And Then It Got Complicated….

 

May 20, 2014 Garden 006

An inspiration, when it first flits into one’s mind, is beautifully simple.  In its purist form, the idea is more powerful than the forces which will conspire to prevent its materialization.

At least in my experience….

A vivid imagination is both gift and curse; tool and trap.

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A gardener’s winter dreams of pots and beds and borders sometimes get translated into actuality; sometimes not.  Rarely do they grow as first imagined.

There is the small matter of reality standing between the vision and its accomplishment.

May 20, 2014 Garden 001

My original idea was quite simple:  I saw a raised bed growing at the base of a young Dogwood tree.

The tree, badly damaged when our trees fell last summer, would become the center point of a cool and shady four season garden in the edge of our forest near the street.

Populated with Cinnamon Fern and Helebores, this perennial bed would be impervious to deer, low maintenance, and provide winter blooms.

Simple, right?

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 048

When imagining what to use  to build the raised bed, I decided to use Hypertufa troughs.  A gorgeous cardboard box shipped from Plant Delights became the mold for long window box shaped planters.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 049

The first two un-molded perfectly and went to the drying shelves.  Then the third cracked as I turned it out of the box.

Heavy, and not quite dry enough, I realized I had rushed it; and made a patch.  After another week in the mold, I gingerly turned it out, and the patch held.

A second very large trough also cracked.  I must not have had the mix quite right that day.

 

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch.  Can you spot the patch on the pot's rim?

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch. Can you spot the patch on the pot’s rim?  A chunk of another broken trough, which couldn’t be repaired, rests nearby.

I wasn’t as lucky with that attempt to “fix it,” and it ended up in a dozen jagged pieces tucked into a shadowy corner of the basement.  It gets complicated…

That temporarily halted work on the new raised bed.  With only two of the four planned troughs ready to use, I wasn’t ready to move forward.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.  The apparently empty pot is filled with perennial hardy Begonia, which will emerge by early June.

And I didn’t have time by then to start the fourth trough.

But, I already had three potted Helebores and three Lady Ferns languishing in holding areas, ready to sink their roots into a permanent spot in the garden.

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Lady Ferns, you ask?  Wasn’t the original idea to grow large, stately Cinnamon Ferns in this bed?  Well, it got complicated…

On one shopping expedition after another this spring, my search for Cinnamon Ferns was in vain.

Yes, Plant Delights had them, but I wanted to purchase them locally.  I’ve learned my lesson waiting for bare root ferns from the big box stores to sprout, and I was hoping to score them in the tiny pots Homestead Garden Center offered all last season.  But, no tiny pots appeared…

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the peremiter of this new raised bed.  Broken pot pieces help form a low "wall" to hold soil behind them.

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the perimeter of this new raised bed. Broken pot pieces help form a low “wall” to hold soil behind them.

It gets complicated. 

Our long, cold spring made things very difficult for the growers this year, and many items came late, in short supply, or not at all.

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So during my tour of Forest Lane Botanicals, I purchased three beautiful Lady Ferns to use in the garden… just before that third trough broke.  And they’ve been sitting ever since….

With the art festival completed over the weekend, it was decided that today I would work with the universe to bring this new raised bed into reality.

One way or another, something would be built today.

An experimental "stepping stone" holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

An experimental “stepping stone” holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

Armed with three potted Helebores, three Lady Ferns, two Autumn Brilliance Ferns, four bags of compost, more Caladiums than I care to admit to having, an almost murdered Begonia which got too dry last week and lost its leaves, a tray full of broken Hypertufa trough pieces, some old plastic pots, and some 6″ clay pots left from the weekend- I set to work.

Some might call this a scrounger’s garden.  I see it as a fortuitous opportunity for some serious recycling.

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With three now completed troughs, already planted in Caladiums,   the outline of the new raised bed was already sketched in.

A larger free-form  hypertufa trough, again broken in unmolding but patched, joined the group two weeks ago when I decided not to offer the  patched pot for sale.  It also holds Caladiums.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 005

With the fourth trough a minimum of two weeks away, if I cast it today; I decided to border the bed with other materials- if only temporarily.

So a pile of new 6″ terra cotta pots, scored at the Re-store for a children’s art project, got filled with soil, planted with Begonia semperflorens, and pressed into service as a border.

A few old plastic pots, filled and planted up, helped plug the gaps.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Large pieces of the broken hypertufa and a few experimental stepping stones work to camouflage this motley mix of bordering materials.

Borders in place, compost poured in and smoothed, it was finally time to plant.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 032

The bed is far from completed.  That fourth trough will materialize over the next few weeks to complete the outline.

I don’t have much faith in small terra cotta pots on our hottest summer days.  They dry too quickly.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

So I’ll replace as many of the small pots as I can with hypertufa planters, which keep roots cool, moist, and happy even in the heat of summer.

I found a 4″ Cinnamon Fern this afternoon, finally, and planted it among the Lady Ferns.

Over the next few days I’ll transplant some Hellebores seedlings from other beds, add a few more Caladiums, and possibly even plant some Spikemoss, a new favorite, as a frilly ground cover.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 002

Time, the essential ingredient in gardening, will transform this motley conglomeration of bits and pieces into a beautiful garden within a few weeks.

Once the plants settle in and begin weaving themselves together, it will take on a life and vision of its own.

Gardens, like people, evolve in their own time from one form to the next.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

We might plant a seed, push a cutting into the soil, or tuck a transplant into a new bed.  But that is only a gesture.  It is the concrete expression of a wish.

Magic happens after we water in our intention and wander away. 

As the roots take hold, and the plant unfolds itself in new growth, something entirely new evolves.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

A community comes together as roots intertwine in the soil.

Vines stretch, branches form.  Flowers open.  Our wish takes on a life of its own.

It gets very complicated, but also very beautiful.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 019

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Clematis

Clematis

 

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Recycling: The Stump Garden

Living in a forest means that sometimes our trees come down, whether by natural disaster or human choice, their loss changes the fabric of our gardens.

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Their loss also opens up fresh possibilities for change and growth.  One of the lessons gardeners experience again and again is the constancy of change.  Our gardens are never the same day to day, let alone year to year.

When we approach our gardens with an attitude of working with the change, we can see opportunities to create beauty and to restore the web of life where once there was only the remains of something now passed.

The stump of a great old tree, long gone, dominates the very bottom of our back garden.

A decaying stump from a great old tree dominates the bottom of the yard.

A decaying stump from a great old tree dominates the bottom of the yard.

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Although beautiful as a sculpture, I saw the opportunity to create beauty and also halt the erosion in this area.

This isn’t a good area for digging, and so I created a shallow raised bed using curved edging bricks from the hardware store.  They had to be carefully placed around the exposed roots of the old stump.  The bed was filled with a combination of bagged topsoil and bagged, commercial compost.  I use Leaf Grow Soil Conditioner which is produced in Maryland.  http://www.menv.com/leafgro.shtml  This particular product gives great results, and I use it almost exclusively when planting out in the garden.

A new planting bed built around a recycled stump

A new planting bed built around a recycled stump

Because the ground was sloped and uneven, I mounded the new soil higher around the base of the stump, and then tapered it down towards the edging bricks until the bed looked pleasingly full of soil and well formed.

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Hellebores are poisonous, and never grazed by deer. They prefer shade, and bloom from December until early summer. They are drought tolerant and spread once established.

A very good friend has a yard full of Hellebores, which reseed prolifically.  She had seedling growing up in areas where she wanted to grow roses and other perennials.  We worked together to dig the small plants out of areas where she didn’t want them, and I tucked them into containers of potting soil for the trip home.

I planted the transplants into the rich compost of the new bed, working around the roots, and spacing the plants 12″-18″ apart.  After watering them in, I left them to adjust to their new garden.

This whole process was done in early spring, and as the weather warmed, I was delighted to see that bits of Japanese painted fern   Image

and Epipedium had hitchhiked along attached to the roots of the Helleborus. Image

As the plants began to fill in and the soil settled, I kept adding compost as needed, and added a few more fern plants to the more deeply shaded back side of the stump garden.  A year later, I added an ivy plant which had outgrown its container, and a few more hybrid “must have” Hellebores from the garden center to fill in the last remaining empty spots.

This is now one of the most beautiful beds in my garden.  The plants have grown enough to cover themselves in flowers from December until June.  Hellebores make wonderful cut flowers and last a week or more in vases of fresh water.

Lenten Rose arrangement

Imagine that- an old stump became the anchor for a winter cutting garden, and a year round place of beauty!Stump garden in April

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The stump garden a full year after it was planted.

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The stump garden in the second spring after it was planted bloomed from December until June, providing many stems of fresh winter flowers.

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A pink Hellebores is still blooming in June alongside ferns, Lamium, and ivy.

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Smaller stumps left from trees downed in a recent hurricane are surrounded by Leaf Grow Soil Conditioner, and then planted with ferns to serve as the beginnings for future beds in the shade.

Autumn Brilliance ferns planted in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.

Autumn Brilliance ferns planted in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.

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