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

Friday, January 31, 2014

End of the Month View, January 2014 - A Vast Hodgepodge of Ugliness

Helen Johnstone, who writes A Patient Gardener's Weblog, hosts a monthly meme called End of the Month View (Find her current post here). I met Helen briefly at last year's Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco, which is when I discovered her blog and started following it, and her end of the month view posts. I think it's a great idea for a bloggers' meme, so this year I'm going to be participating. There's a good chance it might end up being a beginning of the next month view, given the tendency for time to march on a lot faster than I realize.

Helen uses her monthly posts to concentrate on one particular area of her garden each year, which I think is a good idea, so that's what I'll be doing too. Some participants show various areas, but I'm going to focus on a bed in my back garden that until now has been nameless. I'm going to call it the Bottle Tree Bed, because it's the bed where I have my bottle tree, d'uh.

Right now it is a vast hodgepodge of ugliness, and I suppose I could have called it that instead of the prosaic Bottle Tree Bed, but I'm hoping by the time I'm done with it, I will have transformed it into a breathtaking vision of beauty.

Here is the evidence of its current state of ugliness, photographed from the shelter of my back porch.

Let's see if I can remember what's in there: left to rightish and round-aboutish -- an Erysimum, some Verbascums, a bunch of low-growing Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, a hardy Geranium, a Ceanothus, a couple of Agastache Golden Jubilee (and a few of their progeny dotted around), a Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle Spirit, some pink mums and some sword ferns (both hidden behind taller plants), a single pink Muhly grass, some peonies, a single Hellebore, three thriving Ribes sanguineum, a Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty', a couple of Philadelphus lewisii, a couple of Lonicera involucrata, and one tall Mahonia leaning drunkenly on the fence somewhere way way at the back.

I spent part of last summer on my plant collecting expeditions with Peter The Outlaw Gardener (otherwise known as nursery-hopping), buying plants that I hoped to plant into this bed last fall after a massive revamping, just in time for everything to be watered in by the return of our fall rains, and thus be thriving and lovely by spring of this year. Um, yeah. That didn't happen, because early last fall I hurt my back and didn't garden for about 4 months.

But now my back seems to be healed and I am ready to get started. So my end of the month view this year is going to document this bed's transformation as it blossoms into glory.

You may have noticed in the description of what's growing here the article "a" being used a lot. This bed definitely suffers from the dreaded "one-itis" -- that tendency of many gardeners to plant one of this and one of that.

One Ceanothus -- really pretty when blooming, and evergreen, this shrub is the only survivor from the previous owner's back garden

One Hellebore

The one and only spot of prettiness right now

One 'Black Beauty' Elderberry, three red flowering currants and one drunken Mahonia

Dead peony foliage -- I know, I'm usually conscientious about cutting it back since it harbors disease, but I wanted to make sure I could find them again

Sword ferns

One pink Muhly grass, some pink mums, one Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea and two Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

One bottle tree and one big rock

So my goal for this year is to fix the one-itis, by creating drifts of plants, preferably with the shorter ones in front of the taller ones, with color and form and texture echoes of each other, as well as repetitions of plant combinations. I want this bed to become the breathtaking vision of beauty that it should be, all year long, since it's the first thing you see in the back garden when you come through the gate on the right hand side of my house.

The bed has had its moments in the past, as documented here. But I'd like it to have more than just moments.

I hope you will follow along with me as I transform this bed and show it off in my monthly posts. Do you have any big re-gardening projects that you're planning to do this year? Do you post for Helen's End of the Month View?

By the way, you thought I was kidding about the drunken Mahonia, didn't you?

One drunken Mahonia and Oooooh, look at all that lovely shotweed.


  1. Hi Alison. I am really glad you are joining in with the meme and hope you will find it helpful. I think with the bottle tree (why are they so popular in the US but I have never seen them in the UK) and the large rock you already have good structure and potential wow ness. Are you going to try and tie in with the blue of the bottle with your new planting?

  2. OMG...the drunken Mahonia, too funny, Alison! I think we all feel this way about our gardens from time to time...I know I certainly do...especially in the first few years. Sometimes in the beginning, it's so easy to get carried away...gardeners are so like Magpies, we seem to want everything that catches our eye! I think you're making a good move...and I can't wait to see your results! My big project this year is the's time to admit to myself it's just not sunny enough for what I wanted to do...time to face reality...sigh ;-) PS...those pics for earlier in the year are beautiful...I don't know how I missed that post originally!

  3. Hi Alison, what an interesting project, that's a big bed you have to play with, so plenty of scope for using repetition withouth being limited to three or four plants *shudder*.

  4. I'm joining in for the first time too Alison - I've been patiently waiting on a chance to join in but until now didn't have a specific area I wanted to concentrate on. Both our areas can develop together.
    I see you suffer one-itis, I do too and I think the only cure is experience and patience, both I have very little off.
    I truly did not expect the Mahonia too be quite as drunk as you were making out, oops, I was wrong!

  5. It is easy to have a bed looking good for a short season but quite challenging to have it looking wonderful all year round. I look forward to seeing what you are going to do with it. Good luck!
    By the way if you chop the drunken part of your Mahonia back to a bud it will look much better next year.

  6. Glad you gave us a better view of the "drunken Mahonia". I didn't spot it in the first shot and suspected that perhaps it was not the Mahonia that was drunken. Should have known better. It will be fun to watch your progress as you turn this area into a thing of beauty.

  7. Alison! Great ideas and pics. The Mahonia...hahah, that's great! Well, I too am trying to do some waves of planting and repeats. I too suffer from "one-itis" and plan to work hard to change that myself. Looking forward to your updates!

  8. As ricki said I'm glad the drunk got its close-up, since I was having trouble finding it in the other shots. As you know my big project is the privet lands. One day I'm super excited and the next I'm terrified. Today I was talking with a fellow who was giving a big on removal and an overwhelming desire say "nevermind" and just whack it all back to a manageable size and try and keep it as a hedge. I wish you good luck and hope you enjoy the process!

  9. Hi Alison, it's a terrific space you have there, a lovely deep bed, and full of opportunity. As a woodland gardener I'm loving those sword ferns, and hellebore!

  10. A drunken Mahonia? Did you empty the bottles around the Mahonia? Haha. Best thing is to cut the long twig of the Mahonia back and you get a nice shaped shrub. You have plenty of good ideas for the space, but be careful no "one-itis" there anymore. Your Hellebore is beautiful!

  11. Beautiful double hellebore! L

  12. Today I feel like your mahonia, not drunk, but simply tired, lol. The first thing I noticed in your garden is the rock (of course). I think you have the prettiest bottle tree I've ever seen, it is very well constructed and colorful.

    I'm guilty of one-itis too, but my lone hellebores is not as happy as yours is. I am anxious to see what changes you will make; in my eye, this garden is gorgeous as it is, but I happily await your updates!

  13. I went and saw your previous post on this area, and really love that "black beauty" elderberry. Can't wait to see the transformation!

  14. I'm glad to hear that your back is better. I suffer from the "one of" syndrome too, although I like to think of it as trialing selected plants, which assumes that, eventually, I'll swap out the losers for some of the winners. I've got a pact (with myself) to be more diligent about that this year. I look forward to seeing your bottle tree bed take off!

  15. The drunken Mahonia is funny! Good luck on your project for this year, looking forward to the updates!

  16. I do post for Helen's meme at the beginning of the month...I look forward to seeing how you rework this bed. I have many such beds to rework this year. Glad you are feeling better and ready to garden again.

  17. Hope you get more than one drunken Mahonia ! the "one-iris" is my problem , as well. I was always told to get threes and fives… so difficult when there are so many plants I what.

  18. Love the bottle tree. My garden has lots of onesying.


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