Holding the Bank, or, The Dogwood is Free!

March 14, 2015 creek 025


It was a harmless little thing when we moved here…. barely knee high.

We debated at the time whether to keep it or cut it.


Dec. 27 snow 018~

We both know, firsthand, the problems with white pine trees growing near a home:  fallen branches, pine cones, tons of needles, and the ever present danger of the whole thing falling in a strong wind.  If any tree might be considered a ‘weed’ in Virginia, the white pine comes close.

But it was so cute and green; and its root system held a very steep bank.  I made the argument to leave it be.  And we did.

But that isn’t to say we haven’t reconsidered that decision seasonally.  We have trimmed off branches and headed back others in our efforts to keep it in bounds for its space.  And even I had to admit that the cute little pine had grown large and rangy.

What finally convinced me to ‘sign off’ on removing the pine, was seeing that the Dogwood seedling, which has been growing beside it, needs space to grow.  It is over 6′ tall this spring.  Its roots will help hold the bank, and it needs room to develop symmetrically.


April 6, 2015 vase 011


Beloved partner was tactful enough to get the task completed while I was away for the day.  I came home to the stump; the happy Dogwood, and a huge mess now visible on the bank.


April 6, 2015 vase 010~

This was an inaccessible area we mostly ignored in the garden; until now.  With the pine gone, I raked back the pine straw and gathered leaves to find a seriously eroded clay bank much in need of attention.

Our garden tumbles and rolls down a fairly steep hill from street to ravine.  There is no naturally flat surface on the entire lot.  We’ve invested a lot of effort and materials in reinforcing the steeper areas of the garden to control erosion.  In fact, the guys at our local garden center know that I’ll need them to load gravel and compost on most every visit.


April 6, 2015 building 001~

My prescription for these areas is simple:  soil, gravel and perennial plants.

Monday afternoon found me on hands and knees rebuilding the bank around where the pine once stood.


April 6, 2015 building 003~

Interestingly, I found a very old, hollowed out stump and a smaller solid stump beside the newly cut stump of our pine.  It appeared that the roots of the pine have battled valiantly over the years to maintain a presence here!

Once all of the accumulated needles had been raked away, I pulled the weeds, filled in the creature tunnels with small stones, and then packed the bank firmly with moist compost.  A  Carex plant, salvaged from a potted arrangement several years ago, was still alive near the base of the bank.  I had planted it and a deciduous fern two years ago in an earlier attempt to work with this area.  I simply reinforced the area around and below it with more compost.


April 7, 2015 spring chores 001


I also re-cycled pieces of a broken planter, and its gravely soil, at the base of the bank to further hold the new compost in place and to add a little interest.


April 8, 2015 spring garden 037


I plan to extend the existing fern garden across to this new planting area.  A variety of ferns, daffodils,  Hellebores and Lamium maculata already grow east of this new bed.


April 8, 2015 bank 007


And so I selected Lamium maculata ‘Aureum,’  Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ ferns, a golden leaved Hypericum, and Tiarella cordifolia, or foam flower, for the initial planting.  I plan to add some additional ferns and Hellebores before considering this area finished.  I’ve already added a strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, and a table top fern, to the pockets created by the planter.



All of these plants have proven unappealing to our herd, even if they could now find a way into the garden through our deer fences.

After the initial planting, I packed gravel over the entire area both to hold and mulch the compost and to discourage digging from the wild things.

It is only a start.  Newly developed beds always take a while to settle in and begin growing together. The white gravel will gradually ‘disappear’ as time goes by.  The plants will grow to cover it, and weather will dull it.

But we believe this spot is already infinitely better than it was a before the pine came down.


April 7, 2015 spring chores 004


Once the nearby trees grow their leaves, this bank will remain in deep shade most of the time.  I hope the golden leafed perennials will brighten a previously dark and forgotten area.

Part of the pleasure of creating gardens is in re-doing an unappealing area to make it beautiful.


April 8, 2015 bank 001~


Woodland Gnome 2015


The Dogwood tree has responded dramatically in the four days since the pine was cut.  It is ready to fill this space with its beauty.

The Dogwood tree has responded dramatically in the four days since the pine was cut. It is ready to fill this space with its beauty.



Several hours of thunderstorms with heavy rain rolled through here in the wee early morning hours today.  Listening to it, I wondered whether this newly reinforced bank would hold.  The plants haven’t had an opportunity to take hold yet and they haven’t grown to cover the newly laid compost.  We were so happy to see, in the morning’s light, that everything held.  There was absolutely no damage from all of the rain.  Success!


After last night's heavy rain... no damage to be seen at all.  The bank held.

After last night’s heavy rain… no damage to be seen at all. The bank held.

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Holding the Bank, or, The Dogwood is Free!

  1. Your energy is amazing to me! Your creative juices are always flowing. What a difference your before and after pics make. That dogwood must be very happy now that it doesn’t have to compete with the pine. I love the yellow theme you have going – it’s going to be a beautiful bright spot in the garden when they fill out.

    • Spring does that to you, Eliza 😉 A yard is like a canvas where you can dabble over and again. We had heavy rain and thunderstorms last night, and the area held, even with the plants not yet grown in. We are so pleased 😉 We went to the daffie farm today and I got lots of long shots for you, Eliza. The first post of the series is up for you to enjoy 😉 Hope you’re having a fabulous time in SC. Hugs, WG ❤

      • I know what you mean about spring stirring us up. I have often used the analogy of my yard being a studio with various canvases that I am working on. GMTA!
        Went to the Biltmore estate in Asheville yesterday – wow – another world. Took a few shots of the gardens, if I have time I might post.
        Glad to hear the new garden passed the rain test! I’m heading over to see your post next. 🙂

  2. A great example of how a garden is never finished. New projects are inevitable; either through our own doing or the plant’s urging. Good idea to give the dogwood room to grow. It should give you years of pleasure.

    • It will 😉 We love Dogwood anyway. I came home today with about 8 Voodoo lily tubers (Sauromatum venosum) and now must decide where they may grow…. well away from the house…. 😉 Poor things had already sprouted and were growing out of the bulb display in Gloucester. They are extremely phototropic and were doing their best to escape captivity. They looked like exotic animals scrambling to be free. I got them for 1/2 off, so took the lot…. Now, where to put them??

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