Wednesday, August 01, 2012

What to Do With "Wet"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mackerel sky, 57°, slight wind as Gail and Karl the Wonder Dog head out the back door for a second walk of the morning and the weatherman on the TV says thunderstorms by mid afternoon. There is a heaviness in the air this morning that confirms that something is on its way. The barometer is at 29.47 but is falling and I know by 3 PM it will be wet outside. We need rain badly and anything will be welcome but when we hope for rain we know that storms this time of summer can also bring wind and lightning. We'll see.

I was working in the lower daylily garden late yesterday afternoon trying to clean up the rows of still blooming daylilies and I noticed a couple walk down the hill and right into the hosta display garden. They looked like they were on a mission and I was too as I wanted to finish the day with the field completely deadheaded. It's cooler in this bottom spot and daylilies including Prairie Wildfire, Yellow Monster, Ruby Spider, Ann Warner, Atlanta Debutante, Tetrinas Daughter, Ruby Throat, Red Volunteer and Rooten Tooten Red continue to bloom. Some have only days left, others about a week and a half but they need to be kept clean as spent blooms only encourages tarnished bugs. I dumped another bucket of blossoms in the truck and headed over to the couple to see if I could help.

The two neophyte gardeners live in Florida but have a New England summer home that they arrive at in June each year. They had a drainage ditch installed between their property and the neighbors and it includes a berm of sorts. They were thinking that hostas would be nice to plant along the berm to provide a variety of contrasting greens, whites and yellows, heights and leaf textures. They saw a number of hostas they really liked and they inquired how we do business.

Gail and I often plan gardens for people but we don't always send folks home with the plants they came to purchase. Our goal is plants that will survive under the conditions but that's the tricky part--asking people to describe the conditions they want to plant in. In this case, the ditch runs water and even during a year like this one, the bottom of the ditch, although sometimes offering the appearance of being dry, is actually very wet. Although hostas thrive when planted under gutterless eaves of a house, they will not live if planted in standing or running water. The couple had recently purchased a single daylily at another garden center and planted it on the berm. In two weeks time the water began to cause overall yellowing, a sign that things were not good and perhaps daylilies were not the way to go.

I worked up a plan of topping the berm with several varieties of ligularia and rodgersia that I thought would provide some contrasting leaves and colors in the 3-5 foot height range with a row of mixed astilbes in front of them and then a row of Siberian irises further down the berm. My goal was to pick plants that by themselves would block the adjacent property including a nearby storage shed and at the same time live happily in a poor setting. The scapes of the bigger plants up top of the berm would bring July-August color after the Siberian iris welcomed the couple back from Florida in June and the astilbes brightened July and early August.

I thought through the planting and then laid out a row of pots in the middle walkway of the long shadehouse so the couple could get the idea. Then I ran the plan by Gail and she concurred that under the conditions of wetness, this would do the trick. Gail jumped in the cart and went to dig the irises as I got the other plants picked and loaded. By 5:30 the car was heading home and we were too.

Understanding your soil and sunlight situation is very important. Sometimes we want plants to grow in an area because we can visualize how nice it will look when mature. In contrast, if conditions are either wrong or cannot be modified to be successful, there's no use starting something that will probably be disappointing. In the end I think this couple understood this and went away with something that will work for them. When the Ligularia przewalskii throw up 5 foot scapes of light yellow flowers to contrast with the Rodgersia Elegans creamy scapes and Othello's vibrant yellow-orange flowers, I think the berm, as wet as it is, will provide a solution of a problem. The plants will be a success and will give the couple a better idea of how much sunlight they actually have and how plants react to the damp-to-wet soil. By next year we'll have better information about the soil and will know what else we might be able to add for color.

As you plan new gardens for yourselves or friends, take a good look at sunlight and soil. Understanding what plants need and what you have or can modify go a long way to better plantings.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the honey bees are flying and the ravens are reviewing this morning's additions to the compost pile. ......and I have to get to work!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

1 comment:

A1 Chandigarh said...

New gardens are lovely but there is just something about a garden that has see so much history. Old photographs, especially crisp black and whites tell so much with so little!
Thanks for the chance at adding a new book to my library...or I might have to give it to my SIL who has a wonderful gardening blog..Ahmedabad Flowers