Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Finally, some progress (I hope)

Last Sunday I finally decided to take some action in the garden. I puttered around for a bit, trimming here, pulling a weed here, before I got up the nerve to chop down the overstayed-its-welcome hypericum/St. John's Wort that was blocking my view (and air and sun) of the "Maggie" rose that I planted a year and a half ago or so.

I planted the hypericum in March 2003 at the base of an orange Tecoma stans (we always called it the orange bells). I was looking for something that would look good in the spring when the orange bells was just sticks waiting to sprout (the lightest freeze killed it down to the ground). Whatever I planted needed to be able to survive being smothered by the orange bells when it reached its full height and spread (about 10 feet by 8 feet) later in the summer. Someone at Barton Springs Nursery suggested the hypericum, supposedly a dwarf variety, or daylilies. I've never been a daylily kind of person so I went for the shrub.

For the first few years it didn't do much but by 2005 it had grown larger than I expected, maybe four feet tall and wide and had bloomed a bit. I loved the buds, tiny balls that opened into clear yellow flowers. Unfortunately there weren't many flowers and the plant suffered in July and August. It didn't die but it didn't look great either. That wasn't so bad when it was covered with the sprawling orange bells but . . .

In April 2005 I decided the orange bells had to go. Unlike its yellow sibling (or parent?) it didn't bloom profusely, most years not flowering until late July or August, sometimes even later. And, although the individual flowers were beautiful there just weren't enough of them. And the plant itself was so ungainly and huge. It blocked my view of the upstairs garden from the kitchen window and smothered everything around it.

After a trip to the Rose Emporium with a friend where we sniffed every rose that was blooming, I had my eye on a rose called "Maggie" that was beautiful and smelled wonderful. I came home and told my husband I'd decided to take the orange bells out and put in the rose and some other stuff.

Hah! We (mostly he) spent a week of evenings digging and hacking roots (some 4 or 5 inches across) and shoving the root ball back and forth trying to loosen it up. We talked about hiring someone with a stronger back and better tools but in the end we got it out of there. I dug in a bunch of compost and then went crazy planting what looked like an enormous space.

I checked my garden notebook on Sunday and saw that I planted the rose, a Mexican bush sage (one with solid purple blooms) that I'd had in a pot for a year or so while I tried to find a spot for it, a magenta salvia greggii, some purple and fuschia verbenas and some 4-inch cleome transplants. All in an area about 10 feet by 4 feet that was already home to the hypericum and a small agave as well as a zexmenia. And bordered by a hamelia patens (fire bush) that in April was also nothing but sticks and two clumps of freeze-pruned Mexican flame vine that always go out of control by mid-summer.

Even at the time I wondered if I was putting too much into the space and noted that I always underestimate the summer size of the hamelia. But, I wrote, the cleomes were annuals and the verbena would be easy to move. It's bound to be better than the orange bells, I wrote.

And that first year it was. The hamelia indeed got bigger than I remembered and it and the Mexican bush sage mingled together but that worked okay. The salvia bloomed and even the hypericum had a few more flowers than I remembered from the year before. The few blooms I got out of Maggie that first year were as beautiful as I hoped. The cleomes and verbena filled in the blank spaces while the other plants were growing. It was all a bit out of control but I generally like that kind of look.

But the changes we made to the house and the surrounding hardscape this spring changed my perspective, literally. That area of the garden is now viewed not only from my kitchen but also from the new sitting room. And the hypericum was at the most prominent point, right at the top of the reconfigured stairs coming up from the screened porch and the downstairs yard.

By August the bush sage had overwhelmed the rose, abetted by the rampant, twining growth of the flame vine. The hypericum and zexmenia (and the vine) had spurred each other on to ever greater heights, all intertwined and, in the case of the hypericum, browned by the summer heat. I kept pruning things back to try to give the rose some room but, in the end, something had to go.

Here's a (bad) picture of what it looked like before. You can see what a mess the whole area was and how it relates to the new porch.

So on Sunday I chopped the hypericum down. I still need to dig up the stump (I suspect it's one of those plants that will shoot back up, even from leafless, bare sticks) and, even though it looks a bit barren right now, I think in the long run it will be an improvement. I just have to resist the urge to fill up the space with whatever plants I have languishing in pots or some bargain I can't resist at the garden store.

My question now is whether to try to dig up the rose and move it over a foot or so, giving it some more breathing room from the bush sage. I've never tried to transplant a rose. I'm thinking maybe Maggie will sort of grow sideways to fill up the new vacant space, kind of like the bush sage does to stay out of the way of the hamelia.

I'm also thinking about digging up the agave (it suffered from years of being covered all summer by the orange bells; twice the crown of new stalks either rotted off or were eaten by something). I'll replace the agave with another slightly larger, more attractive agave I have in a pot. The magenta salvia has grown out over the edge of wall, pushed out of shape by the hypericum, but stilll blooming. I'll leave it and the flame vine even though the vine sends out tendrils that ensnare everything. But those orange flowers are hard to beat, especially spilling down over the wall.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Still pondering

I haven't been doing any gardening, beyond watering and trying to contain some plants that have gone out of control. The salvia leucantha, blooming beautifully, has overrun the Maggie rose, which is threatened from its other side by the disappointing hypericum (St. John's Wort, supposedly a dwarf variety that's at least four feet tall and has never done much but sprawl and turn brown in the summer if it isn't watered; I've only gotten a few measly flowers every spring — but such cool flowers; I love the way the buds start as little balls before they open). Cool flowers or not, I think it's history as soon as the zexmenia that has grown up through it stops blooming and I can chop the hypericum down without losing a bunch of flowers. Then I may need to move the rose, although if I move it much it won't get enough sun (and I've never tried to move a rose; possible or no?). Then there's the Mexican flame vine in the same area that has responded to water and cooler weather with rampant growth (and even some blooms on the section that gets more sun).

I love the flame vine's buds, opening like little claws, and I like the way the vine looks trailing down the wall but — kudzu-like — it overtakes anything in its path.

Then there's the whole downstairs yard, something of a disaster area at present. The arbor needs to be replaced (without destroying the overgrown wisteria) and something needs to be done to give the whole area some sense of purpose. It's such a mishmash of dead grass and empty pots and mud. Oy. I say. One bright spot is the eupatorium havenese (I think that's what it is; definitely some kind of mistflower but tall with white blooms) is covered in buds; some start opening this week.

It's a cool plant when it's blooming but it's really not well situated. It's so sprawly that I think it needs more space to look it's best. Something else to think about moving.

Another plant I need to deal with is the red yucca between the Old Blush rose and the Climbing Pinkie on the steel teepee.(You can see it in the picture behind and to the right of the pots, up against the fence.) It hasn't bloomed in a couple of years (not enough sun?) and I'm tired of it. I need to figure out what to put in there: something tallish but not too sprawling, something that looks good even when it's not blooming, maybe something with some interesting foliage rather than blooms? I put the yucca in there originally to give the whole area some structure instead of just sprawling randomness. Maybe something else along those lines.