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Return to My Gettysburg Garden: Pleasures and Disappointments

August 28, 2011

Daylily Sandra Elizabeth blooming in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) When I left Maine a week and a half ago to return to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the beginning of the school year, I was, as always, sad to leave my Maine garden. But I was also eager to see what was happening in my little Gettysburg garden. (For an overview of this garden, see My Spring and Fall Garden.) Unlike last year, when I was returning after 15 months away to a garden that had been uncared for all that time, this year I was returning after only three months to a garden that had been looked after by an eager and responsible student, Katie.

When I drove in just before sunset, I felt a surge of pleasure as I spotted daylilies ‘Happy Returns’ and ‘Final Touch’ both blooming in the small flower bed at the front of the house. And there was little sign of the bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) that has overwhelmed this flower bed some summers (see Buried in Bindweed).

Hemerocallis Happy Returns blooming in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Hemerocallis Final Touch blooming in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Morning Glory vines growing on the patio fence (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Early the next morning, I went out to take a good look at the larger back garden. There I found many sources of pleasure, including morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) vines from the seeds I planted before I left in May now growing on the patio fence, lots of blooms and buds on daylilies  (Hemerocallis) ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ and ‘Final Touch’, and a blue balloon flower(Platycodon grandiflora) blooming profusely. (Katie clearly paid attention to my instructions about cutting the balloon flower back in mid-June to make it bushier and delay bloom time. Blue balloon flower blooming by the patio in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)Good job, Katie!)

But there were also some disappointments in the back garden. Chief among these was one of my favorite fall daylilies, ‘Autumn Minaret.’ I expected to find a big clump of foliage and many delicate blooms floating above the garden on slender 5’ flower scapes; instead, the foliage had practically disappeared, there were few flowers, and the flower scapes were only about half their normal height. Another disappointment was my new Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). When I planted this, I imagined it blooming at the same time as Sedum matrona, with flower heads of a similar shape and color; instead, the sedum is just forming buds, while the Joe Pye weed seems to have already finished blooming.

I noted other problems. The ‘Orange Bounty’ daylily by the patio doesn’t seem to have put up any flower scapes at all this year. (Interestingly, its parent plant in my Maine garden also bloomed more sparsely than usual this year.) Even after being thinned out both last fall and again in the spring (see Divide and Share), the Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ plants at the front edge of the back flower bed have once again spread to take over the space of nearby plants. In addition, Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ in the center of this flower bed has gotten huge and is now much too big for its allotted space.

Enormous hosta Krossa Regal needing to be divided (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Of course, problems in a garden are just an excuse for dividing plants, moving them around, or buying new plants. Later in the fall, I will thin the Biokovo geraniums more severely than I did last year and once again offer the divisions to co-workers. In spring, I will lift and divide ‘Krossa Regal’. This plant is so big that I think it can be divided in four, with one division to go back into my garden and three to be given away. I think the problem with my ‘Autumn Minaret’ daylily may be that it has become heavily shaded by shrubs and trees growing nearby that now hang over it. At first, I thought I would prune off the offending branches – but then I noticed that hosta ‘June’ is half-buried under the Viburnum growing behind it. (They seemed so far apart when I planted them three years ago!) In the spring, I will move June to the current location of Autumn Minaret, where it will not be bothered by the shade and will have more room to spread out. Autumn Minaret will go in the space in front of the Viburnum, where it will bloom in August-September between daylily ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ and Joe Pye weed; and I’ll give Autumn Minaret space by pruning the Viburnum to encourage a more vertical and less horizontal habit. I’ve decided to just wait and see what happens with ‘Orange Bounty’ next year, and I am hoping that once Joe Pye weed (which is in its first year in the garden) gets more established, it will have a longer bloom period and will overlap with the flowers of sedum matrona.

The gardens of our imaginations are always perfect, but real gardens bring both pleasures and disappointments and always offer opportunities for improvement.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2011 3:44 pm

    Jean so well said. I have been assessing my garden recently and will be posting Monday my thoughts for the future. Always changes needed much like us…shaping and growing unexpectedly…

    • August 30, 2011 12:17 pm

      Donna, This is the time of year for taking stock and making plans to dream about over the winter. I hope you weren’t hit too badly by Irene in your area.

  2. Eddy Meurs permalink
    August 28, 2011 3:56 pm

    Regrettable:Qua growth.
    Generally flower leaves are healthy.
    Indeed,sun and light are real for many perennials.
    Certainly Hemerocallissen.
    It makes me happy that you know the names,but the latin names,it indicates caring in your garden.


    • August 30, 2011 12:19 pm

      Eddy, Thanks for visiting. I’ve had hemerocallis plants before that totally disappeared one year and then came back a year or two later better than ever. But I do think the spot I have Autumn Minaret in is too shaded and crowded by overhanging plants for this tall variety to be happy. I think the plant will be fine once I move it to a more suitable location.

  3. August 28, 2011 4:04 pm

    We have our perfect garden in mind, but it is the reality that makes our heart sing sometimes. That, and the catch a wake up!

  4. August 28, 2011 8:08 pm

    One of several varieties of Eupatorium growing in my garden – maculatum atropurpureum – bloomed in July; it was at its zenith by early August, and is now beginning to look weary. The Sedum, on the other hand, are still in their green bud stage.
    I have lost track of the names of the four or maybe five varieties of my lemon-yellow day lilies. I cannot tell if it is Happy Returns re-blooming or Sandra Elizabeth beginning to bloom.

    • August 30, 2011 12:30 pm

      Diana, Yes, the real garden always has both pleasures and disappointments. In the words of the Carol King song, “you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.”

      Allan, I’ve never grown Eupatorium before, and I may have just misunderstood when it would bloom. My reference books describe it as blooming in “fall” — but even in Maine and Montreal, I wouldn’t describe July as fall!
      My photo of Sandra Elizabeth is misleading because of the funny angle. It is actually about a foot taller than Happy Returns (2 1/2′ compared to 1 1/2′) and its flowers are twice as large (6″ compared to 3″).

  5. August 28, 2011 9:26 pm

    A garden just won’t behave! Which is why gardening is never dull, always offering opportunity for change and improvement. Nevertheless, your garden looks great. I would be afraid to leave my garden in the hands of another for the summer, but your student did well. This is a good time to assess the garden. I have a list of projects of my own that I must begin as soon as our weather cools down.

  6. patientgardener permalink
    August 29, 2011 7:55 am

    Your plans sound like mine – I need to move that to that spot which means moving that to that spot etc. I have so many plans my head hurt so now I am doing one bit at a time which I can cope with and then spending a few days looking and deciding next move.

    • August 30, 2011 12:35 pm

      Deb, I always have a list of projects/revisions in mind; I agree that the living, changing nature of a garden is a big part of what makes gardening fun.

      Helen, I actually have a page in my garden spreadsheet, divided into different garden areas and devoted to notes like this. I’ve learned from experience that I won’t remember in spring the needed change that seemed so clear to me in fall! I, too, like to focus on one bit at a time to keep it manageable.

  7. August 29, 2011 12:09 pm

    I hadn’t even realized it but your post reminded me that school will start again soon. How this summer has flown by. Glad to see that your garden has fared quite well in your absence.

  8. August 29, 2011 12:27 pm

    I’ve been busy planning changes in my garden as well. One of the many lessons gardening teaches – to learn from our disappointments and embrace needed change. I’m itching to start on the changes here, but it’s still much too hot. Another lesson – this one in patience!

  9. August 30, 2011 7:58 am

    Similar ups and downs here Jean, my biggest problem is my planting is never well enough spaced out. Your Daylilies are looking so much better than ours were this year. What an exciting migrating life you lead.

  10. August 30, 2011 12:43 pm

    Marguerite, We started classes here yesterday, and I am already dealing with the school-year reality that evenings and weekends are no longer my own. (Getting home after 10 hours at school and realizing that I have 2-3 hours of reading to do for the next day’s classes is always a shock!) It’s still light enough in the morning that I can get out and take a quick look around the garden before I leave for work, but that will change soon enough; I’m half a time zone further west here than I am in Maine, so I’m always aware of the loss of morning light.

    Ginny, It’s still summery here in Pennsylvania, but not too hot to work in the garden. It would actually be a great time to get things done if I could just find the hours in the week.

    Alistair, LOL, I don’t know if my life is exciting; but it is certainly peripatetic! I try to keep myself honest about space between new plants by using a measuring tape; even so, they usually end up looking crowded by year 3 or 4. The problem with the Biokovo geraniums and the Krossa Regal hosta is just that they are very happy growing here — a nice problem to have.

  11. August 30, 2011 3:38 pm

    Isn’t this just the epitome of gardening…. always something to do, a change to make here and there, and such joy in all of it.

  12. August 30, 2011 7:43 pm

    When I read the title of this post I thought ‘goodness, is it that time of year already?’. I feel like I’m still waiting for summer, and you’re returning to your fall garden (I trust your Maine garden was spared from Irene?). We’ve had some disappointments in the garden this year too, and already are looking ahead to the changes to be made next year. That’s what I love about gardening, never a dull moment, but always an opportunity for change, and betterment.

  13. August 30, 2011 8:44 pm

    Sometimes I find gardening to be a roller coaster ride–with joyful surprises and bitter disappointments. However, I do believe the garden brings me more joy than sadness….at least that is how I choose to remember it. That must be how it is to return to a garden after a time away. I have been devastated to find bean plants nibbled to the ground by rabbits after returning from only a week’s vacation. Your student probably helped to prevent further disasters. I really like the shades of blue on your morning glory.

  14. August 31, 2011 8:48 am

    I am always surprised by the garden. It creeps and grows and explodes and diminishes … the pulsation of nature. My Joe Pye is at the end of its bloom and my Matrona has just begun. I have been so busy making new beds and moving things around to make way for new porches or rain barrels or fences that I’ve barely had time to assess “design.” I look forward to it but know that whatever I design, nature will reign. Still it’s nice to tuck something in here or there to add our own touches. Morning glories always bloom so late for me that I am rethinking perennial vines – yours looks beautiful. I don’t see as many problems with your garden as you might … to me, it is a lovely garden to come home to.

    • September 2, 2011 5:14 pm

      Carolyn, My feeling exactly! This constant process of reassessment and change is what gardening is all about, and I mostly find it a joy.

      Clare, Is it ever that time of year!! I just got to Friday afternoon of the first week of classes, and I feel like someone limping over the finish line at the end of a marathon. I hope things are going to get a bit easier before they get harder (as they inevitably do in the second half of the semester); otherwise, I’m going to be a total basket case by December. I spoke to my next door neighbor in Maine the day after Irene went through there and was relieved to hear that my house and garden all were totally unscathed.

      Michelle, It’s rare for me to be bitterly disappointed by something in the garden; I just don’t have the right personality for it. I do experience mild disappointments (like the Eupatorium and Sedum not blooming at the same time), but I mostly see these disappointments as opportunities for some creative redesign. And as much as that hosta needs to be divided and reined in, I can’t help but feel pleasure in its large, healthy size.

      Kathy, thanks for letting me know when your Joe Pye and Matrona bloom; it helps me to have realistic expectations. The Mason-Dixon line is definitely the right place to grow morning glories, and I will miss them after I retire. I plant the seeds in early May, thin them and start training them up the twine before I leave for Maine, and find a fence full of blooming vines when I return in August. And because frost comes late here, they continue blooming well into October. In Maine, my experience is more like yours. In a good year, I might get a good display of morning glories on the fence in September; but in a bad year (this year?), they might not bloom at all. When I’m living in Maine full time, I may start morning glory seeds indoors in spring and hope to have potted vines that are already a foot or so long that I could set out at the end of May.

  15. September 2, 2011 5:39 pm

    Jean, is there no where on your property that can handle the Hosta without division? Is there no other perennial that can replace it in the composition?

    What I admire most about Krossa Regal is its majesty when it is allowed to reach full size. In my urban garden, that will never happen as I am unable to contain it . Yet, I cannot envision myself dividing this plant forever. It can be hard work. As much as it is possible to do so, my long term goal is to age-proof my garden. Therefore, I have parked my Krossa Regal in a special flower bed meant for give-aways. Although it breaks my heart to do so, I must care about my back first.

    • September 3, 2011 12:35 pm

      Allan, I think the Krossa Regal in my Maine garden (the mother of this plant) will be able to grow to maturity in its current location. But the garden at my rented Pennsylvania townhouse is pretty small. (I didn’t fully appreciate just how big this plant would get and how quickly when I planted a division of it here.) But I’m only going to divide it once; I’ll be moving from here in 2 1/2 years when I retire from my teaching position. If the next tenant is a gardener, s/he will surely want to make changes to these plantings. If the next tenant isn’t a gardener, Krossa Regal will grow to take over space from nearby plants and will look beautiful. 🙂

  16. September 5, 2011 8:05 pm

    Gardens are like children (or students); we nurture by feeding and grooming with hopes that they will soon grow/soar/mature on their own. SOme take all of the care and blossom forth as hoped while others, the late bloomers, seem to be idle and then one day they far surpass all our hopes and dreams. Then there are others, who despite our coddling or tough love, take their own path, whether good or bad, and simply ignore our best efforts!

  17. September 5, 2011 10:14 pm

    Welcome home, I wish you a good teaching year. Our gardens suffer without loving hands to take care of them properly.

    • September 11, 2011 10:57 am

      Jayne, I loved the comparison of plants and students. It’s so true. Gardening and teaching do draw on some similar facets of my personality. And in both cases, when the results turn out to be spectacular, I feel so proud — even though I played only a small part in making it happen.

      Karen, I do find it hard to leave Maine in the fall (my favorite New England season), but having a small garden here provides that “welcome back” that I need. It helps that I manage to get back to Maine about once a month throughout the year.

  18. September 6, 2011 11:06 pm

    Jean – I always smile when you refer to your garden spreadsheet! While I haven’t gotten explored that e-tool for gardening, I don’t know what I would do without my good old garden journal (aka “Mead Composition book”)!! Sometimes I just like the tactile sensation of handwriting, while capturing my ‘steam of consciousness’.

    While not nearly as experienced as you and other gardeners, I am learning that plant ‘success’ is not a ‘pass/fail’ test. Experience emboldens a gardener, to take risks – no more ‘shrinking violet’ here! …(I couldn’t resist!) 😉 (I’ve also learned that sometimes ‘hardy’ perennials – aren’t.)

  19. September 7, 2011 4:27 pm

    Glad to uncover your blog. I’m a huge daylily fan. You’d probably enjoy my Daylillies bwith Distinctive Eyes posting found in bmy favorites in right sidebar.
    Good luck with your restoration.

    • September 11, 2011 10:38 pm

      Shyrlene, LOL. I’m not sure how many gardeners consider Excel an essential tool! I think what experience with plants provides is an understanding of what those plants need and what needs your garden conditions can and cannot meet. One of the challenges for me of gardening in Gettysburg is that my soil conditions here are so different from those of my Maine garden — add that to a significantly different climate, and the same plants can behave very differently in the two gardens. Every time I add a new plant that I haven’t grown in these conditions, it’s a whole new learning process.

      Patrick, Thank you so much for visiting — and for pointing me in the direction of your Daylilies with Distinctive Eyes post. I don’t have strong “plant collector” tendencies, but daylilies definitely bring out those I have. I’m saved a bit by the fact that I tend to like the older, simpler forms (and fragrance!) better than doubling and ruffles and picotees. Still, it’s often hard to resist a newly discovered variety.

  20. September 9, 2011 12:31 pm

    “Happy Returns” seems like a fitting name for a daylily to return to after a summer away. Memory and expectations are always interesting to match up with reality. I’m glad at least some of your expectations were fulfilled.

    • September 11, 2011 10:41 pm

      James, What a charming thought; I hadn’t considered the name ‘Happy Returns’ in quite this way. It was the first flower I saw when I drove in after the 600-mile drive from Maine, and it really was a welcoming presence. When I left Maine, the ‘Happy Returns’ I have growing there was resting between flushes of bloom; but I fully expect to see its flowers saying “welcome home” when I get there for a visit in a couple of weeks.

  21. Lula ( permalink
    October 5, 2011 1:02 pm

    Jean, I understand so well this post, my desired garden should be still a project for some weeks more, but it is real in my mind and also in my herbs little garden in my terrace. I saw huge walls of intense blue or purple ipomoeas in Mallorca, I will post some pics of masses of them in stone walls near water.

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