! LOL

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  38. I too would do more raised beds, my clay is a true learning experience. Will have to do some more rocks to aid in preventing run-off / washout.

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  39. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about gardening at your place. I do love what you've done, but I also like your ideas about how you would have gone about things differently. I think part of the reason we decide to make changes in our gardens is because we evolve as gardeners, and some of the plants we fell in love with in the past are not as beloved as they used to be. Now that I'm in the process of acquiring more native plants, I'm thinking of digging out some of the non-natives that I used to be more fond of. Like I mentioned in another comment, I want to have more swaths of plants, and not just one plant here and there. Time will tell how much of a change gets made. Oh, and I've thought of planting some taller growing native shrubs in the east front bed. That would be a big change.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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