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melissa_thefarm

Plants I can't grow; plants I can grow.

melissa_thefarm
14 years ago

It's good to know the difference! Today my husband and I were down in the Shade Garden getting caught up on months of maintenance. We've been busy in the big garden recently, a good-sized south-facing field, in full sun and exposed to the drying west wind. It's a warm, droughty October and the big garden is hot as blazes and a misery to work in. Today we turned to the neglected Shade Garden and, once we got started there, asked ourselves why on earth we had been suffering out in the sun all these weeks.

The Shade Garden has had a hard year. It has a drainage running through it, and during the five weeks of rain in May-June the drainage saturated the ground, then overflowed and brought down a lot of the contents of the field above where our neighbors were pasturing some cows. The water and the layer of cow mulch killed the two magnolias and the Japanese maple that had been planted along the edge of the drainage exactly with the idea of their profiting from the near-year-round moisture. The four months of drought that followed killed the last remaining magnolia. Where the Shade Garden isn't wet, it's dry, that is, it's VERY dry. With the cow mulch came down seeds of every disgusting weed that ever grew in Piacenza, which we are now pulling. On the other hand, the cow-poop-mulch is undoubtedly valuable organic matter, something we never have enough of.

So. I am not going to try magnolias again. I've had about seven of them and have lost them all. No Japanese maples. No acidophile plants: no camellias, no fragrant deciduous azaleas, no blueberries. The Shade Garden, with its ground that's either wet or droughty, its heavy uncooperative clay, its semi-shade, is planted, and will be planted with the following plants:

Once-blooming old roses: Gallicas, Albas, Damasks, Centifolias, Mosses. They like it there. They didn't object to being flooded, nor did they die in the drought. They often have good fall foliage, and the ones that have been there some years now are getting nice and large.

Euonymus alata. I'm going to try this for the strong red fall color, difficult to find in our area, and for the drought tolerance. The native euonymus suffers badly from tent caterpillar, but E. japonica doesn't and seems happy here, unlike in many places, so I'm going to give this new one a try.

Smoke bush. Native here, loves poor dry soil and colors magnificently in fall. There are purple leaved forms that should go really well with roses.

Ligustrum. There's a species with small glossy leaves and fragrant flowers that does very well here, and seems tolerably free of the common defects of ligustrum. L. obavifolium? Tolerates drought and everything else, makes a nice medium-sized shrub.

Yew, if I can keep it out of the path of the drainage: it hates wet feet.

Box, ditto. I love evergreen foliage.

We already have a good population of herbaceous and tree peonies, some surprising (to me) lilies, and numerous clematis. These are all good when we dig them decent holes and water them the first year. Also pyracantha and lilacs, daffodils here and there--I need more of them--Oregon grape, which is excellent, and one struggling sarcacocca, which appears to finally picking up now that we've killed the murderous elms that were sucking up all the life from the soil. Also a crepe myrtle whose greatest asset so far is its excellent fall color. When we achieve more friable soil I want to add hellebores, out of the path of the flood, naturally. I lost a lovely one this last round. And viburnums might do well in some of the more favored spots, not that we have many of those. My Hybrid Musks love the shade garden.

Today we weeded and mulched, and my husband dug planting holes. We planted year-old cutting grown plants of 'William Lobb', 'Gros Choux d'Hollande', 'Rose de Rescht', and 'Capitaine Williams', and a Clematis recta, my first herbaceous clematis. Now we wait and see what happens. There's still plenty of weeding, mulching, and cutting out dead growth to do.

I was wondering who else has a project that imposes considerable limitations and yet also offers considerable opportunities. I suppose that description applies to anyone who gardens in Zone 5 or colder.

Melissa

Comments (8)

  • jerijen
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Melissa -- Since you mentioned Pyracantha -- I am in love with this old plant in the Sacramento City Cemetery.

    Jeri

    {{gwi:316364}}

  • rosefolly
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Melissa -- did you ever get that email I sent you about digging a swale to capture rainwater on a hillside? I'm working on a similar project (slowly) and thought of you.

    Fundamentally I agree with you. It's best to grow plants that want to grow in the conditions you can offer them. I have a couple exceptions. You mentioned blueberries. I just adore blueberries. If you stick to the newer southern highbush varieties such as Misty, Oneal, and Sunshine Blue you may have better luck. Sunshine Blue in particular is said to be a little more tolerant of higher pH. Try a raised bed filled with compost, wood chip, and peat as a growing medium. I'm experimenting with the same mixture, some soil and sulfur added, dug as a trench in the ground. It is too soon to tell, but so far all but one of my blueberries are growing well and not chlorotic. I did lose one, but think that I lost it to hot dry weather when I was away. They do need water. I don't begrudge it to food plants.

    My other exception is that I planted a couple of avocado trees because Tom loves them so much. I'm not convinced that I'm going to be able to make them happy, but we're giving it a try.

    After killing about two dozen rhododendrons, I've given up on them. I have two left. One under the redwood trees actually looks reasonably happy. The other, alas, is on its way out. I do so love rhododendrons.

    At least I have roses! And apples. And plums, and figs, and citrus. Really, so much does well here that it is silly to sigh for the few plants that won't thrive for me. It means that when I go garden visiting and see favorite plants I cannot grow well, I have the special thrill that comes from seeing the less accustomed beauty.

    Rosefolly

  • kandaceshirley
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    generally i don't grow anything i know i'm going to kill, but there are a few exceptions - blueberries being one of them - i don't ever seem to kill them outright, but they never really grow well either - thanks for the hint i think i'll try and find sunshine blue to plant next year - raspberries used to be an exception, but i've finally got them figured out and i never figured out what i was doing wrong before, maybe i was just starting with bad plants -otherwise if it doesn't want to grow there, i'm not going to try to force it, i don't have the time or the desire to want to alter my environment enough - i figure it's the way it's supposed to be here and the other animals and plants depend on it being that way so who am i to try and change that - that being said there are some roses i really really wish would enjoy the cold a little more

  • melissa_thefarm
    Original Author
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Jeri, Pyracantha is a beautiful plant. It's native here and is a very common ornamental and hedging plant, its chief fault being that it gets fireblight, but that doesn't appear to be much of a problem locally.

    Paula, one of your last sentences said it all, about how we can be grateful for being able to grow so many things and why worry about the others? I share that sentiment strongly. I don't know whether the southern-derived blueberries are available here. Also, even if I could work out the soil, there would still be the issue of water. You know, I'm not sure if I did get your e-mail! Was it a while back?

    kandituft, your philosophy sounds right on the nose. While I wouldn't choose to garden in any difficult environment, it's always interesting to see what can be grown in a particular set of conditions. I've wondered before if cold-climate gardeners don't make their lives harder trying to make gardens that look like the ones in warmer places, but that partly because those are the plants available to them in the nurseries. (To all you cold-climate gardeners: Don't shoot me for expressing the thought! I know I'm vastly ignorant on the subject.) My own gardening conditions are easy, but even here there are difficulties, the main ones being lack of water and problems with access: much of our land is so steep that it's difficult to operate machinery there. It's hard to keep the grass cut, for example, or move anything heavy. About roses, do you grow the old once-blooming kinds? Or are they not to your taste? I saw in your profile that you have lilacs, a plant that I like a lot. They grow here and are really tough.

    Melissa

  • kandaceshirley
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    lilacs have always been the first thing i've planted whenever I"ve moved. i have a hedge of them along the alley - they bloomed for the first time this year (the boys kept mowing them over - this year i made that "impossible") - i have a couple once blooming roses, but i do prefer the ones that rebloom - right now i have over 50 (and trying to find room to move more in) and only two (i think) are once blooming - but i also have so much more than roses - i have wildflowers gallore, salvias, delphiniums, penstemons, mums, columbines, a little of almost everything - i like the variety in form and color throughout our short growing season, but i'm also a sucker for fragrance - hence the roses and lilacs - we get enough water here that if i can get them established their first year generally i don't have to water (except for maybe 2-3 weeks in the dead of summer once a week) - but generally it's the winters that limit me..do you have any suggestions on once-bloomers, perennials, or others to try here?

    i wonder if you could find a cascading type perennial or rose on the slopes that wouldn't necessarily require much access (soapwort or phlox)?

  • mad_gallica (z5 Eastern NY)
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    When we moved up here from Philadelphia, the colder climate wasn't a problem. I knew, and was expecting that one. My grandmother, and numerous aunt, uncles, and cousins always lived in a much colder part of Pennsylavnia. What threw me, and is still throwing me, is the pH. It doesn't matter that perfectly reasonable looking rhododendrons and azaleas are hardy to zone 4. I still can't grow them because they take one look at my soil and die off. So multiflora hybrids can be, um, interesting, and rugosas can struggle also. The flip side of that is lavender does quite well unless we get an extremely cold winter, and there are a couple of western, arid climate plants like gaura that do better than expected. The New England forum spends a fair amount of time discussing the early demise of these plants because they can't handle the rainfall levels and the normally acidic soil.

    That's what I personally have trouble imagining. Growing plants in an area where the natural rainfall isn't really sufficient. We get 'droughts', but an official drought here can still be more than 30 inches of rain, and most droughts come with enough water to keep plants alive, even if they go into a state of semi-dormancy.

  • anntn6b
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Y'all have discovered pyracantha jelly? Both beautiful and tasty.

    There are perennials that bloom in drought situations. Locally they are called weeds. But there are exquisite white aster like compositae that have a purple version that are wonderful as well as some of the goldenrods that are just starting to be used as pampered plants in my part of the world.

    This year, I'm planting a winter blooming honeysuckle, even if I have to buy the plant. Lonicera fragrantissima can go wild in slightly warmer areas; here it stays a tall and rather ugly bush. For for massed February fragrance, I can tolerate ugly bush.

    And I will find an old fashioned 'apple japonica' which is the quince of my childhood.

  • jerijen
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Growing plants in an area where the natural rainfall isn't really sufficient.

    *** But that is the way we have ALWAYS grown roses.
    We can either grow roses that way, or not grow roses at all.

    Mind, it used to be that we got enough winter rain to leach out built
    up mineral salts from the soil. Stuff left behind by the alkaline
    water we must use for irrigation.
    Nowadays, we no longer get that. The built up minerals do hamper some
    roses, and I think the Teas and Chinas are the least affected by it.

    Bob Martin remarked a while back that the Earthkind program would not
    work for AZ or SoCal, as without irrigation, roses would die.
    ===

    Ann, I had no idea that you could eat anything made from Pyracantha
    berries. Birds do love them, however.

    Jeri

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