In this long established garden, spring planting rarely involves anything more grand than shoehorning a few hostas or hellebores between existing plants, though there are occasions when an area must be rejuvenated due to damage from storms, or when a space might simply become overcrowded. In early February, as I consider what can be planted (and despite the protestations of my wife, something must be planted), I look to what is right with the garden.
While there are moments through the year when one part or perhaps even much of the garden is just right (at least to me), no doubt there are miscalculations that should not be duplicated. A few (or maybe several) marvelous plants have been placed in unfortunate circumstances so that it is best to ignore these errors as best as possible.
Near the time of the garden’s beginnings twenty five or so years ago, a golden threadbranch cypress was innocently planted near the end point of the driveway. Innocently, I say, because I was somehow deluded at the time to think that this cute little evergreen in a three gallon bucket would remain relatively small and not grow into the twenty foot tall behemoth that it has become.
This seems an appropriate time to say that this marvelous cypress is too often misused, I suppose because it is too similar in appearance to common junipers that remain much smaller, and so it is inferred that the juniper and threadbranch cypress must grow to approximately the same size. Which is not true, though references and nursery plant tags muddy the situation by offering information that is proved incorrect five years after planting when the cypress grows to block a walk, or obscures shrubs planted behind it.
I repeated this mistake only once more, which has proven not to be too large a headache, and both cypresses can be easily overlooked as I prowl about the garden. Neither is a tremendous nuisance or an eyesore, though both are readily acknowledged as too large for where they’re planted. I do not consider for even a moment removing either cypress, but when I consider adding to the garden this spring, I also do not think for a moment about planting another.
I will consider planting more vines, though admittedly this has often crossed my mind and I’ve not planted as many as I’d like. The consideration in planting vines, in particular in a garden with somewhat limited space, is that many can be planted to occupy hardly any space at all. And, this is where I look to duplicate what is right with the garden.
At the base of a tall nandina planted at the edge of the two level deck, two common clematis vines were planted some years ago. The long ago timing of the planting is relevant because many gardeners become discouraged, I think, by the spindly and unsubstantial growth of a young clematis planted on a naked pole. But here, beneath the nandina, the vines were hardly recognized for several years. So, there was no disappointment, and then one spring foliage emerged through the canopy of the nandina, and within weeks there were large purple (‘Jackmanii’), then white flowers (‘Henryi’) from the second clematis.
In recent years the flowers of the two vines continued to cover ever more of the nandina, but once the flowers faded the foliage politely receded as the nandina grew. So, in this rare circumstance where neighbors coexist in harmony, no harm was done by the vine, and in bloom all was peaches and cream. If a nandina could be accused of being ordinary, this one was not, and so, why not try this again?
A bit further down into the rear garden a native yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) has been planted so that it scrambles up and through an Oakleaf hydrangea and into a variegated English holly. No matter that growth from surrounding shrubs has blocked passage to view this marvelous combination except from a distance, it works splendidly. But, not so splendidly as the clematis and nandina combination since I must risk life and limb balancing along mossy boulders at the edge of the koi pond to get near enough to see the small flowers.
Now, I look to create similar plantings so that perhaps a native Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia durior) can be planted to twine through the branches of the tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’) that has thinned with age. In this garden there are many shrubs and small trees suited to this scheme, but I must not be careless, as too often I am.
A light pink flowered clematis (Clematis montana ‘Rubens’) grows through lattice onto the rail of the deck. This vine works exceptionally here, but its vigorous growth requires monthly pruning or it might engulf the entire deck. What would become of a lone hydrangea if ‘Rubens’ was planted close by? In fact, a second pink clematis grows through an iron framework nearby, and this one has an unfortunate habit of climbing still further into a ‘Trompenburg’ Japanese maple that arches a bit too close. The combination can be lovely, but without regular care there would be trouble.
I’ve planted wisteria and akebia vines in the past, and both became lasting headaches that required several years to be rid of. Too many vines grow too aggressively to plant in combination with any shrub (or tree), and this is my dilemma. Rather than repeating the same vines, I hope to discover others that might work to add color climbing through without disrupting the host shrub.
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Your plants are beautiful! I’ve been amending my soil for years. Clay is difficult to work with.
I do not amend soil at all when I plant, so some are in hard pan clay or root infested dry shade. Others are planted in a silty clay since the garden is situated at the base of tall hills to each side. In the worst areas I’ve mulched with shredded leaves for long enough that the soil is somewhat improved, but still there are times when digging a hole can be a challenge. When I’m most successful it’s when I can plant the right plant in the right place, with soil conditions and sun exposure suiting the needs of the plant.
i love your comment about shoehorning in another hosta or hellebore. I just did so after cutting tulip foliage to make room . And then when it’s time for next year’s tulips we’ll still squeeze them in somehow. Our ‘garden’ is a strip about 90 feet long on Reno Road in DC, just a block or two south of Military Road. Shady, clay=ey, randomly assaulted by cars after collisions at our intersection. Hostas usually recover, eventually, but not Japanese black pine or plum trees. Gardening for me has been one mistake after another, and the great delight when something does well. Thanks for all your inspiration, and I’m glad I discovered this post today with your comment about soil after a day of running into tree roots and clay to find a home for trout lilies and hellebores.
Be assured that gardening is a series of mistakes for everyone, except those who hire out the task and pay no attention. Through any season, and certainly through a year there are bound to be disappointments, but these are far outweighed by successes.