Sunday, May 17, 2015

Shade Bed

Weather: Cloudy days followed by rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It would have been an ideal time to plant seeds if the winds didn’t howl all day Wednesday and Thursday, and the temperatures hadn’t fallen yesterday.

What’s blooming in the area: Persian yellow, Austrian copper and pink roses, spirea, snowball, silver lace vine, bearded iris, red hot poker, peony, Oriental poppy, donkey spurge, blue flax.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, alfilerillo, western stickseed, tumble mustard, hoary cress, oxalis, bindweed, goat’s beard, common and local dandelions.

In my yard: Beauty bush, grape hyacinth, vinca, pink evening primrose, golden spur columbine, snow-in-summer, Bath pinks, Johnson’s Blue geranium.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, marigold.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds, ants. Some animal ate through my hose in the winter; it ate through the replacement this week.

Weekly update: It’s not that I don’t envy people who draw up garden plans and execute them exactly. It’s just I don’t believe those published before and after pictures. I’ve yet to find a plant so domesticated it follows a diagram.

A couple years ago I got tired of constantly weeding an area along the blocks supporting my back porch. A soaker hose runs along the base on its way to the roses at the other end. I’d tried to get grass or Dutch clover to cover it but failed.

Like everything in my yard, it was on a slight slope. I though it might help if I terraced the section with a row of bricks that could hold level the soil and hold water. After all, it was only a foot wide and twelve feet long, a mere thirty-two bricks to haul in my compact car and lay.

I put in various left over seeds and covered them with decent dirt and leaves. The bricks trapped water from the hose, the rain, and drips off the edge of the metal roof. The soil and mulch washed out. Only a few Sensation cosmos germinated.

I decided part of the problem was the area had gotten much shadier than I realized when the lilacs to the south and west matured. The next year, I tried various shade loving bedding plants, just to see what would work. The wax begonias did OK, but I their flowers were always hidden in their leaves. I only see the plants from above. The periwinkle went out of bloom. The impatiens and pansies died.

Then, I remembered something I’d seen in a ditch in the village. There were violet leaves at the bottom at the end were water entered. I’d been so surprised, I took a picture to convince myself I wasn’t imagining them. Violets are a woodland plant I grew in Michigan.

I found some violets at an Albuquerque nursery and ordered some lilies of the valleys and ferns. If I was going to try a northern shade bed, I figured I might as well experiment. The Labrador violets turned out to be dog violets and shrank in size. The others didn’t make it.

Undaunted, I ordered more last year, and, wa lah, they came back this year. One violet put out a small flower. That isn’t what mattered. There was evidence they had begun to spread underground. That’s what they do in the north to fill in large areas. I didn’t care if they bloomed in the spring, if they stayed green all summer.

Lilies of the valley are like violets in the north. Given them a chance, and they spread. So far, mine are still discrete plants, although a few put out 2" high stems.

I had no expectations about the ostrich fern. I had learned in Michigan, it was very difficult to get any type started. I ordered the only species I thought might survive. Last year the rabbit ate the fronds. This year, the ostrich fern came back. I only wanted it to get some variation in height.

Pansies have been trickier to grow. They like cool weather and the nurseries don’t offer them early enough for them to get established. This spring was too warm, and now it’s wet and cold. I got lucky with the plants I bought to fill the spaces between the perennials. They probably won’t bloom much until fall, but they may stay green.

Nothing will keep out the weeds, but it’s more pleasant to weed a bed with something in it than it is to weed to keep an area clear. Also, it’s more fun when you don’t know what will happen from season to season. Diagrams are for football fans, and even those are after the fact.

1. Pansy and lily of the valley, 16 May 2015, between showers.

2. Dog violet, flooded by rain, 19 May 2013.

3. Shade bed, one foot wide between line of outer bricks and tiles along the foundation, with soaker hose through the center. Ostrich ferns, 16 May 2015.

4. Village ditch with violets growing in bottom, 19 January 2012.

5. Violet leaves in #4 ditch, 22 May 2012.

6. Violets spreading in Michigan, 2 May 1991. They’re on the east side of the garage in the shade of a neighbors tall lilac. Yellow flower is dandelion.

7. Colony of lilies of the valley in Michigan, 11 May 1991. There shaded by a neighbor’s tree.

8. Miracle Bride White sweet violet has two offspring, one at a distance to the left, the other under the leaves to the top right; 16 May 2015.

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