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.


Annie in Austin said...

This plants-in-motion story was fun to read, Susan - and a good reminder that no matter what the label says, we're dealing with living things when we garden, so they can surprise us. I spent part of today moving things that were planted in the 'perfect spot' last year, which turned out not so perfect. So after reading your tale of trying to dig up the Esperanza, I'd better make sure my two young Tecoma plants are really in the right place.

In the past I've coaxed a few large perennials and shrubs to move by themselves. I would compost, feed, water and mulch only the preferred side. The shrub grew more on that side, and sentup the new shoots there, while I gradually pruned back the other side. It took a few years with a stononiferous shrub - I'm not sure whether your rose grows like this.


Susan said...

Annie -- I love that word: stononiferous. Does that mean growing horizontally? Google did not know.

I'd be more sure that the rose would grow in the direction where the blank space is if it got sun from that direction but it doesn't really. I have experience with plants growing out toward the sun but never with trying to coax a plant to grow sideways.

Have you ever transplanted a rose? Like I said in the post, this one has been in the ground about 18 months.

-- Susan

Annie in Austin said...

Stoloniferous!! Sorry about that, Susan. It might not be the exact term, but in the north many shrubs like Red-twig dogwood, clethra, forsythia, spiraeas, mockorange, hydrangeas, weigela, some lilacs and some old fashioned roses spread outward with new stems coming up from under the ground.

So you could sort of pry some shoots with their roots off to make a new shrub, [that's how a lot of shrubs become passalong plants] or encourage the shoots to come up where you wanted them, removing the ones you didn't want.

This could also work if your neighbor on the other side of the fence has a spreading plant that you like... sometimes all you have to do is water on your side of the fence and see what happens! Like moving the rails in front of a steam locomotive in an old Western, but very, very slowly.

Annie [no spelling guaranteed - no time to look them up!] I don't remember transplanting a big rose, but moved lots of small ones, some of them here. Mine were not expensive heirlooms.

Annie in Austin said...

Several hours later, Susan it occurs to me you might be joking about my blog name, which is the title of a song about a transplanted person - I seldom remember that it might refer to an actual plant!

Susan said...

Annie --

I wasn't actually thinking about the name of your blog when I asked the question. But it's kind of funny, I guess.

The rose is not some expensive heirloom, just a one-gallon $15 rose from the Rose Emporium (but bought at the Natural Gardener, as I recall). But it's about to bloom so I hate to dig it up now. And it just now looks established. What to do? I suppose I'll ponder for a while.

-- s

Annie in Austin said...

Susan, the Austin garden bloggers are trying to get together. Please send me an e mail if you're interested.

anndoubleu at hotmail dot com