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Birth of a Garden

August 19, 2011

Collection of plants for the new serenity garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) After years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of soil preparation, my serenity garden has finally been born. Last week, I finished digging and amending the soil for this flower bed and went shopping for plants. Then one afternoon, I gathered all the plants together (both new purchases and divisions from existing plants in my garden) and got to work planting. I thoroughly enjoy this part of the gardening process; it’s so gratifying to finally see results. And digging holes in my amended sandy soil is not at all difficult, so planting does not require the kind of hard physical labor involved in preparing the soil.

Once I  had gathered all my plants together, I spotted them around in the planting area before I began to dig. I often find at this stage that the spacing is different in the three-dimensional garden than it seemed on the two-dimensional plan. I also sometimes see combinations that do not work the way I imagined them and make some last-minute changes.

Plants spotted in serenity garden before planting (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)Because many of the plants in this part-shade woodland garden require moist soil, I mixed a sprinkling of Soil-Moist polymer granules into each planting hole before putting in the plant. Then I back-filled the hole about 2/3 of the way, watered thoroughly, and finished backfilling. When the planting was done, I put down a soaker hose and covered it with mulch; this will make it easy to give the new planting a deep watering weekly until frost to help the plants get settled in.

This is how the serenity garden area looked last year:

Serenity garden site in 2010 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Here is how it looks today:

Newly planted serenity garden, August 2011 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

There are still some spaces in the serenity garden waiting for plants. Some of these are spring bulbs that will be planted later in the fall. Others are perennials that are more readily available or more appropriately planted in the spring. I put in a marker showing where each of these plants should go.

This garden is very much in its infancy, with plants far apart and all roughly the same size; but that will change soon enough. I’m already anticipating what my serenity garden will look like next year.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 11:10 am

    Jean it is wonderful to see this garden come to life with you. I love placing plants in a new garden. The visual reality for me is so much more useful than any of my crude drawings. I find as I weed the garden I see the changes that need to be made as well…it is fun making our dreams come to life…I can see this garden already in bloom and so beautiful…

  2. August 19, 2011 11:25 am

    It looks fantastic!! So well planned and transformed. Can’t wait to see the new growth. 🙂

  3. August 19, 2011 11:47 am

    How fun that must have been! And it already looks like a serene place to sit and be quiet.

    • August 21, 2011 6:37 pm

      Donna, Getting this done really did feel like a birth that required celebration — especially because the gestation period was exceptionally long! I know what you mean about noticing changes that need to be made when you are doing garden chores, like weeding. I also find that taking photos for bloom day helps me to see problem areas. By the end of the garden season, the “notes” page on my garden spreadsheet is always full of notes about what I want to change the following season.

      Rebecca, Thank you for sharing my pleasure in this new garden.

      Chad, So nice of you to say that it already looks serene. Of course, those big white pines help; they have that kind of “cathedral” feeling and were the initial inspiration for this flower bed. I still have other parts of this project left to do that will enhance the serenity aspect: a wrought iron and stone sculpture that I hope to purchase soon, a bench that will eventually get added to the edge of the clearing that this garden faces onto, and a raised bed at the opposite end of the clearing that will increase the sense of seclusion. (Those last two are next year’s garden projects.)

  4. August 19, 2011 12:17 pm

    Congratulations! I’ve loved following this garden’s progress and the hard work that has gone into it so far.

  5. Lona permalink
    August 19, 2011 12:30 pm

    Congratulations on the new bed. It is always so much fun planing a bed and to see the finished product. Such a satisfying feeling. It looks wonderful Jean. I wish I could amend all of the beds around here the soil is so poor.I guess I will just have to be satisfied with what I have even if they do not do as well as others. I love the heucheras in your new bed.

    • August 21, 2011 6:44 pm

      Patricia, It’s so nice to hear from people who have been following this project. Sharing my garden and gardening efforts in this way was my primary motivation for starting this blog.

      Lona, Putting in a whole bed of new plants really is one of the most fun parts of gardening. I think it’s because the change is so immediate and dramatic. Interplanting heucheras and hardy geranium is new for me — but I borrowed the idea from Deborah of Kilbourne Grove who, in turn, borrowed it from a garden she visited. The heucheras I used here are a variety called “Raspberry Ice.” They have very pretty pink flowers, and I think the color of the foliage will work well with some of the other plants I have used in this bed.

  6. August 19, 2011 1:53 pm

    Based on your success in designing other areas around the property, one can already imagine how beautiful this serenity garden will be…. I especially like the strategy of planting in dry areas with polymer crystals.

  7. August 19, 2011 3:33 pm

    It is almost frightening how quickly plants grow. How different this will look, after just one good growing season! I do love that first just planted look, full of promise for the future.

  8. August 19, 2011 5:39 pm


    This new garden looks wonderful. I use soil moist in my container all the time but this is a good idea to work some into the soil in a drier area.


    • August 21, 2011 6:50 pm

      Allan and Eileen, The use of Soil Moist crystals in this way is something that was suggested to me by someone (I no longer remember whom, maybe a worker at one of the nurseries I frequent) more than a decade ago, when I was planning the deck border and trying to figure out how to combine my well-drained-with-a-vengeance sandy soil and moisture-loving shade plants. It has worked really well for me in most cases; many of these plants are pretty drought-tolerant once they’re established. (The one exception was a Ligularia that never did well; I think it just needed more moisture than I could ever provide.)

      Diana, The rate of growth of many plants is a source of amazement. One reason I like to plant new beds in late summer is that the plants get established in fall and start putting on their first spurt of growth the following spring. By the second full year, I expect that much of this bed will be filled in.

  9. August 19, 2011 8:08 pm

    Congratulations Jean! You’ve done an amazing job putting this garden together and it will be incredibly exciting to see plants emerge next spring. With a little growing time now I’m sure they will be big and strong next year.

  10. August 19, 2011 8:56 pm

    Jean, it looks wonderful! Like three-dimensional hope or something. You are probably more disciplined than me, but I would be checking it five times a day to see how much the plants have grown since the last time… How on earth do you manage to get bulbs planted with your teaching schedule?

  11. August 20, 2011 12:07 am

    Can’t wait to see what it will be like next year!

    • August 21, 2011 6:56 pm

      Marguerite, It is such a pleasure to finally have this done, and I suppose the amount of work that went into it serves to increase the pleasure. I am hoping for a spurt of growth in spring; we’ll see.

      Soren, I’m sure I’ll be posting some photos of this next spring and summer — for bloom day in June, if not before that.

      Stacy, You have such a wonderful way with words; I love the idea of “three-dimensional hope.” Since I had to leave for PA about a week after I planted this, I can’t check on it multiple times a day (which I did do in that first week). My next door neighbor has agreed to go over once a week and turn on the soaker hose for a couple of hours of deep watering. I’m not sure if I’ll actually get the bulbs in, but I’m going to try. It’s not that many bulbs, so it shouldn’t take long to do; the issue is logistics. I’m thinking about ordering the bulbs and having them sent to my neighbors so that they’ll be there when I go up for a long weekend in October and I can plant them then.

  12. August 20, 2011 2:01 am

    What a wonderful reward for all your dreaming and hard work in improving the soil. I hope it thrives for you and brings you great pleasure.

  13. August 20, 2011 7:27 am

    I know that you must be happy to have most of the new garden in place.

  14. August 20, 2011 8:22 am

    Congratulations on the birth of your serenity garden. I have enjoyed following along with the planning progress and am looking forward to watching it grow.

    • August 22, 2011 3:44 pm

      Janet, Thanks for your kind wishes. Although I get a lot of pleasure from my garden, there is a special deep pleasure that comes from the creation of a new garden area.

      Karen, I’m not just happy; I’m thrilled!

      GrafixMuse, I’m glad to hear that you’ve been following along — especially since I do a lot of my vicarious vegetable gardening at your blog :-).

  15. August 20, 2011 12:59 pm

    The serenity garden is really taking shape and before you know it those gaps between the plants will have filled in. Great job!

  16. August 20, 2011 7:18 pm

    I really enjoy seeing the transformation, and what a beautiful change it is! I know that was a tremendous amount of work, but your after photo is stunning. The trees provide such a natural backdrop…serenity thrives…

  17. August 22, 2011 1:24 pm

    Jean, what a treat to see your newly planted area, and you have a real woodland garden, I love it and will look forward to its development.

    • August 22, 2011 3:52 pm

      Byddi, Thanks. I know from experience that things fill in amazingly fast. When I first plant a new flower bed, I always have to use a tape measure to keep an appropriate distance between the plants and not try to fill in what seems like yawning gaps. And then, by year 3 or 4, I’m wondering how things got so crowded!

      Michelle, When I first bought this property, I looked out at those big white pines in the back and thought that was the most beautiful part of the property; it seemed a cruel irony that there was no easy way to get out of the house to the back. It took me more than 10 years before I finally got the deck put on providing access to this area. The serenity garden will be my view out the kitchen window; I wonder if it will make my cooking more mellow ;-).

      Alistair, It’s interesting; my blue and yellow border backs onto the woods, but it doesn’t have the same woodland garden feel that this area does.

  18. August 22, 2011 1:24 pm

    I feel like we should open a virtual bottle of champagne or smoke a virtual cigar. So fun that I have been there and know what it all looks like in real time.

  19. August 22, 2011 1:56 pm

    Jean, it’s been such fun watching this project. You have given it so much thought and put a great deal of effort into it. I can’t wait to see the pictures next year. It’s great that you are documenting it so well on your blog, as well.

    Good luck with the bulb planting. It won’t be long now until we can do that lovely chore.

    • August 22, 2011 3:57 pm

      Carolyn, I like the idea of a virtual celebration. I agree that I see the photos of others’ gardens (including yours) differently after I have been there in person. It’s nice for me, too, that you have that context. 🙂

      Diane, It is nice to have the blog as a way of documenting this project. It’s actually the first part of my garden that I will have a complete set of before, during, and after photos for. (The fence border was already in process when I began the blog 2 years ago.)

  20. August 23, 2011 12:27 pm

    It’s wonderful to see your plans come to life! Your Serenity Garden will be full of lovely foliage colors and textures. Already it is lovely. I can imagine you sitting out there, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature and feeling the cool breeze. Congratulations! I look forward to seeing how it looks next spring!

  21. August 23, 2011 1:55 pm

    Deb, Thanks. I’m glad it looks good to you, because your own woodland gardens were part of my inspiration.

  22. sequoiagardens permalink
    September 2, 2011 6:03 am

    BRAVO, Jean!! Allways a great moment! And i guess made poignant by your return to more southern pastures…

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