The Entrance Garden: Lessons from the First Year
As 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.