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Musical Plants

May 29, 2012

Fence border July 2011 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Last summer, as I looked at my maturing fence border, I observed that the finished planting was not as pleasing in actuality as it had been in theory, and I began to make plans for revising it. (See Fence Border, Second Draft.) I was unhappy with the way that the colors in this flower bed worked with those of the neighboring blue and yellow border, and I was dissatisfied with the position of two endressii-type hardy geraniums within the border. My planned changes involved moving some plants around and adding more blue flowers. I began the revisions right away by inserting two new blue-flowered plants (a clematis and a veronica), but moving existing plants around needed to wait until spring.

I took advantage of a cool, dry day on Sunday to get this exterior redecorating task done. The job was a complicated one because one plant had to be moved from the fence border to the circular bed and three had to exchange locations within the fence border; and all of these plants had grown into large unwieldy clumps since last year. Getting all the plants from their present locations to their new ones required a carefully choreographed performance of musical plants.

Preparing the circular bed (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I began by preparing the circular bed to receive a large clump of  Geranium endressii ‘Wargrave Pink’ (in a space once occupied by a Geranium x ‘Johnson’s Blue’ that had dwindled away almost to nothing). Although I had cleaned up and weeded all my flower beds in April, I had missed a lot. With plants fully leafed out but not yet blooming, it was easy to see where wild strawberries and grasses had insinuated themselves among the Geranium x cantabrigiense plants (note the three-lobed strawberry leaves among the rounded geranium leaves in the lower right of the photo) and where Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ was encroaching on the space of other plants.

Lifting Geranium 'Wargrave Pink' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Once I had a new home  prepared for it, the next step was to lift the clump of G. ‘Wargrave Pink’ from the fence border. It was quickly apparent that this plant had grown much too large to fit into the available space in the circular bed, so I divided it. About half was transplanted to the circular bed, and the remainder was potted up to be given away.
G. 'Wargrave Pink' transplanted to circular bed (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Potted Geranium divisions (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Moving lavender tradescantia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) With G. ‘Wargrave Pink’ out of the way, I could now lift the clump of lavender Tradescantia that had been growing in front of it and move it into the space vacated by ‘Wargrave Pink.’
Then, an unknown geranium (probably G. endressii) in a bolder shade of pink could be lifted and moved into the space previously occupied by the tradescantia.
Lifting the second geranium (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Tradescantia and geranium in new locations (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Finally, the blue and white Tradescantia ‘Osprey’ was lifted and moved into the space vacated by the geranium, and a newly purchased blue Geranium x ‘Brookside’ was planted in place of T. ‘Osprey.’
Lifting Tradescantia 'Osprey' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Planting Geranium 'Brookside' in place of 'Osprey' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

The whole process took several hours; and by the time I finished, I was worn out and my relocated plants were looking a bit bedraggled. I would have preferred to move these plants earlier in their growth cycle, but the early spring changed my plans; I could either transplant them under less than ideal conditions or wait until next year. Fortunately, these are all plants that do well in my garden – mostly volunteer seedlings or divisions of divisions. In other words, these are plants I can afford to risk losing. But I think that if I keep them well watered for the next week or so while they settle in, they’ll do just fine.

Here’s hoping that when I look at this flower bed this summer, I’ll be happier with what I see.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 11:21 am

    Hi Jean
    I think you did an excellent renovation! I’m sure all the plants will settle into their new spots very well with some extra watering in the next week or two. One of the best parts of gardening is that you CAN split plants and get several out of one. Saves money and you get many copies of your favourite. I too did a reno of a section in my front yard and am very pleased with how it turned out. I look fwd to watching yours grow in. Be sure to post more pix over the summer.

    • June 4, 2012 11:14 am

      Astrid, I agree; I love the way plants reproduce themselves in the garden. One of my projects for this week is to pot up about 10 self-sown tradescantia plants that have popped up in inconvenient locations (like the walkway leading to the front door!) and to give them away. The relocated plants are already settling in well (Mother Nature has been taking care of the extra watering), and I will be sure to post more photos of this flower bed later in the summer.

  2. May 29, 2012 1:21 pm

    Musical plants indeed! You did a lot of rearranging there, and I’m sure it will be beautiful once they settle in. I like the idea of a border filled with lots of geraniums, clematis, and tradescantia.

    • June 4, 2012 11:19 am

      Spurge, This is the kind of rearranging that I have to make written notes about in the summer, else I’ll never remember what I had in mind when the time comes to do it! So far, I only have two clematis in my garden, both planted at the base of the fence in this flower bed, but I have lots of borders filled with geranium and tradescantia. I think of both these as “foundation plants” for my garden because they grow (and reproduce) so readily in my garden.

  3. May 29, 2012 3:11 pm

    My blue and purple border has a large yellow Euryops daisy in it. Not so delicately choreographed as yours, and the camera doesn’t like it, but I am enjoying it.

    • June 4, 2012 11:21 am

      Diana, I remember when you were planning your blue and purple border with the single splash of yellow. I’m sorry the camera doesn’t like it, because I would love to see it. (Hmm. Maybe I should be planning a trip to South Africa for my retirement :-))

  4. May 29, 2012 3:16 pm

    Fortunately plants are stubborn little creatures; I’m sure they will be very happy with their new homes – and give you reason to enjoy them throughout summers to come!

    • June 4, 2012 11:25 am

      Soren, These plants are especially stubborn and hardy creatures (as evidenced by the speed with which they’ve gone from little volunteer seedlings to enormous clumps!). It has rained almost every day since I moved these plants; so, while the humans in Maine are looking a bit morose, the plants are looking very happy.

      • June 4, 2012 11:50 pm

        I come from a family of farmers, so I learned as a child to appreciate the rain. Mind you, my plants get all the moisture they need from the ground, so I’m kind of hoping for sunshine…

  5. May 29, 2012 6:07 pm

    I just moved a mini rose yesterday, to heck with it… he’ll either make it, or he won’t but he needed to go! Right then! I couldn’t make myself wait til an appropriate time. I have a big climbing rose I want to move too…now that one I will wait til Nov 🙂

    • June 4, 2012 11:34 am

      Jess, I’m basically a lazy gardener, so I like to do jobs like this when it’s easiest (on me as well as the plants!). I have another musical plants job like this that needs to be done in my Gettysburg garden, and I’m hoping I can do it in fall, just cutting back the plants after they bloom so that they’ll be easier to move.

  6. May 29, 2012 7:18 pm

    Don’t forget to show us an “after” shot once the new arrangement has settled in.

    • June 4, 2012 11:34 am

      Ricki, I’ll be sure to update with one or more “after” shots.

  7. May 29, 2012 8:36 pm

    I have had to wait to do any moving…our weather is very hot and dry so plants are too stressed…you remind me as I weed I need to make my annual notes for changes in the fall…the changes you made sound lovely and I can’t wait to see them blooming.

    • June 4, 2012 11:39 am

      Donna, Our weather is anything but hot and dry! It has rained almost every day during the past week, and this is day three of heavy rain — more than 8″ of rain so far and with at least one more day still to come. Ugh! This weather system is just parked over the Gulf of Maine and refusing to move off into the Atlantic. All our rivers and streams have gone from running low for this time of year to flooding. Fortunately, I don’t need to go anywhere, because while I’m high and dry on top of a hill, it’s pretty hard to find a route right now from here to anywhere else that doesn’t involve a stretch of road that is closed because of flooding. This morning, I got out winter wools to wear as an alternative to lighting the wood stove to get the house warmed up. I’m looking forward to the return of summer later in the week.

  8. May 29, 2012 8:46 pm

    Blue flower lovers appreciate what Geranium Brookside brings to the garden. I too await the “after” shots.

    • June 4, 2012 11:45 am

      Allan, I love ‘Brookside,’ and this is now the third place it is planted in my garden. It doesn’t form big clumps that need to be divided the way the Geranium x oxonianum hybrids do, but it comes back reliably year after year and keeps blooming pretty much all summer long. I saw a plant called ‘Orion’ in a local nursery that was touted as a bigger and better version of ‘Brookside,’ but since I don’t see anything about ‘Brookside’ that needs to be improved, I decided to stick with the tried and true plant.

  9. May 30, 2012 11:07 am

    I also love hardy geraniums. I have Geranium maculatum in white and lavender, Johnson’s blue, Rozanne, and Biokovo. Beautiful garden.

    • June 4, 2012 11:56 am

      Jason, One of my first posts on my blog was called I Never Met a Hardy Geranium I Didn’t Like, and that about covers it. I’ve had G. maculatum album in my garden for a while, and I’ve just added G. maculatum ‘Espresso,’ along with G. psilostemon ‘Patricia,’ to my new serenity garden. Johnson’s Blue and Rozanne don’t do well in my farther north conditions, but Brookside is a great alternative — and Biokovo: well, Biokovo seems to be a plant with ambitions for world domination!

  10. cathywieder permalink
    May 30, 2012 11:39 pm

    Jean, we faced the same dilemma, and I’m with you – transplant and make the best of it. I love the changes you made, and once everything gets established in their new homes, it’s going to be absolutely stunning!

    • June 4, 2012 12:05 pm

      Cathy, The transplants all seem to be doing fine, so it was the right decision. Because I’m not here year round, I sometimes don’t have the option of transplanting under the best conditions. The plants were in the right stage of development for this job when I was here in late April, but since I wouldn’t be here to water, it seemed too risky. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this looks like in July.

  11. May 31, 2012 8:00 am

    Your step-by-step account is very helpful. My theory with garden jobs is if you have time do them right away because I usually don’t get back to it.

    • June 4, 2012 12:07 pm

      Carolyn, Unlike many gardeners, I’m completely capable of focusing on one job without getting distracted by all those other jobs I see that need to get done. But I try to make notes as soon as I come inside so I won’t forget those clever ideas. (I do the same thing in my teaching — taking time at the end of each course to make notes about what needs to be changed the next time I teach it. I’ve learned over the years that I’ll never remember those great ideas when I come to plan the course the next time around.)

  12. May 31, 2012 11:36 am

    Jean, you did a great job and I’m sure the plants will recover just fine. I’m having a similar issue here as I tackle my large flower bed. I moved a number of plants in April and early may but there’s still plenty to be done. I may have to make a list for next spring and wait as some of the plants to be moved are already pushing out buds.

    • June 4, 2012 12:10 pm

      Marguerite, I suppose I shouldn’t be complaining about all the rain we’re having, because it was just what these plants needed — even if I am starting to grow moss! Most of these plants already had buds, but I just decided to go ahead and do it. In fact, the pink Geranium endressii has already begun blooming in the week since I moved it.

  13. Andrew@Gardening Tips permalink
    June 1, 2012 11:34 pm

    I agree step by step explanations as yours is do help the new gardeners especially.
    Glad you let others know about the merits of the hardy Geraniums and the additional benefits that can de gained with moving and dividing.
    Thank you for sharing

    • June 4, 2012 12:13 pm

      Andrew, I’m always surprised at how few people, at least in the US, are familiar with the hardy Geraniums; I learned about them from a book when I first started gardening. It pleases me that a post I did about these plants almost 3 years ago is still one of the top 5 hits on my blog.

  14. June 4, 2012 1:45 am

    I guess the early season caught you off guard a bit, with plants further along than you’d have liked to transplant. Even if things are a little set back a smidge by the transplanting I’m sure they’ll come around and give you an idea of what you were thinking about. So far, I know that you’re focusing on the new harmonies that you’ll be hearing/seeing later in the year, butI’d like to point out that the foliage looks pretty wonderful now, with interesting contrasts between the different leaves. Very nice.

    • June 4, 2012 12:16 pm

      James, Thanks for pointing out the beauties of foliage. Last week, when the sun was out for a couple of days, I spent some time sitting out on the deck admiring the lovely display of foliage in the deck border. And even though the serenity garden is only in its first year, it already is providing a wonderful view of harmonious foliage combinations as I look out my kitchen window.

  15. June 4, 2012 2:37 pm

    I look at my gardening as an ongoing experiment as well as a process that moves forward 2 steps and back 1 step at any given time!! I find myself moving plants whenever I feel I have the time and inclination rather than at an ‘ideal’ or proper time…usually they do fine with just a little extra water for several days following the transplant. Some (especially many natives that naturally thrive here) don’t even need any TLC afterwards. To me, gardening is a verb that encompasses continually re- designing and relocating. At least that is what goes on here! And I don’t do planning or much forethought…I just go out, see something, and go for it!

    • June 4, 2012 2:40 pm

      Jan,I’m sorry you had so much trouble trying to leave a comment; I’ve gone ahead and copied it here. I’m going to look into the WordPress-Blogger communication problems. (I’ve also been having trouble leaving comments on some Blogspot blogs.) As an interim measure, I’ve changed the defaults on my comments so that you no longer have to include an email adress; see if that helps.

  16. June 4, 2012 8:43 pm

    Jean, what a monumental task — but it looks amazing. I think it’s a testament to your skill as a gardener that you were able to look at your beds, discern the problems, make changes, and have a great outlook. Hope everything bounces back. Well done!

    • June 4, 2012 9:03 pm

      Kevin, Water seemed to be what these plants needed to settle in. It’s been raining almost every day since I did this chore — including more than 8″ of rain in the past 3 days. As of today, 8 days after I moved these plants, 3 of the 5 plants involved have blooms!

      • June 4, 2012 9:31 pm

        It’s funny that you mention this. I have found that when I water with a hose, the plants get watered. With rain, the plants seem to look fuller and healthier.

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