Three years in a zone 8 garden (toddler phase)

As Metapanax delavayi in the center fills in, many of the surrounding herbaceous plants needed relocation. Tetrapanax towers over the patio roof now, changing light patterns under its canopy and running at the root into the gravel. Stipa gigantea has an enormous footprint but is indispensable. Extreme right, a glimpse of 5’x5′ Persicaria polymorpha . Its shrub-like enormity will most likely have to be thinned out next spring. For now branches are pruned to allow sunlight on neighboring plants.

I broke my shovel yesterday, the trusty decades’ old one I brought up north. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. It’s seen a lot of action, especially this spring/early summer. The back garden has left behind that deliciously expectant phase, like being pregnant really, and entered the sobering reality of caring for a rambunctious toddler. Margaret Roach’s excellent article on the High Line was a reassuring and timely read for me. (“Change is the only constant.”). My 3-year-old garden now requires many of the same maneuvers, interventions, and relocations to settle land disputes and preserve air and sun rights as the 15-year-old High Line — on a vastly different scale, of course (and without having to contend with only 16 inches of soil!)

Things are tight! Persicaria polymorpha does not run at the root but it’s still a beast, a beautiful one

The dreamy phase of contemplating a future garden has had a hard stop this third summer, where harsh judgments must be meted out — which plant is the more valuable and which needs to move elsewhere. Even after three years some plants are still getting settled, while others have doubled or tripled their footprint (Sucissella inflexa, a pale knautia-like bobblehead, I’m looking at you!). It’s engrossing and fascinating to watch the maturation process, but admittedly unnerving to be flung out of the design department and moved to a management position. I have nothing but respect for the 10 full-time gardeners managing the hard work of maintaining the High Line’s complex plantings.

astilbe has been one of those slow to establish
Euphorbia griffithii will want more ground, but I’m willing to work with it

What’s really centered me again and reinvoked that dreamy, expectant state of mind is starting lots of annuals and biennials from seed. Many of the annuals like cosmos, castor bean and amaranthus are getting popped into newly vacant soil as permanent plants are thinned. I’m more than willing to perform the daily triage an overplanted garden requires, but I’m a born nurturer and love the caretaking of young plants. I need to take care of plant babies!


And my preference for big bodacious plants only exacerbates the challenges of managing a quickly maturing garden. For now, I wouldn’t want to part with any of them. The big shapes that dominate the border closest to the back fence include, left to right, a 5×5 Euphorbia stygiana, Persicaria polymorpha (both not pictured), Sanguisorba ‘Red Thunder,’ and Selinum wallichianum, center in above photo. Its ferny leaves are great cut — discovered after trying to relieve some pressure and congestion off nearby plants. Huge umbels in late summer. The Silver Spike grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis, has started to bloom, and the garden finally feels like summer because of it. Deschampsia started to bloom this week too. Most of the miscanthus have been moved to the front garden, as has Festuca ‘Glowsticks.’

for now new purchases are limited to small stature stuff like clove-scented Dianthus ‘Key Lime Pie’
doesn’t get any easier than a bowl of semps
Digitalis parviflora — right at its feet two Kniphofia pauciflora were dug up and relocated to the front garden. A great little kniphofia that deserves the best home possible
Solanum laxum, Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ — not all of the garden is threatened by imbalance. Some things are just right. Malva ‘Zebrinus’ and Darmera peltata in the stock tank
Zebrina Mallow in the stock tank with Corokia ‘Sunsplash’

For those who’ve been having trouble commenting, deep apologies. Again, management is not my favorite task, and that applies to the blog as well, which barely limps along. Thank you for your patience! Enjoy the long holiday weekend — temps in the 90sF expected here for Friday…

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6 Responses to Three years in a zone 8 garden (toddler phase)

  1. Elaine says:

    The garden has definitely filled in and looks glorious. It seems ironic that when it reaches it’s peak it’s time to start thinning and removing. Such a long wait and a brief period of perfection. We are doing some much needed renovation and thinning in our 24 year old garden. Overgrown shrubs that I have bee reluctant to remove are now gone and I don’t miss them at all. Plants that are seeding abundantly (lambs ears, euphorbia, globe thistle and dianthus) are being either completely removed or thinned ruthlessly. All for the better. At some point you have to impart some kind of control.

  2. Kris P says:

    I couldn’t be anything but excited to see your jubilant toddler, Denise! It looks very happy even if plants are rubbing elbows, although I know all too well that eventually decisions will be needed to prevent all-out fights for territory. Out of the blue, I received a comment on a post I published in 2014 today, which left me looking at a much tidier space than I have today. Much as I like a degree of order in my garden, I still can’t say that I’d roll back any of the changes I’ve made in the years since, although I’m coming to accept that I nonetheless need to streamline maintenance requirements, which means simplifying my plant palette.

    I love all the color in your summer garden. I’m very tempted by your Solanum laxum and I envy you that Persicaria.

  3. Two sentences jumped out at me, they got my wheels turning and I read them again and again: “unnerving to be flung out of the design department and moved to a management position” and “I’m more than willing to perform the daily triage an overplanted garden requires” I will be thinking on both of them as I spend my day watering the garden and maybe performing a little of that triage. I keep reading about how clogged the roads to the coast will be as us valley dwellers try to escape the heat (near or over 100 for 5 days). I must admit to being tempted, but my plants need me (no irrigation system here). Your toddler garden is looking quite happy.

  4. Gerhard Bock says:

    I love this post. Your words really resonate with me. I’m a chronic overplanter and therefore always removing, replanting, shuffling things around. At any given moment, more than half of my garden is in a toddler stage!

    I also relate to what you said about to the urge to take care of plants. It often becomes a chore, me being overwhelmed with plants and not knowing what to do with them. But really, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

  5. Jerry says:

    It takes a lot of energy to run after a toddler. It feels like I have been in full run mode out in the garden, chasing after an entire kindergarten classroom, rather than just one toddler. So many unruly plants, but the joy is in seeing when they play together harmoniously for that one brief moment in time.

  6. Denise says:

    @Elaine, young gardens are such a joy, but it’s a brief moment for sure. Good luck with your reno — 24 years sounds about like the state of my Long Beach garden.
    @Kris, that solanum is really impressing me too — always so cool and fresh. My old garden photos always shock me — so many phases and iterations.
    @Loree, the coast was busy but didn’t seem too slammed. I made a dash to Xera early Friday morning and the heat was still mild before noon. Hope your garden isn’t impacted too much. Bet the Shade Pavilion is protecting a few extra plants, thank goodness for it!
    @Gerhard, yes, in the garden the toddler stage can reappear any time!
    @Jerry, your garden is marvelous, so complex with so many specific habitats for plants. And you’re still young, you can manage the kindergarten — happy birthday again!

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