Sunday, November 15, 2009

Return to The Project

[Note:When I was suffering my writer's block over at the Garden Bench, I did continue to write about the garden, but fell way behind with uploading photos. And, this blog needs pictures! So, I have updated and uploaded. This was originally written on September 25th.]

As I told you last time, I need to re-do the xeri-garden. I have loved it all summer, but if it's going to be really great in the future, I need to stop and smell the catmint and fix some things.

Too wide. Altho it is a great size for its site, I lost track of one of the big rules of laying out a garden. It is too wide and I cannot reach to the back to weed and to work on the plants. The
landscape timbers that I used come in 8-foot lengths, so it seemed simple to just cut them in half and make the bed four feet across. If I were eight feet tall, that would be fine, but at 5'3", I can just barely reach three feet effectively. So, I need a way to make it easier to get into the bed so I can reach across it. The answer is to install some pavers so that I can kneel on them and extend my reach.

Too shallow. I admitted earlier that I didn't put enough dirt in the bed. In my heart of hearts I knew that when I put in the original dirt, but I was so tired that I did not want to deal with it then. I just wanted to finish the bed. So now I need to add dirt.

Too long. Altho I had no real understanding of how large the xeri-plants would be, I still did not buy enough plants to fill the final space. So, I have bought additional plants and need to move some others around to use the space to a better effect. The agastache 'Ava' and the catmint nepenta 'Walker's Low' are both more than twice as large as I had expected, so they are planted too close together. By spreading them out a bit, I can fill more space and they will have more room to expand some more. I want the bed to look full, but the plants don't have to tumble on top of each other to be pretty, and look full.

I have spent the past two weekends fixing the xeri-garden and am finally happy with the current state. Last weekend I mixed growing medium - hereinafter "dirt". Mitchell needed additional dirt for his square-foot-gardens. There is a specific recipe for that, so I just bought extra ingredients and tried to make enough for my bed, too. Remember that I need 5-6 inches more dirt over 32 square feet. I estimate that at 16 cubit feet of dirt!

Mixing dirt on that scale is hard work. First one dumps all the ingredients onto a large tarp. For me it was three different types of humus, vermiculite, and peat moss. To mix them together you first rake them together and then "tumble" the pile by pulling the tarp from one side to the other in both directions. The goal is to get the mixture to look the same throughout the pile. I made enough to top off Mitchell's bed and started to fill mine - when the rain came! I put what was left back into the big bags and stored it for later use.

It was clear to me that I did not have enough to fill the whole bed, so this weekend I bought some pre-mixed gardening soil, more peat moss and some perlite. I was not able to find vermiculite, so substituted perlite. It tends to clump a bit more than vermiculite, but when used in a fairly small amount, it does fine. So this morning I dumped all the soil I made last week back onto the tarp and added new ingredients. More mixing, more tumbling and I had enough new dirt to finish filling my bed.

Now the hard part. I had to dig up all the plants, add the dirt and replant everything. I emailed the nursery where I bought most of the plants and asked what I should do about the broken agastache 'Ava'. Their recommendation was that I "cut it back hard" since I have nearly 60 days until the first hard frost. In our area that is around November 15, so I am cutting it close, but I have hope.

By day's end I had a new bed. I added five new plants: Three Beard Tongues and two Evening Primroses. Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' will be the new "big plant" in the far corner. It should be three feet tall at maturity. Two Penstemon mexicali 'Miniature Bells' will fill the mid-space and the primrose Oenothera fucticosa'Youngii-lapsley' are in the front. Under all the catmint and 'Ava' I found three of the small penstemons that had disappeared. I think they are 'Elfin Pink' and 'Violet Dusk' but will not know until spring. I moved them much closer to the front of the bed to give them more room and some sun!

I also moved all of the sedum 'Neon'. It was also too far back in the bed and hidden under the spreading xeri-plants. When I transplanted it in the spring it was not strong enough to hold up its stems, so they flopped this year and were buried under other foliage. I cut everything back this time, so that they should grow up strong and tall next spring and stand above the surrounding plants.

And finally, you will notice a path of small pavers down the length of the bed. These are for kneeling on so that I can reach the back of the bed to work in it. They are close enough together to put my kneeling pad over two, or I can use them "as is". It will make my work easier, but once spring comes and the plants start new growth they will pretty much disappear from sight.

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