Eunice likes it when I post photos of my garden. I was quite honored when she told me that. This post is for you, Eunice!
My Plant-Tending Story
I can not say I’m much of a gardener. I’m more of a person who loves color and flowers. I love what grows but I am not thrilled about tending to the needs of the plants.
I also tend to enjoy home gardens which look somewhat natural. Even in someone else’s yard I think I am not so fond of straight rows of tulips or round gardens with edgings in regimented rows. I admire people who are able to make that sort of thing work, and I adore this sort of formality in a public garden (such as Frances Park in Lansing or Applewood Gardens in Flint). I just prefer a softer, more natural look in my own yard.
The Shade Garden
Because of these tendencies in myself, I have learned for the most part to plant things which come up every year. In the front of our yard, we replaced a porch maybe four years ago and lost all of our overgrown bridal-wreath bushes at that time. I planted three varieties of hosta (the front yard is 100% shade most of the summer).
I chose purple-leaf coral bells in the same front garden (with the hosta plants). My horticulturist friend warned me that the purple ones are sometimes not as hardy as the green ones, but I lucked out. The two plants did very well for several years, but this year the largest hosta are taking over and shading them a lot.
I will need to make a choice… move the hosta or move the coral bells. I am leaning toward the hosta, because they are more likely to take a move well.
I also tried lilies of the valley in that garden which seemed to not work… yet this year two lonely shoots came up. Maybe they will turn into something someday, I will honor them by leaving them alone.
The North Side
Fortunately, the lilies of the valley on the north side yard (a thin strip of land, maybe 10ft/3m wide) are thriving and taking over. This was exactly what I had hoped for. There is no tree shade there so it gets reflected light.
There is also a small white wild climbing rose there, with tiny single flat blooms. It has mean thorns but doesn’t grow as fast as the fuschia ones elsewhere on the lot.
On the north we also have a small pink spirea (I’m not at all sure that is how to spell them… the white ones are called bridal wreath). I am not sure how old that one is, but I’m certain it was there when Brian moved in (about 1992).
For the record, when we put in these plants it is me doing the choosing and Brian doing the digging. He is a very good sport about physical labor, and I am grateful.
Brian usually cuts the yard with an “acoustic” motorless mower. It is very lightweight and quiet (I can even push it for a while, where power mowers bother my wrists instantly). Sometimes the woody weeds need a good power cut but that doesn’t need to happen every time. I like this balance just fine, though honestly since I do not do the mowing it’s up to Brian.
The Sunny Side: Wildish Roses
On the back and north sides of the house, we have a good deal of sun. This means that things grow on their own, without help… sometimes they grow so well they take over. Since much of our house was built in the 1920s (The front 3 rooms were turn of the century), many of our plants were no doubt established at that time. The roses, at least, will surely live longer than I will.
You can see the fuschia climbing roses in these photos. We have them on the garage behind the house, on the back wall (two major plants, and they creep sideways along the house on either side), and on the north side which is the far side of the house from this vantage point. The north side has two major plants and many little scrubby ones trying to come up.
These are the roses I ignored last year. They had so many dead branches that they were a big mess and ugly tan in so many spots! Roses get powdery mildew easily when there is not a lot of airflow, so it was important to prune all those dead branches out.
I worked several days getting the roses down to a civilized state (they still look wild, I think, but they are not taking over and dying as much). I threw out seventeen paper grocery bags full of clippings, in two sessions, and a few more in subsequent small sessions. Whew!
Yes… these photos were taken *after* the pruning sessions. You can see that I do not dare skip a year with these plants again.
I am grateful for my thick suede (hot pink) gloves. They protect me from most of the puncture wounds I am guaranteed to receive if I garden without them. Sometimes I think I won’t need them, and one time I literally had a thorn pierce a fingernail all the way through. Those beauties are downright mean!!!
The Garage Garden: A bit o’nourishment
On the garage you can see we have a thriving “snowball bush” which is also no doubt from the 1920s. We moved it once and it’s very happy in this new spot.
Actually, at the very far corner of the garage , we have two rhubarb plants for pies/desserts (behind the snowballs, you can see the furthest one in the shade if you look at the first photo in this post). Rhubarb is a regional treat… very tart, even more so than cranberries.
The furthest rhubarb plant is from Mom, it is descended from plants on the farm in Minnesota where she grew up. It’s very strong and happy even though this is only its second year. The one on the left side of the small door, is tiny and scrawny, has always been a little weak, and now that the snowball is shading it we may lose it entirely.
You may not be able to see it, but on the garage, underneath the climbing rose, to the right of the lilies and the left of the snowballs, is a two foot by two foot area I call my food garden. I know, that’s a bit postage-stamp to be a real garden but it’s in a good spot and that’s all I have time to tend.
In the food garden I have chives (from mom) that are being choked out by the lily. I used to have sage plants for many years but they are gone now and I can not tell why. I have a parsley plant or two… they are supposed to be two-year plants but this is their third year. They are tall and spindly and woody, but they still taste like parsley and I use them when I cook.
I also planted two types of dill from seed, cilantro and spinach also from seed, in this area. The tall (non-bushy, standard) dill is growing OK although I started it a bit too late to really thrive. The bushy dill did not even attempt to come up.
The cilantro is looking happy but still small. And the spinach? Well, it came up but it likes cold weather and my delay means I did not get any for dinner. They are tiny little weedlike bits, but I don’t have the heart to take them out.
You may be able to see in the little area at the foot of the garage rose, an odd plant in the colors of rhubarb (red stem, big green leaves) but much more upright. This is a Swiss Chard plant I got in a pot at the local health food store.
When I bought it, the thing was very sad and droopy. It has recovered well and I have been harvesting bits of it for different meals. I grew it once before but I thought I could only harvest once so I saved it “for special.” Now I know that if I harvest, it will grow more. I’m enjoying this small bit of food “grown on my own farm.*”
* My maternal grandfather used to say this sometimes when dinner came around on the farm in Hanska, Minnesota. My father then started saying it when we would harvest fruit from the trees on our suburban lot near Lansing, Michigan, when I was growing up. I thought it was a common American saying, but it turns out it was about my Mom’s father. Go figure.
Another food plant takes up the same space as the entire herb/chard garden. It is a potted bush tomato, and it lives on the top landing of the back steps (in the above picture it is in the shade behind the mailbox). Living there it is protected from some bad weather, some animals, and it reminds me to water it every time I come home (because that is the door I use every day).
I have neglected to mention a few other plants that come back each year. We have three peonies, and those in the most sun of course do best. One we moved from shade four years ago and I thought we had killed it, but now it is under the mailbox and almost taking over that area entirely. You can not even see the side of the cement steps any more, which pleases me.
Have a peek at this photo from 2004, the geranium/petunia containers I planted that year (they sit at either side of the steps on the grass, the only flowering plants I fuss with which do not come back each year). See how bare it was, and how tiny the peony behind the pot?
Believe me, at that point I was just thrilled that the peony made it through the winter. It had gone down to one sprig of leaves the fall before.
We also have some wonderful orange day-lilies, the kind which grow wild by the roadside. These just keep growing, again especially the ones in full sun. They keep growing little baby plants on the perimiter and I seem to often be giving those away to friends. I never diminish the number I have, it seems. Perfect.
Also we have a lot of Myrtle/Periwinkle groundcover. At first it did not do that well but I have learned how to encourage it. Now it is doing pretty well. It takes about 3 years for any plant to thrive and I think I’m on my 3rd year of actively encouraging the myrtle… it is trying to take over my tiny food garden so I move it from there to a shady place on the south side, and that place doesn’t look so barren anymore.
We have a relatively small yard for Lansing, but I find it perfect for people who don’t want to spend too much time fussing. I can water all the plants which need assistance, in less than 20 minutes when I get home from work.
Not too big, not too small. As Goldilocks would say: “Just Right!”