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melissaaipapa

(OT) "You have terrible soil"

said the lady at the nursery this morning, when I was buying shrubs for hedging there. It was said without malice, by someone who knows the area, and it was perfectly correct. We do have terrible soil: gray clay poor in organic matter; or rocks with some plant detritus over them; or thin, root-netted soil down in the woods. However, we also have hundreds if not thousands of shrubs, trees, subshrubs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs, living and growing and not a few doing quite well.

You don't need great soil to have a great garden, though it certainly helps. And you always need to choose with care the kinds of plants you grow. Italian cypresses and native oaks love our poor soil, steep slope, and beating sun; phlomis and shrub germander are champions. Cyclamen flourish in the woods, fragrant violets and primroses, and spring snowflake along the drainage. We can't grow every plant, but we can grow quite a few, and every plant that gets established makes life a little better for the rest. We dig and amend, even a lot, and it helps, but it's just to give the plants a start; after that they help themselves.

It's taken twenty years to get from the meager field we started with, and it will need another twenty, which I likely won't have, to get the garden to a reasonable state of completion. Meanwhile I'm having fun, and the soil is becoming more fertile and sustaining more life. It's all good.

Comments (12)

  • Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
    3 months ago

    I just love your writing and garden Melissa. Survival of the fittest. It beats man's inhumanity to man.

    I cannot think of a better way to spend your life.

    Melissa Northern Italy zone 8 thanked Sheila z8a Rogue Valley OR
  • jerijen
    3 months ago

    Yea verily!

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    3 months ago

    As always, Sheila, thanks for your praise and encouragement: they're appreciated. All the same, compared with the work of people like medical staff, for example, and charitable volunteers, my contribution is very small beer. (But I hope it helps.)

    Judijunebug, good luck to you. I'd say you're on the right track, improving you little part of the world--which makes the world just that bit better for everyone--and having fun doing so. I hope you get the garden of your dreams.

    Jeri, you got it. Here's for gardening!

  • fig_insanity Z7b E TN
    3 months ago

    Melissa, even when you write about the most mundane things, it's so refreshing. True creative writing isn't something that can be taught, but is a gift. And your gift is OUR gift. Your garden becomes a source of joy for all of us, sight unseen.

    Melissa Northern Italy zone 8 thanked fig_insanity Z7b E TN
  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    3 months ago

    John, the word "mundane" means "of the world". Perhaps there are visions and visionaries, but most of us intuit the immaterial through our senses in this our material existence. The world is endlessly fascinating, full of mysteries and wonders. For gardeners, the garden is a microcosm of the universe in its more idyllic aspect: the walled garden with its promise of freedom and order within, the chaos of wilderness raging outside: Paradise.

    I don't understand creativity, so say nothing about it. About writing as a discipline--this is already somewhat presumptuous of me--one can study grammar, word use, spelling, sentence structure, style. Read and write, and pay attention as you do.

    Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoy my posts.

  • bart bart
    2 months ago

    Melissa, you have a great attitude and I wish I could be more like you in this. Hopefully someday I will,but for now I'm still too obsessed with roses, colour, and trying to "get things under control", which is impossible , of course. What I think I mean by that, in my own mind,is some kind of organizazione for which I'm looking,to find a way to make my garden sustainable,while at the same time I push at the boundaries of what is do-able...

  • stillanntn6b
    2 months ago

    How bad is your soil?


    Well, we now miss Sears stores.

    Huh?

    When you bought tools (including garden tools ) from Sears, they came with a lifetime guarantee.

    Our clay is so dense that we replaced an original shovel at least ten times because the handles broke. They couldn't handle (heh) being used as levers to break up the (heh) soil.

  • fig_insanity Z7b E TN
    2 months ago

    OT: @stillanntn6b Ann, I used their guarantee on a 100' rubber hose. It was left out in all weather, blasting sun, sub-zero temps, run over multiple times by a tractor, and liberally abused in all manner of ways. Still, it lasted so many years that when I DID need to be replace it (after at least 25 years), Sears no longer carried 100' hoses, lol. I settled for two 50 footers, and there were no questions asked other than "Is there anything else we can do for you?".

    That was at least 25 years ago, and I still use one of those hoses.

    Those were the days.


    We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Bart, we have our different garden aims: that's just the way it is. I wish you all success in reaching your goals.

    For several years now I've been focused on the basic architecture of the garden; hedges mainly, and starting trees. I still intend to get back to roses, but it's likely going to be a while. And of course there are the incogniti, like you losing, temporarily one hopes, your water source, and me losing my box. Just keep on going, as you know.

    Ann, sounds like you're the record holder. We've broken our share of shovel handles, but partly because DH has an awful habit of leaving them outside in the weather. Our clay is cement when it's dry and glue when it's sodden: I try to dig only in the periods in between. I think we've both worked out methods that grant us a degree of success. We've added over a hundred tons of old hay to the garden over the years, plus all the organic matter the garden itself generates. It has made a change, though not a transformation. I'm still waiting on that.

    P.S. Ann, have you considered using a pick?

  • bart bart
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    O, Melissa, I WISH I had a "goal", lol! To me, it seems like I'm sort of just fumbling and bumbling along,and as soon as I think I'm starting to see a real goal ahead of me in the mist, something else comes up that makes me change the path. For example: I was determined to stop all this rose madness, and just work on getting all of my pot ghetto roses planted out, so I could focus on companions. But this past summer,I really bent over backwards trying to water as best as I could (once a week; I can't do better than that I'm afraid). I also provided shade. In spite of this, I saw most of my new implants either decline or else just sort of hang on. These are all roses that had either purchased bare-root and potted up for their firat year, or else roses that I'd bought several years ago bare-root, planted out, and then saw that they just dwindled or simply sat there, so I dug them up and grew them on in pots. I assumed that the problem was simply the fact that our summers anymore are just worse and worse every year,and that probably floribundas, etc, were just inappropriate to my garden. But then I began to reflect: several amongst these non-starters were in fact climbers and old roses,and formerly I'd been quite successful with these, for the most part. I did a search on Internet, and came up with this: https://www.gardenexpress.com.au/bare-root-vs-potted-roses/ " Potted roses can be notoriously difficult to get properly established in your garden. This is because their root system is already fully developed by the time you introduce them to your soil, and the plant is no longer spending its energy on growing its roots and adapting to its environment. Instead, it has turned its focus to flowering." I began to wonder if part of the problem was this,since before we moved to this new house I'd almost always planted bare-root. In fact, when I dug up the dwindling Sheherazade, I found that its' roots had not ventured beyond the original planting hole at all. What's more, I reflected on the fact that, back in the day, I used to make large-ish orders from nurseries in the Netherlands, Germany, etc. which had lower prices and larger selections than,for example, Rose Barni. But often the bare-roots that I recieved were kind of puny, and logic tells me that a puny bare-root floribunda is NOT going to be able to flourish, certainly not in my conditions.I also considered the fact that in recent years I'd greatly reduced my use of incorporating potting soil into my native soil, thinking that the use of expanded clay and organic matter would be sufficient to improve my clay. So, bad, bad bart went and ordered six roses from Barni,because she has to experiment. I planted all six of them out the day after I recieved them,re-working the native soil with a lot of potting soil. To be fair to myself, I will point out that I put all of them in places which ought to be covered by my automatic waterin system-places tha would require roses eventually anyway So we shall see. BTW, the Purple Eden that I recieved from Barni was a big hulk of a plant,and the others , too, were really good-only 2 were a bit on the smaller size,yet still a good deal bigger and better than some of the ones I'd obtained from up north.

    Then, due to the fact that summers are getting worse and I am getting older, I decided to start a new campaign: get rid of roses that were doing badly or that did not please me much, and try to sort of organize the others into specific areas of the garden, instead of having them scattered here and there. Well, now THAT'S a goal! try to ORGANIZE!!! and eventually replace the moves and removes with plants that don't need any real maintenance once established. But this is going to take a few years...

    See why I admire you?

  • Melissa Northern Italy zone 8
    Original Author
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Bart, to answer your last question, not really. I too wander around erratically, putting out fires as they blaze up--cutting down the box-moth-slain box is one example; I'll be working on that for years--or working on one part of the garden as others languish, that is, turn to weeds or become severely overgrown or get invaded by brush, and trusting that I never get hopelessly behind. I have any number of failed projects, or partly failed projects, or never-launched projects, that I turn my attention to as I have time and interest. Heavens, the garden is full of them. It is pleasant to look at a bit of garden that's in good shape, and ignore all the areas that require serious development or re-development. I suppose one way in which I'm fairly orderly is that I begin working on an area of garden by making a large-scale design for it, or making sure it fits into a previous set up plan. But I would imagine you do that too.

    About the roses, I'm as mystified as your are as to how to get them to flourish. No answers here. I have developed some ideas on which classes are likely to grow well in our conditions, and which instead are a major uphill endeavor. I push here and there for kinds I particularly love, usually without success.

    The last few days I've been working in an area I call the Dutch Bed. There's nothing particularly Dutch about the plants or the design, but the original order of roses we planted there came from Tuincentrum Lottum in the Netherlands, and it was an easy way to distinguish this section from others. It's low, rocky, dense, wretched ground, and we've killed a lot of plants here, but there are survivors I can build on. The Dutch Bed is basically a straight walk with a double line of hedges on both sides, the outer hedges consisting of boring--but I like them--unkillable plants like privet, photinia, Oregon grape, fragrant winter honeysuckle, and symphoricarpos, with a scattering of other shrubs and some infant trees here and there. I'm trying to get these outer hedges completely planted this fall. The ground has improved in the decade we've been working here, and I think these have a good chance of surviving. After that I'll turn my attention to the plants of the inner hedges, old roses mainly, perhaps a few more herbaceous peonies and clematis, and whatever odds and ends occur to me. If I ever get enough shade and organic litter, I'll plant more bulbs, especially daffodils. There are already a few, and so far they've hung on. I'm hoping one day to have a nice little garden, complete in itself, in the Dutch Bed.

    P.S. I know I've said this before, and more than once, but I'd like to see pictures of your garden, in order to better understand what you're talking about. The same is true of our garden, of course.

    P.P.S. Care to come see mine? We're not that far away, after all.