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Serenity Garden Update

August 19, 2012
serenity plantedIt’s been about a year since I planted my new Serenity Garden, so it seems a good time to stop and assess how that flower bed is doing.
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serenity 1 year

Overall, I am pleased. Some plants have settled in and grown very quickly. The Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ at the front edge has already formed big clumps, the Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum) and hellebores (just planted this spring) seem quite happy, and two of the shrubs – Buxus x ‘Green Mountain’ and Pieris x ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ – are growing and looking healthy. happy astrantia & helleboresThe astrantia moved here from the Deck Border is much happier than it was in its previous location and has bloomed more profusely. Some plants have grown so fast that they are already looking crowded. I made the decision last week to move Amsonia hubrichtii a foot further away from Aruncus dioicus because I know that both these plants will get much larger. This is my first time growing the bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) cultivar ‘Goldheart,’ and I expected it to go dormant in July as my other Lamprocapnos spectabilis plants always have. Instead, while it stopped blooming in early June, ‘Goldheart’ has continued to produce new foliage all summer long, even through our exceptionally warm and rainless July. The result is that Hosta ‘June,’ which was purposely planted close to ‘Goldheart’ so that it could fill the space left when the bleeding heart went dormant, is instead buried beneath it. If ‘Goldheart’ continues to grow throughout the summer, I’ll need to move the beautiful ‘June’ forward a foot or so to give it the visibility it deserves.

goldheart june buried
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viburnum eatenThere are, inevitably, some problems in this new flower bed. The first among these is deer damage. I knew when I designed it that deer would probably be an issue in this area at the edge of the woods away from the rest of the garden. So I wasn’t surprised when the deer moved in as soon as I left for Pennsylvania last August and ate the newly-planted hostas. I was surprised by how many other plants the deer ate. The “deer-resistant” (HA!) Viburnum cassinoides took a big hit and is now considerably smaller than it was when I planted it a year ago. I have pruned off the damage and have created a protective cage around this plant to keep the deer away from it. I also didn’t realize that deer would love Poteranthus trifoliata (Bowman’s Root), Anemone hupehensis, and Heuchera. All these plants are still hanging on but are nowhere near the size they should be and had little or no opportunity to bloom this year.

poteranthus eaten heuchera eaten
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The good news on the deer front is that the deer stopped frequenting this flower bed as soon as I was here and walking through the garden each day leaving my scent. (My neighborhood still has quite a lot of wild deer habitat, so our deer are not desperate and tend to be quite shy of people.) This means that if I can protect the plants from the deer for one more year, the deer problem might resolve itself when I begin living here full time in 2014.

fern strugglingOther problems may be less tractable. Two of the plants I included in this garden, Actaea ramosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) don’t seem to be getting enough moisture. The Actaea turned brown and looked dead within weeks after I planted it last August. I was happily surprised when it returned in the spring with lots of fresh, healthy looking growth. As the leaves of this plant and the fronds of the cinnamon fern have matured however, they have curled up and turned brown (even as new green growth is being sent up at the center of the plant). It may be that the combination of my sandy soil and the presence of tree roots is just too much for these plants and that I will need to replace them with something better suited to my conditions. On the other hand, they may be better able to handle the growing conditions once they have gotten established and sent out more roots. My plan is to give them supplemental hand watering once a week through the summer next year to see if that helps.

There was very little bloom in this flower bed in its first season. Some of the flowering plants were prevented from flowering by the ministrations of the deer; others were only added this spring and weren’t large enough to flower in their first season. Although the primary focus in this garden is on foliage, I hope to see more flowers next year.

Finally, I leave you with one of my favorite features of this garden, my first ever piece of garden art, a “rock spinner” hand-crafted by Andy Lech of Scottish Lion Wrought Iron in Bristol, Maine.

rock spinner

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2012 11:08 am

    I like the look and name of your serenity bed. Amsonia, geranium Biokovo and solomon seal are three of my favorites for shade. Too bad about the deer. Also the cinnamon fern. I have ostrich fern growing in heavy shade in some pretty heavy soil and it’s very happy.

    • August 21, 2012 9:21 pm

      Jason, One of my problems is that I don’t have heavy soil. If I did, it would hold onto water better and the moisture-loving plants would be happier. I still have hopes that these plants will do fine once they’ve gotten established. But, if not, I’m not going to fight it; I’ll just make some different choices that will be more tolerant of my soil.

  2. August 19, 2012 11:10 am

    Wait a minute. Is Dicentra now Lamprocapnos? DAMN those taxonomists!

    • August 19, 2012 2:03 pm

      At least when they changed Eupatorium they kept the first couple of letters. This one will really foul up my filing system.

    • August 21, 2012 9:26 pm

      Jason and Ricki, I’ve been doing some research on taxonomic changes to write a post about it. It isn’t quite ready to go yet. Anyway, it’s not that all members of the Dicentra genus became Lamprocapnos; almost all of them are still Dicentra (similar to Eupatorium, where the genus still exists and has plenty of species in it). What seems to have happened here is that Dicentra spectabilis, which seemed closely related to all the other Dicentra species based on morphology (what the plant looks like) turned out not to be so closely related when botanists actually looked at the DNA. Genetic analysis showed that this species wasn’t closely enough related to the others to be part of the same genus, so it got separated out into it’s own genus (Lamprocapnos). So if you’re growing any other Dicentra species (e.g., D. eximia or D. formosa), no change has taken place.

  3. August 19, 2012 2:05 pm

    Coming along nicely (and quite serenely) despite the plants having a mind of their own and the deer doing their thing.

    • August 21, 2012 9:31 pm

      Ricki, Plants always have a mind of their own, and my philosophy of gardening mostly involves identifying the plants that are happy to grow in my garden and giving them room to do their thing 🙂

  4. August 19, 2012 6:42 pm

    Just love the serenity garden. It’s so inviting.

    • August 21, 2012 9:33 pm

      Allan, Right now, I get to look at this out my kitchen window; but one of the next steps in this project is to add a bench nearby so that it will be possible to sit outside and enjoy this garden.

  5. August 19, 2012 9:08 pm

    I think your garden looks great. 🙂 I also grow Bowman’s root. It’s a really tough plant that will hopefully outlast the deer. I love the addition of the garden art.

    • August 21, 2012 9:35 pm

      Tammy, Thanks for the encouragement about the Bowman’s root. It demonstrated its toughness by managing to put out a few flowers despite having been eaten almost to the ground. Next year, I’m going to put a protective cage over this plant and Hosta nigrescens in early spring as soon as they start to appear so that they’ll be able to grow unmolested.

  6. August 19, 2012 9:37 pm

    Oh Jean I adore this garden and that Goldheart still growing is amazing…the deer ate my deer resistant plants too…so much for resistance. I do love the garden art as well…so wonderful for this peaceful place.

    • August 21, 2012 10:07 pm

      Donna, I’m so pleased that you like it! I think I was pretty naive about what “deer resistant” meant. Now that I’ve been educated by the deer, I can be more realistic about how to protect or replace plants that the deer like to browse. (There’s a tension here because I’m trying to grow more native plants, but the plants that the deer ignore are often exotics.)

  7. August 20, 2012 5:34 am

    Gardening WITH as well as FOR wildlife is something I can relate to 😉 Love your rock spinner.. is it a mobile? Does it (in theory at least) help to keep the deer at bay? will hanging bells or bamboo sticks make it more effective perhaps? Or even old CDs with their reflective surfaces?
    Waiting for your answer on Dicentra…
    Jack

    • August 21, 2012 10:11 pm

      Jack, The rock spinner is indeed mobile. It is very finely balanced and rests on top of the wrought iron spike by means of a small indentation on the horizontal piece. So far, it hasn’t moved much on it’s own (although I can’t resist giving it a push any time I walk by). I’ve installed it by the hostas and am hoping that any deer trying to browse on them will bump into it and set it moving.
      See my response to Jason and Ricki for what I’ve learned about the status of the genus Dicentra.

  8. August 20, 2012 4:27 pm

    Hi Jean, I spotted the Astrantia in one of the pictures! My favourite shady plants are Solomon’s Seal, Dicentra, Hostas and Ferns. I use them under shrubs (trees in your case!). Will you be using ground-cover plants such as periwinkle and will spring bulbs or even later-flowering bulbs like Camassia manage under the trees? Something that I’ve seen in another garden is to sink empty perforated plastic milk bottles into the ground with the neck just poking above the surface. Fill the bottles with water and it will slowly feed through the perforated holes and keep the soil around it moist.

    • August 21, 2012 10:16 pm

      Sunil, I have planted some spring bulbs in this area (crocus and Iris reticulata), but I haven’t planted ground cover plants. This flower bed turns out to be “self-mulching” due to an almost steady rain of pine needles from the trees above.
      The perforated milk jug idea is really interesting: thanks for the tip. (I’m a little concerned, though, that these might turn into breeding pools for mosquitoes.)

  9. August 21, 2012 2:40 pm

    Has it really been a year already? where did the time go? This garden is already starting to look filled out and quite lovely. You’ve done a great job. I’ve had the same occurrence with bleeding hearts in the past. In shade they can hold up almost through the entire summer and if you water them they will hold up. Sometimes deer will eat plants that are young and tender so don’t give up hope on your viburnum just yet. Give it a few years of protection and it will toughen up a bit and the deer will be less likely to want to nibble.

    • August 21, 2012 10:20 pm

      Marguerite, Thanks for the confirmation about the bleeding hearts. This is the first time I’ve had one of these plants stay so fresh all summer long, but this is also a shadier location than the others where I have grown in. It’s a beautiful plant, so I would be quite happy to have it continue to behave this way; I can adjust the position of Hosta ‘June’ so that they both get to show off.
      Thanks also for the encouragement about the viburnum. My plan is to give it protection from fall through spring until it grows as tall as its protective cage (which I think will take at least 2-3 years).

  10. August 21, 2012 5:40 pm

    I remember when you first write of your serenity garden Jean. It is coming along very nicely in spite of the few setbacks. I am forever having to shift plants due to my poor judgement..

    • August 21, 2012 10:21 pm

      Alistair, I knew when I designed this garden that the conditions here were different than in the rest of my garden and that it would be a learning process. I think all gardeners learn through a process of trial and error. (The list of plants I formerly tried to grow in my garden may be longer than the list of currently growing cultivars!)

  11. August 21, 2012 11:19 pm

    I remember when you started the Serenity garden, and it is good to see its progress. Things never work out perfectly, and gardening is an ongoing process, but I think everything looks great! And I really like your rock spinner!

  12. August 28, 2012 9:06 pm

    Jean, if you decide to try Sunil’s milk jug idea, a little mesh tied with twist ties over the top of the jug should keep the mosquitoes out. The garden is coming along beautifully! In all that dappled forest light it must be serene indeed.

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