Alright everyone, it's finally time for the big reveal...what was I up to all last year. It sort of feels like the "What I Did This Summer" report we had to write every year in elementary school. In lieu of posts for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-up (which I hope to participate in next month), I powered through this post last weekend!
Above is the garden seen from the North. The first pic, in April, is right after we finished the hardscape (well, except of the pavers). The May pic shows the same area with most of the plants in place (except for a few I couldn't locate until later in the season (Eutrochium 'Little Joe' and Echinacea purpurea). The May photo also shows our first stages of laying the pavers…trying to figure out which ones we liked…and the pattern we wanted. The difference between May and July is astounding…once warm temps arrived, the garden exploded with growth. Even though I knew it would green up during summer, I was still sad to see the brilliant winter coloring of the Anemanthele lessoniana change.
High summer and fall are definitely the best months in my gardens, in general, and the backyard is seemingly no exception! I guess it's pretty obvious in all these shots that I tend to favor blues, purples and pinks…colors and hues toward the cooler, more soothing end of the spectrum. That's not to say these colors aren't rich and saturated…but, for the most part, I avoid hot, primary colors. I noticed that, as lovely as gardens look in soft, overcast light, I found that this garden was most stunning when backlit…all the blooms and grasses positively glow!
Here, we are looking at the garden from the South. Again, the shot in April is very soon after planting. One of the benefits of using Calamagrostis is that they are cool-season grasses, and give a lot of visual weight to the garden early in the season while everything else is catching up. The June shot shows the plants filling in, slowy but surely. Again, in July, everything seems to be surging ahead like a locomotive…practically unstoppable. I love the Bronze Fennel on the far right one the bottom photo…but it, unfortunately has a tendency to flop right as it reaches a crescendo of bloom. I always toy with the idea of cutting it back as it starts to bloom, but never do, as the bees and other insects go insane for the blooms.
The same view of the garden during the next three months shows the garden reaching it's finest hour. The dog days of August don't faze the garden in the slightest…the grasses and Agastaches luxuriate in the warm summer sun. September was, I believe, when the garden really peaked…it was absolutely a riot of color. Also, the rains hadn't returned yet to collapse the taller, more delicate plants. I spent a lot of time sitting in the garden during these months, as the days cooled down and every hummingbird and insect seemed to redouble their efforts to drain every last ounce of nectar from the blooms.
Haha…here's a view I probably won't show very often, as this window become partially obscured by the rampant growth of the Clematis tibetana vine during the summer. This is the view from our kitchen window, which I see every time I get a cup of coffee in the morning (so, quite a bit). It's a bit of an improvement, I'd say :-)
It took us a while, but sometime in August, we finally found a set of chairs we could both agree on!
On the opposite side of the fence I set up a sort of "holding area" for plants that I wasn't sure what to do with...or plants that I had previously planted in a spot that didn't quite suit them. Among the plants that resided there this summer were a pair of Agastache rupestris, which, in spite of hardly ever getting watered, thrived and reminded me of why I planted them in the first place. They also made a wonderful, unplanned pairing with Geranium 'Rozanne' (who sneakily crept under the fence to join the Agastache). It ended up being a wonderful pairing and a fabulous bit of spontaneity.
Agastaches as far as the eye can see! Here we see Agastaches 'Ava' and 'Blue Blazes', both backed by Agastache 'Purple Haze' and backlit by the smoldering September sunshine (yes, bonus points for unnecessary alliteration)! I have to mention that as much pleasure as the garden gave me, it was even more alluring to bees. There was never a time when the entire garden wasn't humming with activity. Hummingbirds seemed equally drawn to the garden...anytime someone would visit, I'd make them stand still for a little bit. Almost without fail, a hummingbird would appear within a few seconds. There was a breeding pair in a tree next door who were locked in constant combat with any visiting hummer. As far as they were concerned, it was THEIR garden!
At some point, i realized I had to find a way to vault the Clematis tibetan a over the path and onto the fence. Try as we might, we just couldn't find any sort of arbor we both liked. I liked rusty metal, Norm did not. It doesn't help that so many of the arbors we "sort of" considered were really expensive. In the end, I decided to make one out of copper pipe. I spent a few days hammering out a VERY SIMPLE design. We bought the pipe and necessary tools and had the entire thing finished in a day! I'm not overly-fond of how shiny it is at the moment…but rest assured, knowing it will for a handsome patina soon enough.
I know it's becoming a bit gratuitous…but here's another backlit Agastache shot! Oops…looks like our arbor is leaning a bit in this pic.
It turns out that our new backyard was a Mecca for the neighborhood cats. There was never a time that I'd look back there and NOT see a cat sleeping in a corner or stalking the birds that frequented the area.
I mixed several Verbena bonariensis, 'Lollipop' in the garden, randomly wherever I wanted a filler. While I was annoyed at myself for not realizing it was a much-shorter version of it's cousin, I realized that it was farm better suited for this small space.
Agastache 'Purple Haze', backed by Bronze Fennel. This is one of the few plants in the backyard that was totally an impulse buy…but was a huge success. I loved it's very upright and bushy form. A bonus, it bloomed from July to Frost…a never-ending succession of sultry violet blooms.
Another shot of the main planting area. I love how the Knautia has a constant supply of new blooms, while retaining the wonderful, spherical seed heads of it's past blooms. When backlit, the seed heads are a textural marvel.
For the first time this year, I grew some annual Poppies…and absolutely loved them…the blooms last for such a short time (glorious as they are) but it's the long-lasting seed pods that really endear them to me.
Another shot of the wonderful Knautia…this must have been one of the very first blooms…as they coincided with the blooms of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'. I find 'Karl Foerster' interesting in all its stages…these feathery, pink-tinged blooms are so very different from the tawny talons they will later become.
Of course, we can't always win, can we. I had planned on putting some Rodgersias I found for sale along the north side of the fence. I figured they would be shaded during most of the summer. I was so wrong…they got blasted with sun during the hottest part of the day…oops. It's always so hard to judge how far the shade will recede during summer. Oh well…I moved them all this fall to a more hospitable area…replacing them with Panicum 'Northwind'. Of course, the Panicums will not get as much sun as they would like until early summer…so we'll see how they fare.
Sadly, we got a few heavy showers in late September or early October (can't quite remember which), and they pummeled the garden a bit…the tallest of the Agastaches had quite a few snapped stems :-( As you can see, they completely fell over the path (which had already grown so narrow it was hard to pass through). I left them for a few weeks, then cut back all the floppy stems. To my delight, they resprouted at the next bud and within a few weeks, I had even more (albeit shorter) blooms!
I had better wrap this post up already! To end things, here's a look of what the garden looked like before we started working on it…and 1 year later. I will admit, one thing I would really like to figure out is how to provide a bit more privacy by screening out our neighbor's windows. I'm considering either some sort of bamboo…or, more likely, a stand of Miscanthus giganteus…do you all have any suggestions…remember, it's a tight space…and I don't want to block any more sunlight to the other plants than I absolutely must.
Again…from the other direction, the garden in spring…and fall of that same year!
Whew! I have to say, it ended up being both harder and far more rewarding than even I could have anticipated. Days of hard, sweaty labor and fretting proved to be worth it in the end. I highly doubt it'll ever win any awards or be on the cover of Gardens Illustrated (hey, a boy can dream, can't he?) but I love my little Hot Mess of a backyard :-)