Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back Garden Renovations

We've been enjoying a spate of nice gardening weather lately. Over Easter weekend, we had three days of sunshine and warm(er -- in the 60s) weather. Yesterday (Monday) started off with fog, but eventually turned sunny in the mid-afternoon, and today is supposed to follow a similar pattern. Right now the fog is more like a soft, misty rain, though. I did a round out there checking things out and came in with soaked shoes, wet socks and wet pants legs.

I got a lot done over the weekend.

I've spent the past three months, since the beginning of January, pulling everything out of the bed at the back of the garden, by the fence, and replanting things. I made a major oops when I first planted it. I put in a bunch of native shrubs, which at the time were just sticks with roots, and I put them too near the front of the bed, instead of at the back. I wasn't accustomed to gardening with shrubs, because my last garden was almost totally perennials, with a couple of rhodies along the house foundation.

Well, the native shrubs got bigger, and created a kind of no man's land between them and the fence, where there was plenty of room for perennials, but where they wouldn't grow well, because they were shaded, and couldn't get large enough to be seen anyway.

So, I've been taking every moment of good late winter weather (here in the PNW, that translates to not many), for digging, cutting back and replanting the shrubs, and then moving to the front whatever perennials I did have living there. I'm hoping all the plants will now find themselves better situated with room to thrive.

The back bed from the south end of the garden, looking north

And from the north end, looking south

I had to dig up a bunch of small bulbs (Calochortus, Dichelostemma and Fritillaria) and move them.

One of the very first native plants I bought when we moved here was this Mahonia, which was labeled M. repens. With that name, it should be a creeper, but it isn't. It's about three feet tall and very upright, along with two of its siblings, also in that back bed. I deliberately replanted it near the Ribes sanguineum (also dug up, pruned a bit and replanted). I like the flower combo.

By planting the natives along the back fence, I'm trying for a certain effect. I want the garden to eventually look like it is emerging from the native forest. I'm hoping the replanted native shrubs will eventually get big enough to hide the fact that there is another street, yard and house right behind that fence.

Too much to hope for? Well, it's still better than the oops.

That renovated bed was a lot of work, spread out over three tedious months of rain and cold. Over the past weekend, I had such good weather that I redid another bed in the back garden -- in three days.

The other bed, formerly known as the sunny perennial bed, but will henceforth be called the daylily bed. Looking east

The same bed, looking west.
I've talked about my dissatisfaction with this bed before, and just never seemed to have the time or the inclination to redo it. I had already cannibalized it somewhat, having moved Helictotrichon and Nepeta from it into the front gravel bed last year, and just recently, in order to fill up the previous bed with more perennials.

On Friday, I pulled out everything that was left in this bed (Barbara Mitchell daylilies, a handful of ornamental grasses, lots and lots of Biokovo Geraniums, an enormous clump of Rudbeckia, zillions of Lady's Mantle seedlings, Iberis, Prairie Smoke, and two sturdy clumps of Joe-Pye which required a saw to divide). I left in place the two Fuchsia magellanica shrubs, the Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' and the Oriental poppies, which are so entrenched they aren't going anywhere. Good thing all those plants were in the right spots.

All the pulled-out perennials lived for a couple of days in these plastic bins, with enough water to keep their roots moist. This is what's left that hasn't been replanted. (The clump of Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' is coming to the Portland Plant Exchange).

In the process of redoing the bed I pulled out an enormous crop of rocks -- and broke a couple of tines on our roto-tiller.

Picturesque pile o' dirty rocks

Pots and pots and pots o' small rocks, and piles of bigger ones

I left two Fuchsia magellanicas in their original spots. They are already leafing out, all along their old stems.

There are also plenty of new stems coming up from the base.

This one (I've lost the tag) has pretty chartreuse leaves

Plenty of new growth at the base here as well

I'm trying to decide if I should cut back all those old branches. These Fuchsias tend to be kind of monstrous otherwise, but it's disheartening to cut back anything that is leafing out at this time of year. They're trying so hard to let me know that spring is here. Then again, I could maybe root the cuttings...

On Saturday, Nigel kindly got out the rototiller and we tilled up all the emptiness, which I knew was full of all those rocks, and which had gotten compacted over the last few years. I then went over the entire bed on hands and knees, pulling out all those rocks.

On Sunday, I pulled out more rocks, and started replanting. Seven hours of work, and I wasn't done. On Monday, I replanted even more. There's still plenty of room for more plants in the bed.

I found lots of tiny Lady's Mantle seedlings, which I replanted in a more harmonious configuration, and closer to the front of the bed.

I cannibalized this bed for its daylilies, and replanted them in the back bed. Although to be truthful, I bought those daylilies two years ago with the purpose of putting them in the back garden in that very bed. But they came late in the fall, and by that time I was sick of gardening (did I really say that?), and didn't have the energy to redo the bed, so I quickly stuck them here, temporarily, in too much shade.

Does anyone remember me buying this trellis dress form last summer, with plans to train a Clematis on it? Well, in a few days she will finally be getting her Clem, a lovely 'Josephine', which I hope will thrive.

So, that's how I spent my Easter weekend. My legs and hands ache, and my knees are sore (but it was very satisfying exercise, my favorite kind of exercise -- with a purpose other than movement for movement's sake). I went through four sets of gardening clothes. (The dryer has just beeped to let me know they are now clean and dry and ready for Round Two).


  1. Love that trellis dress, with or without clematis. Your efforts are to be commended. I feel like a sloth beside you!

  2. Oh you have been busy - everything looks very good. when you talk about planting against that fence - I did that along our back fence and my neighbour has taller plants and trees on her side. Now that the fence is covered it looks as though my garden extends all the way into hers ! great trick

  3. I really like your back bed... the orb is terrific... did you make it yourself? Larry

  4. The Washington area is so beautiful! I'm so looking forward to following along with your beautiful pictures.

    Happy Spring!

  5. You've been busy & it looks great!

  6. Wow Alison you've been working. Let me just say I feel your pain, every bit of it. I just wish I had as much to show for it as you do!

    (77 last weekend on both Sat and Sun...heaven!)

  7. You have really done a great job in renovating your garden. Your garden looks wonderful. The trellis is perfect for the garden bed.

  8. You've been a very busy gardener! I can already see how good that back bed will look. I've been working on renovating my fence borders in the back for the same reason. Because of our long growing season, plants tend to exceed their stated size limits, thus causing me all kinds of visual grief.

  9. You are an inspiration! All of your rocks set out in pilesand in pots look like a potato harvest. My garden has many beds that need a complete overhaul like what you've done but instead, I just keep piling more plants in and hope for the best. One of these springs, I'll try to be more like you and do it right!

  10.'ve been super-busy! I can't wait to see how it looks this summer, after things have all filled in!

  11. Wow, indeed. You have a gorgeous garden. Love the edging. I find it is very easy to make mistakes when planting shrubs, especially when you buy them small. Glad I found this blog.

  12. Wow, you really did get a lot done out there! I also have a rock-producing garden; piles of them show up every time we dig. I'm working on placing more shrubs in my gardens, it's a good reminder to avoid a no-man's land behind them as you say.

  13. You've got really nice dirt. It looks so healthy. I've been doing a lot of plant moving too. And there's more to do. Now's the time to get it done, before the heat comes and the rain shuts off.

    Your garden is going to look wonderful this summer and how lucky that you have all those rocks. Maybe you can situate them around your creek.


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