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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

End of the Month View, March, 2015 -- The Gravel Garden

In February, for my End of the Month View post, I showed my gravel garden in all its late winter ugliness, and talked about the problems I plan to deal with and changes I want to make to it this year. Since then, I've primarily just been weeding it, and cutting back last year's dead stems and foliage. If you remember, it was heavily weed-infested, a result of its proximity to my neighbor's very weedy rose bed. I'm about 3/4 finished with that chore, and it's already looking much better.

There's still plenty of work to do, though, to bring it more in line with my original vision. I spent quite a few wet, dreary days this month just looking at it and making plans -- what I've heard called constructive staring.

The Gravel Garden as seen from the driveway

Weed-free gravel -- but still plenty of plants that need moving and/or giving away

I've started collecting plants that I feel will be more in line with my original vision for the Gravel Garden. I think I've used the word "austere" to describe how I want it to look. I'm not quite sure how things went awry a few years ago when I first started planting this garden. I remember reading Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden book and realizing that there were quite a few drought-tolerant plants that I could grow there, but in thinking about it now, I realized that those plants gave it a feel I didn't want -- a more blowsy, cottage garden feel. It's a great book and Beth Chatto's dry garden was ground-breaking and innovative. But. But. But. It's not the direction I wanted to go, and in retrospect I realize the book kind of blew me off-course.

My Gravel Garden plant collection

Beschorneria, Yucca rostrata and Ephedra nevadensis

Aciphylla aurea -- a very poky plant bought at the recent Heronswood Spring Plant Sale

Last month I had already decided to try removing two of the 'Bright Star' Yuccas and planting them in pots in an attempt to cure them somewhat of the spotty fungal "acne" that tends to afflict them. I've started calling those two plants "Dot" and "Spot." I plan to dig them up and put them in pots so that they can spend the very wet days of winter under the front porch roof. We'll see if that helps. I may try a copper-based fungicide as well. I saw a 'Bright Star' Yucca planted in an orange pot at the Portland Yard, Garden and Patio Show. I don't have orange pots, but I do have 3 low, wide red pots. I'm going to try spray painting them.

"Dot" with most of the disgusting infected leaves trimmed

The current lineup

Some of the ideas produced via constructive staring:

1. Remove the Grevillea, which was planted too close to the Ceanothus and plant it in another bed. At first I thought I might just move it about 3 feet to the right, into the space vacated by one of the Yuccas, but now I think it would be better to move it to another bed elsewhere.

2. Move the Kniphofia caulescens (on the far left in the photo above) into the spot vacated by the Yucca, where it will have the room and the sun to thrive and flower as it should. Right now, tucked under and too close to the Ceanothus, it is being tortured.

3. Move the grasses that are now in the front of the bed to the back, right up against the concrete block wall, to try and create a barrier to weed seeds that blow in from the neighbor.

Grasses in front need to move up against the wall

4. Move the smaller plants, like the Pulsatilla, to the front. Right now, they're hidden beneath the taller plants like the Ceanothus, and are easily overlooked when they're looking their best. (For the Pulsatilla, that's right now.) I also have quite a few tender succulents and Agaves that I'm going to try planting right in the ground in front in the spot vacated by those grasses, to see if that will help them bulk up. I can dig them again in the fall and pot them up to overwinter in the greenhouse. We'll see how that works, and if I still have the energy for digging plants up in the fall.

Pulsatilla, easily overlooked

Further to the right in the bed, are more plants that need tweaking. The other Yucca 'Bright Star' that I want to remove to a pot is not quite as badly afflicted, but it's currently hidden behind a large Euphorbia, and moving it will leave a hole. I have a nice-sized clump of Calamagrostis that might work. Or I could move an enormous clump of Stipa gigantea into that spot.

Yucca 'Bright Star' hidden behind a large Euphorbia

I realized I have a hole near the back, through which I can see into my neighbor's back yard, which despite 3 or 4 years of growth, has not been filled with plants (not counting the weeds). What can I use to plug that hole? I picked up a Shibataea kumasaca at the last Blogger's Plant Exchange (I don't remember who brought it). Things to decide: Would it work there? Will it spread too much? (It's a form of bamboo. I know not all bamboos run uncontrollably, but I tend to err on the side of caution. I don't like plants that run.) If not that, then what?

In weeding, I also realized that this thick patch of Sempervivum had almost no weeds in it. That realization hatched a plan to gather all the many Semps I have growing throughout my garden and making a quilt-like patchwork to cover the ground underneath the Trachycarpus and the Ceanothus.

The Ceanothus is flowering profusely, and smells heavenly

There are still some lovely flowers on the Grevillea 'Marshal Olbricht' -- I hope it survives the move

Gratuitous shot of Trachycarpus foliage -- I'm not sure what those spots mean or if I should worry about them

So -- those are all my current ideas for how to revamp the Gravel Garden. I hope you didn't have any trouble following my thoughts. I fear I've presented them in a rather scatter-shot approach. Please tell me what you think.

I should set myself some goals to accomplish in April.

1. Remove the Grevillea and replant it elsewhere.

2. Finish weeding and cutting back.

3. Dig and pot up the two blemished Yucca 'Bright Star.'

P.S. Speaking of "Yuccacne," what on earth am I supposed to do with this ugly monstrosity?

Yucca aloifolia purpurea

I think I might rename it "Yucky suppurating sore"


The only clean leaves are a handful right in the center at the top

The End of the Month View is hosted by Helen at the Patient Gardener's Weblog. Check out her current post here, and see others in the comments from other bloggers who participate.


  1. The Yucca will need some major cutting back but perhaps put up with it longer until you get a more visible flush of growth? Looking forward to seeing the changes you're planning on doing on the gravel bed, and great idea too to use semps as weed suppressing ground cover.

  2. I've stopped buying Yuccas for this very reason , I hate those black spots ! Things are really on the move , I look forward to see how it all goes .

  3. Your constructive staring has led to some good plans! Mine usually ends in oh well, the plants will cover it all up soon. You've made some work for yourself but the gravel garden will look way cool when you've accomplished these tasks! That last yucca looks like it should be sent to a leper colony. Major surgery. Sad because I remember thinking how good it looked. Plant the bamboo and if you want to be extra sure that it won't spread, get a huge plastic pot, cut the bottom out, bury it leaving about an inch above ground, plant the bamboo inside and you'll have a barrier.

  4. I engage in a lot of "constructive staring". My neighbor always says, "I saw you out there intimidating your plants again." Sending healing thoughts to your winter-damaged crew. :-)

  5. When I get asked why am I sitting staring out at the garden, I can now answer that I am Constructively Staring - thanks ever so much for sharing that phrase.
    Good to read your plans and your plan of action - hoping you get the weather to get then all done.
    What can one say about that Yucca - is it rude to call it the yukky yucca :) I don't want to hurt it's feelings.

  6. Hah! Yes! constructive staring - I think gardeners do it a lot ! My mum had an old adage which is very true of me , "Sometimes I sit and think - and sometimes I just sit!" . So ... sometimes my staring isn't that constructive, but, where gardens are concerned, it is always enjoyable!

  7. Wow! the gravel garden is beautiful!! and I like the plant choices. What I thought is very original is the half buried plate with sempervivum, a great idea!! I've got a Yucca Bright Star but I don´t know if it has spots...I´ll have to check it out when I return to Spain.

  8. I'm going to take a nap after reading your to do list! LOL You've done a wonderful job designing the gravel garden......the stainless steel containers go so well with it.
    Garden mind goes between admiring and thinking about the changes that need to be made.

  9. You're going to be busy! I love the idea of the sempervivum patchwork quilt - I may try one of those one day myself. Is it the rain that causes Yuccas to break out in spots? Or a combination of rain and cold? I've had no such problems here but then we've had neither much rain nor much cold.

  10. I had a vision of Miscanthus silberturm, though there are clumping bamboos that might be safe and more evergreen to hide the motor home action. Fargesia ?

  11. Very familiar with the constructive staring process. Love your Ceanothus and Grevillea. Sorry about the yuccacne, that must be very distressing.

  12. Yep, don't you just hate that gross yucca business? The odd thing that I've discovered (at least with the purpurea) is that those spots usually happen after their second winter in the ground. It matters not what winter is like, cold or warm, wet or dry. I hack them back to the new growth and they eventually look good again.

  13. I think you have come up with a completely new approach to gardening: constructive staring. Of course, it must be backed up with a heavy dose of constructive action, but I'm sure we can count on you for that.

  14. I need to borrow that term, "constructive staring." I do that a lot. Now I have a better term for it! I may make planting ceanothus a goal for this year. Gotta find out if the small-leaved types really are deer-resistant. Had to look up that awesome bamboo. It's a runner, but slow and non-aggressive, according to what I found. I love that texture.

  15. I did laugh at your list of plant moves, you are as bad as me. I like the look of your plant line up for the gravel border, there is a distinct look about it.

  16. I like your ideas for your gravel garden. Constructive staring sounds like a great way of gardening. I find taking photos is a great way of doing this. You see things on photos that you just hadn' t noticed.

  17. I really like your rock pedestals - they add nice structure to the garden and are functional - allowing you to place pots on top. That ceanothus is striking with it's vibrant indigo coloring - I definitely haven't seen anything like it down in Central Texas! Thanks for sharing.

  18. I am a huge proponent of constructive staring, and it sounds as if yours has been very productive. Love the idea of using semps as ground cover, much better than weeds. Planting the bamboo in a very sturdy bottomless pot might control potential spread. I admire your determination to recover your own vision for your gravel garden. Enjoy turning staring into actual changes!

  19. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who just stands out there and stares. I do it a LOT. I find it very constructive. ;)


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