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The Entrance Garden: Lessons from the First Year

August 2, 2016

entrance garden annualsAs I continue to slog away on year two of my front garden project, I thought it would be a good time to look at the results of year one’s efforts, particularly the two flower beds that flank the walkway from the front entrance of my house to the patio.

I wanted these flower beds to provide some privacy and sense of enclosure as people approached the front entrance so, especially along the front of the porch and deck (on the right side of the walkway), I included fairly tall varieties of garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novi-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’) and astilbe (Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory’). At the front, the walkway is bordered by lower-growing plants of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis.’ Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are grouped between the taller plantings at the back and the shorter ones at the front.

You can’t really see any of those plants, can you? That’s because I decided that my first-year planting needed some annuals to fill in the space until the perennial plants bulked up to their mature size. I bought a six-pack each of cleome and cosmos and divided them between the flower beds on the two sides of the walkway. There were two things that I didn’t anticipate when I made this decision:

  1. Especially on the porch side of the walkway, the perennial plants grew much larger in one year than I expected. The three phlox, two astilbes and two asters at the back of the border are already big mature-looking plants. At the front of the border, each of the four small pieces of a single heuchera that I divided grew larger than the original plant had ever been and bloomed much more profusely.
  2. I had never grown either cleome or cosmos before, just admired them from a distance (for example, while driving by) in other people’s gardens. I didn’t appreciate just how big those tiny seedlings I tucked in between the perennials in late May would grow by July! They are both taller and much bigger in diameter than I ever imagined they would become.  I wanted these plantings to provide a sense of enclosure at the entrance to the house, but I didn’t want people to feel as though they had to walk through narrow tunnel in order to get to the patio! Moreover, they have completely stolen the show from the intended stars. As the photo below taken from the back side of the patio border (on the left side of walkway) shows, the annuals are hiding the daylily blooms that are supposed to be the featured plants at this time of year.

entrance garden daylilies obscured

Another problem with the planting in the first year has been the extent to which plants impinge on what is already a narrow walkway. As soon as they bloomed, the tall spikes of the heuchera began to flop over onto the walkway. The cosmos have also tended to lean into the walkway, and the geranium plants have crept outward.

Fortunately, all of these problems can be fairly easily corrected, and I have learned a lot from the process. Here are the lessons I’ve taken away from these too-exuberant plantings:

  • Plants growing in my newly prepared flower beds grow quickly. I don’t need annuals to fill in while they mature.
  • I would love to grow some annuals (cosmos, cleome, some zinnias) in my garden, but this is not the place for them. I will not replant these here, but I will consider how they might be incorporated in the more informal plantings of the lower garden when I get to it.
  • I need to keep plants from flopping onto the walkway. Next year, I will make a discrete ‘fence’ of linking stakes to keep the flowers of geranium, tradescantia and heuchera up off the walkway.

I have enjoyed my new entrance garden this year, but I look forward to enjoying it even more next year without cosmos and cleome, when it will be more the garden I envisioned when I designed it.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2016 4:45 pm

    Hello Jean, I tend to plant so densely when planting a new border that there’s not much room for annuals (I then spend time trying to stop the perennials from thugging each other out). I like plants that flop onto borders and paths too. What I thought were generous grass paths actually became narrow when the plants spilled over from either side, I like that look and feel. I look forward to seeing this border become closer to how you imagined it next year.

    • August 11, 2016 9:43 pm

      Sunil, I like a the plants to creep out over the edges of a path — but at ground level, not at eye level (or higher). This walkway is so narrow (only 2 feet wide) that any encroachment from the plants makes it hard to walk between them. I’m looking forward to it being more the way I imagined it next year, too. 😉

  2. August 3, 2016 11:11 pm

    Excessive exuberance isn’t a bad problem to have! You can always cut some of those annuals and bring them inside to enjoy. Maybe you should join next week’s “In a Vase on Monday”!

    • August 11, 2016 9:46 pm

      Kris, I have been cutting some of the annuals for flower arrangements in the house. The cleome are tricky because, as the inflorescence moves up the stem, they leave armature behind (ouch!). Also, once they’re cut, they drop the old flowers much more quickly than they open new buds. The problem with the cosmos is that most of the plants have huge thick stems, but no flowers.

  3. August 5, 2016 5:21 pm

    Sacrilegious! “Cut Cosmos and Cleomes”????? My heart leaped and a tear fell….oh were I to have those magnificent cleomes in my garden! Oh wait I have cosmos and never found any cleome plants except if I wanted to pay 6-8 dollars for one plant.

    • August 11, 2016 9:48 pm

      Libbylottie, In the future, I hope to have those magnificent cleomes and cosmos in some other part of my garden, but not here where you have to fight them off to walk down the path. Is it possible to grow cleome from seeds where you are?

      • August 12, 2016 8:29 am

        Oh yes, if I remember to buy them when Spring comes next year! I have a cute little journal called “Gardening Girl” in which I have to write notes for myself for next year!

  4. August 8, 2016 3:29 am

    Cleome and Cosmos are not flowers that fade into the background, as you say. I do love them, though. Orange Cosmos do grow quite a bit smaller, though.

    • August 11, 2016 9:49 pm

      Jason, I didn’t appreciate just how big and in-your-face (literally!) these plants would get.

  5. debsgarden permalink
    August 8, 2016 9:52 am

    I imagine it is quite wonderful to walk through your tunnel of cosmos and cleome! With gardening it seems we can count on never-ending changes we choose to make or else the garden makes for us! I once planted orange cosmos. The pollinators loved it. Years later I still get seedlings popping up every year.

    • August 11, 2016 9:52 pm

      Deb, the pollinators are very happy with this planting. There are bees galore, butterflies, and hummingbirds squabbling over claims to the cleome. Unfortunately, walking down the walkway between the plants means having your arms grabbed and your face slapped by too-big plants — not a particularly romantic experience.

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