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.