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The Pleasures of Planting: Turning Soil into Garden

September 12, 2009

While I find the process of digging the garden an onerous chore (see previous post, Garden Alchemy), the reward for completing that chore is getting to put in the plants. It is, after all, plants that turn garden soil into a garden. So it was with the joy of anticipation that I set aside time today to plant the new fence border.

I already had a plan, drawn out on paper over a year ago, of what plants should go where. In fact, I had already dug half the border and planted it according to this plan last year. As the plants in that half of the border grew this year, however, I saw changes that needed to be made and mentally revised the plan. My goal for today was to move a few of the plants planted last year and to put in as many plants as possible in the newly dug garden area.

Last night, I sat down with my garden plan and made a list of plants that I needed to buy. Even though the plan called for twenty-one new plants in this part of the garden, only six of those went on my list. One of the things I love most about perennial gardening is the way plants reproduce themselves. Some, like annuals, self-sow new plants from seed. But, unlike annuals, which have to start over from seed each year, perennials continue to grow from year to year; and most of them benefit from being lifted out of the ground and divided every few years. And those divisions are, of course, new plants that need a garden home. Most of the plants going into this new flower bed are divisions of plants from my own or others’ gardens. They include divisions of four different varieties of hardy geraniums, a self-sowed tradescantia seedling, and a daylily being re-homed from the bedroom border.

I must admit that I’m glad that a few plants needed to be purchased. It gave me an excuse to head off after breakfast this morning to my favorite local nursery, Plainview Farm, in North Yarmouth, Maine.  This is a wonderful place, with an excellent collection of high-quality plants (many of them grown on the premises) and knowledgeable owners who are always happy to answer questions and provide advice. I took the time to browse the plants in a leisurely way, getting ideas for future plantings and picking up the plants I needed as I went. In the end, not all the plants I was looking for were available. But that’s not a problem; I’ll pick the rest up and plant them in the spring.

In my sandy garden soil, digging holes for new plants is no big deal, so the actual planting went quickly. I started at the back of the border, along the fence, planting several tall late-blooming plants (including Phlox paniculata ‘David,’ Liatris ‘Floristan White,’ and the daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’) and leaving space for early summer-blooming clematis and tall allium to be added later. In the middle of the bed, I planted sedum, tradescantia, hardy geranium, and another daylily. (Daylily ‘Sandra Elizabeth,’ which I need to get from a nursery in Massachusetts, will be added later, as will three peony divisions from others’ gardens.) At the front of this border, a mixed planting of Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and two different varieties of Geranium cantabrigiense provide early summer flowers and attractive foliage that will spill over the front edge of the flower bed.

One of the hardest things to remember when planting perennials is not to plant them too close together; I use a tape measure to keep myself honest as I plant. An old aphorism about perennials says that in the first year, they sleep; in the second year, they creep; and in the third year, they leap.  New plantings can look as though there are miles between plants (some gardeners put in annuals to fill in these spaces), but by the third year, you’ll be wondering how those plants got to be so crowded! By planting at the end of the season, I’m hoping to get the “sleeping” period of root growth taken care of before the ground freezes for winter, making next summer a time when plants will be ready to creep, and some may even leap. By year after next, this flower bed should be spectacular!
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