Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Woodland Shrubbery

I have never been good at growing flowers. The aggressive perennials I was warned about putting in my garden because they would overtake and spread -- obedient plant and evening primrose -- completely died out and disappeared. I even bought more over the years and replanted and those went away too.


I never got pink coneflowers to stay, and sneezeweed disappeared too. Heliopsis didn't last one season. I've never seen more than one errant bloom on the Siberian irises I planted years ago. An experiment to plant sunflowers at the edge of the meadow one year resulted in no sunflowers.

I could go on with a long list of flowers I can't grow.

This is a tree and shrub garden, a fact I need to explain to the local garden club that is coming for a tour this week. I love planting and tending woody plants and watching the ones I don't kill mature into stately specimens over the years.


Some woody plants do flower, and I'm glad the club members will see a nice Rose of Sharon in full white bloom. The panicle hydrangeas are flowering -- although both of my big leaf mountain hydrangeas have had no buds or blooms at all this season. Our early April deep freeze zapped all of those.

I do have some black eyed Susans about, and some magenta phlox in the Birch Garden. Dwarf fleeceflower plants at the wet end of the Blueberry Garden have little pink pipecleaner spikes standing up.


But I really don't have flowers or color here. Even my patio pots are all foliage, no blooms. I have herbs and strawberries and a funny dwarf willow that is all leaves, but the one potted flowering plant, a tall blue plumbago, has now stopped blooming.

I don't have any luck with annuals either. The ten dahlia plants that I nursed along from seed all season have been reduced to just a handful (rabbits got them), but those that survive still have closed buds. I had wanted them to open by the time of the garden club visit, but they won't. They would have at least offered a few pops of color here and there.

Early in the summer I planted lots of nasturtium seeds around -- lots of them, in every open cranny -- but only two live now to bloom. I planted flats of alyssum in order to have a blanket of color at ground level where the earth was bare. And I watered them all this dry summer. All but three or four completely refused to grow.


Thank goodness there is a pretty pink fall anemone flowering by the patio. It gives some color and floweriness, although this year it has been thinner and sparser than in more normal summers.

I am not a flower gardener. I grow trees, I grow shrubs, I have completely reforested a bare hillside with natives, and created shade and canopy in my yard. I prune, I shape, I move and I often cut down. I grow sassafras and spicebush and zenobia and xanthorhiza and ostrya and sourwood and native persimmons and I know all their Latin names.

I tend an arboretum.

So why do I feel so inadequate about not having flowers in my garden for a garden tour?

I even went out and bought pots of things in bloom and set them about in empty places so there would be color and flowers in my garden.


I bought pink coneflowers against all evidence that I can even grow them, and planted them in a few spots last week, creating the pretense that they'd grown there all along. Then I went to the nursery and bought bags of mulch to cover the areas where my groundcovers failed or where all the flowers should have been.

I was even tempted to buy a bunch of big tropicals in pots, like tall cannas and neon colored crotons and strew them around for color and interest. But no.

This is crazy. I need to dispense with all my anxiety about having flowery perennials or colorful annuals to show the garden club, and instead celebrate what I love to do and do well: plant and tend a woodland shrubbery.

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