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Time for a Makeover

August 8, 2022

Now that I have finally finished creating my new front garden, I am turning my attention to areas of the back garden that were neglected during this seven-year project.

The back garden was created to go with a large deck that I had built onto the back of my house twenty years ago. The first flower beds to be created were the deck border (2001-2003) and the blue and yellow border (2003-2004), and these are now showing their age and looking a bit tired. Although the deck border is the older of the two, the blue and yellow border is the focus of my attention this summer.

Here’s how it looked when I chose it for my blog header in 2009:

Blog Header

Here’s how it looks now:

Blue&Yellow tired

The daylilies have done well here, but the tall spires of delphinium that were meant to be the stars of this display in high summer are long gone. Some plants that did well for a while have gone into a decline in recent years.  Hostas, for example, have been struggling after being eaten repeatedly by deer. Many of the Siberian irises have been getting shorter and blooming more sparsely. And as some plants have failed to thrive, areas of bare soil between plants have grown.

I think the main problem with this flower bed is that, over the years, organic matter has leached out of my sandy soil, reducing both the availability of soil nutrients to plants and the ability of the soil to hold water. Therefore, my plan for renovating this border mostly involves digging in organic matter. I am working the soil in 24-square-foot sections. The most time-consuming part of the process is lifting and relocating the plants currently growing in each section. Many of them go into my holding area, some get parked in open spaces elsewhere in this flower bed, and some go into pots. Once the plants have been removed from a section, I spread a couple of wheelbarrow loads of compost and a cubic-foot bag of composted cow manure on top of the section and then fork it in. When I have the soil prepared in an area eight feet wide and twelve feet deep (four 24-square-foot sections, about 40% of the total area in the flower bed), I will put plants in place before going on to the next segment.

Most of the plants currently growing in the blue and yellow border will remain in the renovated border – but most will change location within the border. The exceptions are two large perennials, a blue star flower (Amsonia tabernaemontana) and a false indigo (Baptisia australis). These are thriving and have grown into large shrub-like clumps, and because they have deep taproots, they would resent being moved; so I am leaving them where they are and working around them. There is also a large clump of the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ that lights up the back of the border in late summer and fall; a division of this will be added in another location, but most of it will stay where it is.

Generally, though, I am using this renovation of the border as an opportunity to re-think the design. The blue and yellow color scheme will remain, and I’m planning to create a lusher look by planting more densely. (A garden design course I took this summer recommended spacing plants at 75% of their mature width. This means spacing daylilies, for example, 18” apart rather than 2’ apart.)

Here is the new planting design:


Planting more densely means being able to include more plants. Where previously there were three clumps of yellow daylilies, for example, there will now be five. Two clumps of Siberian irises will become three. The number of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) and false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) plants – both of which have done well in this planting and both of which are inclined to self-sow in my garden – will double. Some of the plants in the original design that did not survive (Aconitum, Delphinium) will be replaced by plants that I have not grown before that are more suited to my soil conditions. I am also adding some shrubs to create structure at the back of the border, particularly on the right side where several trees have come down in the past ten years, opening up space and light.

Right now, this is hard, dirty work. But I’m looking forward to the reward of enjoying this renewed, refreshed flower bed in the years to come.

Summer’s Floral Bounty: GBBD, July 2022

July 16, 2022

front garden July 2022June was cooler than average in Maine, but July leaves no question that summer is here. In the garden, the summer display of daylilies (Hemerocallis) has been coming on strong. After weeks of anticipation as I watched developing buds, the first daylily flower (‘Orange Prelude’) opened at the end of June. The following day, three more early varieties began to bloom, and one or more new varieties have joined the display each day since. During the past week, I’ve found an average of four new varieties in bloom each day. Two and a half weeks after that first daylily flower opened, four dozen varieties are blooming, with another three dozen still to come. The daylilies have not yet arrived at their peak display, but we have reached a tipping point when the count of varieties in bloom exceeds the number yet to come and when the early daylilies like ‘Orange Prelude’ have only a few buds left to flower.

The dominant color in the July garden is yellow, as many yellow daylilies are joined by the strong yellows of Coreopsis and Heliopsis. Susan Elizabeth & companions

front slope top july 2022

On the hot and spicy front slope, the yellows are combined with reds, oranges, and purples.

hot color daylilies 2022

On the edges of the garden, the strong colors of early goldenrod (Solidago juncea) bring added summer sizzle.

Solidago juncea solidago juncea flowers

But not all the colors are hot. Some of the daylilies in my garden bloom in soft pastels.

pastel daylilies 2022

hosta ventricosa flowers The soft yellow daylilies blooming on the side slope combine with the pale lavender wands of Hosta ventricosa blooming along the side of the driveway.
The pastels create a calm, welcoming feel as visitors approach the entrance to the house. entrance garden July 2022

early balloon flowerThe first blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) are beginning to join the floral display. Blue is also the dominant color along the lavender walk, where lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) is blooming profusely and buzzing with bumble bees. I’ve even seen a hummingbird visiting the lavender flowers.

Lavender Walk July 2022

In the weeks to come, more and more flowers will join the summer floral bounty as my garden reaches its high summer peak.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see the bounty of July blooms from other gardeners.

Bring on the Summer Heat

June 28, 2022

Morning on the patio 2022In contrast to the weather in most of the United States, June was cooler than average in Maine. And the cool weather made for an especially lovely early summer garden season. The peony blooms have lasted longer than they normally would, and the roses have been especially lush this year.

In late spring and early summer, my garden is dominated by a soft palette of pinks, blues and violets. Even the hotter shades of magenta and purple appear cooler because of the low contrast between them and their neighbors in the garden, which are also neighbors on the color wheel. As early summer gives way to high summer, however, the soft palette gives way to hotter colors and stronger contrasts.

butterflyweed opening 2022Real summer heat finally arrived this past weekend, with temperatures close to 90F on both Saturday and Sunday. And the arrival of hot weather seemed to trigger the arrival of hot high-season colors in the garden. On Saturday, I noticed that the orange flowers of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) had begun to open. On Sunday, I noticed the first bright yellow flowers of both false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and Coreopsis lanceolata.

1st heliopsis blooms 2022 1st coreopsis 2022

1st orange prelude 2022This morning, the first daylily of the season, ‘Orange Prelude’ opened on the front slope, where it will soon be joined by lots of other hot-color blooms. Bring on the high summer heat!

The Glory That Is June: GBBD, June 2022

June 16, 2022

Last week, I was visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens with friends on a perfect June day when I got to chatting with a visitor from the Pacific Northwest. When she commented on the beautiful weather (blue skies, sunshine, soft breezes, and temperatures in the seventies), I said, “In my imagination, every June day in Maine is just like this.” I know, of course, that is not strictly true; June can have cool, rainy days and hot, humid days. Nevertheless, when I think of June, I think of long, glorious days and glorious flowers. front garden june 2022

front border year 2 mid-JuneJune is the month when my garden goes from having flowers blooming here and there to an early summer floral display. The front border, now in its second year, is lush with foliage and flowers of Allium ‘Globemaster’, Siberian irises, four varieties of hardy geraniums, three varieties of spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana), and Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis). The three Baptisia australis that I planted in this border a year ago were not well enough established yet to bloom this year. When they do, they will make the June display even more lushly floriferous.

purple smoke 2022 side slope baptisia and companions

Baptisia x ‘Purple Smoke’ is putting on a lush display on the side slope, where it is accompanied by the fading flowers of Amsonia tabernaemontana, and by blooms of peonies, Geranium x oxonianum, Geranium x canabrigiense ‘Biokovo,’ Tradescantia virginiana and Siberian irises.

walkway to patio mid-June 2022Many gardeners consider spiderwort too thuggish to be welcomed into the garden. In my garden, though, it provides big clumps of colorful blooms for much of the summer, including along the walkway to the patio. volunteer tradescantia 2022Although it does seed itself around enthusiastically, I don’t mind pulling it out where I don’t want it. I often wait to see the flower color on the volunteers (in shades of white, pink, purple and blue) before I decide on their fate. The intense magenta flower on this seedling that popped up in a hidden spot behind the peonies is a keeper.

side slope irises 2022The Siberian irises, which began flowering at the end of May, are now past their peak, but they are still putting on a good display on the side slope. This is another plant that self-sows readily in my garden, and the original varieties that I planted more than twenty years ago have now had their genes combined and recombined by the bees into a lovely range of colors.

Siberian irises 2022

Fragrant garden peonies 2022The peonies bloom later than the irises and are just hitting their stride. The first varieties that opened, in the fragrant garden, are still blooming; and the last varieties to bloom opened their first flowers today. In the fragrant garden, the flowers of peonies ‘Dr. Alexander Fleming,’ ‘Duchess de Nemours,’ and ‘Shirley Temple’ are accompanied by Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch,’ the first flush of roses, and the flowers of the dwarf mock orange (Philadelphus) ‘Snowbelle.’

Rosa Quietness Snowbelle

As glorious as I find this June display of flowers, these early summer blooms are just the opening movement of a garden symphony that will crescendo in the weeks to come. Buds on astilbes, goatsbeard, lavender and spirea will open soon; and they will be followed by the daylilies and all the flowers that join them in high summer. So much garden glory to look forward to!

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what other gardeners have blooming this June.