Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Shady Lady's Garden

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I was a gardener well before I became a writer. I can probably blame Mrs. Hayes, my fourth grade teacher for instilling in me my love of gardening.  As much as I'd like to say it was my gray-haired nanny, she only grew four things. Roses, tomatoes, basil and figs. Nothing wrong with any of those, but a little limited. And I didn't learn to love figs until I was in my twenties. Nope, it was Mrs. Hayes and her cutoff milk containers, carrot tops and avocado pits.

When I got my first apartment in Brooklyn I filled the windowsills with herbs and ferns. And hanging plants - spider plants and asparagus ferns. (Remember those? And no...they were not in macrame thingys.) In one of my New York City apartments I created a roof garden - morning glories, coreopsis and a kiddie wading pool for those really hot days. It was great until the ceiling fell down in my living room.

It would be years before I got my first real garden. Three+ acres, some of it wooded and some which every year I manage to reclaim.

Let the other Reds rhapsodize about cheese or prosciutto. I'm all about loam and beneficial insects. Shrubs and perennials. Ground covers.

I have more than my fair share of deer and slugs but this year I've also had some wonderful wildlife sightings - spotted salamanders, frogs, barred owls and hummingbirds.

As you can see I have a lot of shade so I grow shadelovers like rhodys, azaleas, pieris, leucothoe.

And after close to twenty years my garden is finally starting to come along. Not done, of course.

It will never be done. It's a work-in-progress!
And when I'm not in my garden I write about someone who is...busman's honeymoon I think they call it.

So take a look, tell me what you think.

Do you garden? How does your garden grow??


  1. It's beautiful Ro! I don't do much flower gardening but we love to grow vegetables. Had our asparagus and arugula already, last night chard. And we have tomatoes, okra, beans, peppers, eggplant, cukes, and blueberries coming!

  2. Wow, that's quite a harvest! We're trying to decide what to do with our one tomato...

  3. We don't have enough sun for veggies, but do grow all those shade and mostly deer-resistant plants you mentioned. Yours is gorgeous!!! Dee

  4. What a lovely garden, Rosemary. And how fitting, with your name, that you should enjoy gardening so.

    I have a ridiculous number of gardens, including five or six flowerbeds at home (acre and a half), a 300 sq. ft. veggie garden at our farm, some flowerbeds that I'm working on (no shade at all), and a very successful lavender plot that I'd like to expand commercially. It's a lot of work, isn't it? Good exercise, though!

  5. I don't really have enough sun for veggies (hence the one tomato) but luckily I love the shade lovers. Wish I could grow lavender - maybe I'll try it in a containers. Should have pictured those...I have 50-60 container plants outside in my little patches of sun.

  6. We planted the lavender plants, six of them, the day we bought our farm, four years ago. Five of them survive, four robustly so. I trim them back to harvest the stems twice a year, and when I did it this spring I noticed that the trunks on the four best plants (Augustifolia) were thicker than my forearms. They like it there, although it isn't full sun, since it's on the southwest corner of the house, and below the deck. They do need very good drainage, though.

    I have not had any luck growing lavender in containers, so any tips you have would be welcome.

  7. Gorgeous, Ro! I garden and fight a nasty neighbor and the city every year. They want to tear out my herbs, drought-hardy perennials, and native plants in favor of grass. When I researched it to fight them, I discovered this is happening all over the country!

    I have a part-sun rain garden directly behind my house and a woodland garden for the rest of the long backyard. My long front yard is divided in half, all sun on one-half and shady on the other half. Most of the sunny half is a long herb, perennial, native plant garden. (I'm talking native plants like liatris, daylily, Missouri primrose, blackeyed susan, purple coneflower--attractive blooming plants.)

    I've only had luck with lavender and rosemary in big pots, but they grow well for me that way. I have about 20 big pots that I place at the front and back doors and various spots in the gardens.

    Thanks for letting us see your lovely garden, Ro!

  8. What a pretty garden!

    I'm happy with your comment about it taking off after 20 years. I've invested 15 in mine, and it's still not quite there. Good to know I'm not behind schedule.

  9. OMG, I want that bed in a garden! My allergies would kill me but I'd die happily reading in such a beautiful place.

    Cathy AJ

  10. Karen,
    Thank you for the lavender tip. I've planted it, watched it grow then watched it die. OH YOU HAVE TO PRUNE IT.

    Although I garden, I do it grudgingly (execpt for my herbs) and I am so jealous of Ro and the rest of you who actually cummune with the plants.

  11. Absolutely gorbeous, Ro. I am envious. We live on a steep hillside in California, leading up to open space so perpetually full of deer, coyotes, snakes, foxes, jackrabbits, squirrels and lots of birds. The result is that only hardy herby things grow--oleanders, juniper, lavender, rosemary, and citrus trees. But my son is growing veggies in pots on my deck. he's not that great at remembering to water every day, so I have to sneak out and water occasionally, but I'm hoping for fresh tomatoes eventually.

  12. Rosemary, it's gorgeous!

    Like Jan I'm a little jealous of anyone who has the ability to commune with plants. The only thing I can commune with is grass. It's my one "growing" ability.

    In August I have to go camping with The Munchkin as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award. I've never camped in my life. All suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

  13. Gorgeous gorgeous garden, Ro -- My garden is all shade and it's lush with ferns and hostas and shrubs. In a few sunny spots we have easy perennials like black-eyed susans. I grow a few herbs in pots on the patio. It makes me feel so peaceful to be out there.

    A baby bunny has been grazing our grass, plus a gigantic turkey and racoons... amazing since we're one house away from a busy street.

  14. Peaceful..yes when I'm not driving myself nuts striving for perfection. I just chopped down a monster forsythia so I'll be obsessing about what to put there next.

    Linda,your property or neighboring? I have some restrictions because of wetlands but happily no one has told me what I can't plant.

  15. Gorgeous, Jan! And yes... shade, shade, shade, plus a little more, if anyone can spare it.

    My Scout has been creating a quail habitat in our tiny back yard. You would think we had no reason to imagine that any wild creatures would find their way to our tiny - I really mean that - our very tiny back yard. They do, though.

    Last week there was a bobcat in one of the trees. He graciously waited until I rolled back inside the house before revealing himself. So far this year, two bunny rabbits, 24 Gambel's quail, and more than a few lizards have been born out there. Beautiful birds come through on their way somewhere else. A king snake keeps the rattlers away.

    There is something very comforting about nature wanting to be there in our little yard. It isn't a manicured kind of beautiful. It has a certain attitude I try to embrace.

  16. Lovely, lovely gardens, Rosemary!

    Our garden [completely fenced in, much to the dismay of the deer] grows tomatoes, peppers, squash, rhubarb, baby leeks, onions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, strawberries, blueberries, and anything else we come across that sounds interesting.

    The flowers are just naturalized everywhere else: a special pink flower garden in memory of my mom . . . . Our other favorites include slews of daffodils, lilacs, roses, lily of the valley, pussy willows, azaleas, holly, and anything else that might capture our fancy. Every year we have pots overflowing with white petunias at the door . . . .

    Of course, since we live in the Pine Barrens, all of this is surrounded by wonderful trees, shrubs, and ferns indigenous to this ecosystem [which we do not try to reclaim]. Of course, it’s a continual work-in-progress, but one that brings us a great deal of enjoyment.

  17. Lovely garden, but i would call it your Land; it is so lush. I nurse my little collection of roses and geraniums. Not enough rain this year, and just a patio width of garden. But it gives me pleasure, just the same.

  18. Ro, it's my property, but KC has an ordinance--ANY plant over 10" tall that a neighbor dislikes (if it's not a tree 5' or more in height) can be cited, even roses, etc. My neighbor moved in and destroyed all the beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees on their own land so they could have nothing but grass. Then they turned unhappy eyes to my cottage-garden front yard. I had to go to court under threat of arrest and everything. I keep fighting, though. I told them, if they bulldozed my front yard as threatened, I'd cover the whole thing in concrete.

  19. Rosemary - I have wanted to see your garden forever! thank you for sharing it with us, it's as lovely as I had imagined.

    I love pretty gardens but I do not love to garden. Anything we have here that's pretty is because Donald has done it.

    We have a few acres on the edge of the wilderness so there's no one to tell us what we can or can't do. We have creek which we can listen to from the house, and a pond that we sometimes stock with rainbow trout. We have lots of trees, so we're mostly all shaded. Lots of hostas. The hostas love this cooler mountain air. Native rhododendrons and mountain laurel. And a fern bank cause there's an aquifer under there.

    One bed in front of the house has three huge peony plants. I love them more than I should. It's a mix of a lot of differnt stuff - three types of hosta and rhododendron. Some foxglove, purple coneflowers, stargazer lilies and calla lilies . It's our only bed.

    And we have one bank that has daylilies - including some pretty terrific ones we got from the inimitable Molly Weston's daylily farm.

    The rest is what we call "natural" which means it's waiting to be prettified. big sigh.

    If I ever win the lottery I'd love to hire a gardener.

    A gardener and a cook.

    We have several deer who sleep in our back yard, but they have never nibbled on anything. Not in 15 years. How strange is that?!

  20. Linda - your story breaks my heart! Since when do we need to comply with our NEIGHBOR'S wishes regarding our own yard concerning something as wonderful as flowers? Oh Laws, don't even get me started on this. Good for you for going to court and sticking to your guns.

  21. Linda,
    That' just awful. Glad you are standing your ground (pun intended in retrospect)

  22. Linda, that story needs to go in a book...

  23. Fabulous fabulous fabulous! Thank you so much for the tour...

    We live for our irrigation system..otherwise it would be a mess...! Hut the hydrangeas are out now..this year they have decided to be blue, last year they were pink. The echinacea and daisies are popping, and the astilbe is amazing. The roses are almost over..and we are battling the nasty litte reds bugs on the lilies.

    NO veggies...but herbs in pots..

    LOVE reading about this!

  24. Sorry Ro!!! Sorry Jan! I know who wrote this... .

    Linda... wait a minute. Let me Check. Yes, Linda. As I was saying... Linda! What is going on in KC? The rest of the country? You're kidding? No, of course you aren't. Court? Is this an HOA thing? No, you said city ordinance?

    Reminds me of the time when I was 9 or 10 and visited a friend in West Medway, Massachusetts. We were going to rollerskate to the store, but could not because we were wearing shorts. Women and girls (don't know about Men and boys) were not allowed to wear shorts or slacks in "downtown" West Medway. Rollerskating in dresses was not part of our vision af a fun day in town.

  25. I used to do some tomato, herb, and flower gardening in pots on my condo deck before my body began to rebel. A couple of years ago I attempted to start over, but had trouble trying to keep up with things. (Hard to lug a heavy watering can out to the deck.) I almost cried when a newer neighbor told me a few years ago that another neighbor told him that "Deb used to have such a pretty deck". I keep thinking that there are probably easy-care plants I could still do, if I took time to research it. The pots where the tomatoes used to live are now inhabited by some lovely weeds. Since they are over ten inches high, I think I'm lucky that I don't live next door to Linda's neighbors!

    What kind of people enacted that ridiculous ordinance? Your garden sounds so peaceful and relaxing. I'd love to live next door to something like that. I can't understand people who don't appreciate flowers and trees and shrubs. A few years ago I drove past the house where my late mother, a devoted gardener, used to live. The current owners pulled up EVERYTHING. The entire property is nothing but grass. Not a tree, shrub, bush, or flower remains. Around a year ago I ran into one of Mom's old neighbors. She was still upset about what the new owners have done. It used to so pretty, and now it's just barren. And THAT is what your neighbors would prefer, Linda? How sad! (And I can't figure out what that ordinance in KC is supposed to accomplish.)

    The Puritanism of the No Shorts thing kind of reminds me of an old law in CT, repealed only a few years ago, prohibiting men from kissing their wives on Sunday!

  26. Kaye, your garden sounds wonderful1 I don't like anything too manicures, although like makeup, sometimes it takes a lot of work to look like you haven't done anything.
    Deb, I do a fair number of perennials in pots so they are not as high maintenance as annuals - lamiums, ferns, lysimachia, clematis, yarrow and pieris all require little attention and they are the bones of the container gardenwhich I fill in with herbs, calibrachoa, mandeville, petunias and coleus. I don't put annuals in the ground as I hate the idea of having to yank them out in the fall!

    Linda, my neighbor (as I use that word lightly)cut down all of his trees and lives on the edge of his property line. Happily the woman who originally owned my entire neighborhood wrote into everyone's deeds that they couldn't build higher than 10 feet above the ridge line.
    Darlene, where are you going camping? We've scored two nights at a backcountry camp in Yosemite.

  27. Thanks for the tips, Rosemary. This calls for a trip to the neighborhood garden center!

    My happy news:My own personal copy of Slugfest arrived in the mail today! Now I can reread it whenever and as often as I want! My library's copy,which I read a while back,was donated by one of my neighbors. She, too, is a huge Paula fan!

  28. Yeah, this is my "stand your ground" thing. The lovely neighbors we had before lost their house to foreclosure after his pension was looted and he had heart surgery. These folks bought it and cut down everything (including a beautiful, healthy 100-year-old tree that predated the whole neighborhood). It's all bluegrass and chemical sprays. (Mine is organic.)

    Deb, I've put more things in pots as my physical strength has waned. I have big rain barrels at the front and back of the house. I fill my watering can from them and don't have to carry it far to water the pots. Ben has to do most of the hard physical stuff out in the garden now. Almost any perennial can go in a pot. Choose the low-care ones like yarrow, sedum, blackeyed susan, etc. and lots of herbsthat flower do well in pots, too. Peonies are one of my favorite plants. I've not tried them in pots yet, but they're pretty foolproof in the ground.