Too Much Greenery, Not Enough Color

Up until I bought this house, I’d had almost virgin territory to work with when I planned gardens. After my father’s death in 1996, I moved in with my mother the following year. Dad was a gardener, but he mostly stuck with greenery. On the narrow north edge of the house he had a fantastic line of euonymous shrubs, alternating green and white with green and gold, and facing them, a magnificent stand of ‘Krossa Regal’ hostas.

The back garden, under a massive flowering crab, was mostly ferns and ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums of which he was very proud, because they were much taller than the usual. There was a raised bed on the south side that once held rosebushes, but they’d been killed off by black spot long before and frankly was kind of a mess.

Under a gigantic maple tree in the front yard Dad had planted hundreds and hundreds of pachysandra, flowering in the spring but then a green carpet the rest of the year. A few blowsy peonies grew under the master bedroom window.
Driveway Garden, April 30, 2005

My parents’ house – driveway garden, April 30, 2005

The deck – which Dad built himself – had a box in it where an ancient paper birch grew, with the ground covered by vinca. Clipped shrubs – boxwood, a lovely mugo pine topiary, cotoneasters and yews completed the foundation plantings. Color was limited to a single oval bed in the curve of the driveway, where yellow tulips and daffodils gloried forth in spring, to be followed by mass plantings of impatiens.

Across the front of the front yard was a mass planting of forsythia. Lovely in spring, then boring as hell for the rest of the year.

Not good enough for me. I’m a flower gardener.

One problem was that I had no experience with shade gardening – and most of the property was heavily shaded. My previous gardens had been in bright sunshine – so much so that it was difficult for me to work there in the hot summers of Des Moines, because I am sun-intolerant. I always took the 2nd week of April off work to clean up and prepare, then the 4th week off to plant. I could and did work for at least 6 hours a day in 55-degree weather. (I was a lot younger then, too.)

My budding hosta garden - April 30, 2005

At my parents’ house: My budding hosta garden – April 30, 2005

Now I had to learn to garden in the shade, and it wasn’t all successful. One of my best discoveries was hostas – I fell in love with them. I planned and planted a hosta garden in the shade of a large redbud tree, but never got to see it grow up. I added primroses at the foot of the foundation planting in the front. I dug out some of the ‘Krossa Regal’ hostas and put in others that were variegated. (This was not especially successful – Krossas are extremely vigorous and kept crowding out my new ones.) I put perennials in the daffodil and tulip bed to take over after the bulbs were finished blooming, but this didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and I was still working on it when I was forced to move away. I dug out and planted a long strip garden along the back fences, but for whatever reason, the plants failed to thrive.

Eventually I created two entirely new garden beds and discovered container gardening… but that’s a future post.

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