It seems like yesterday. Well, actually it doesn’t. I’ve been gardening this plot now for twenty three years, and it’s grown up. There are beeches and hornbeams that have rocketed past forty feet, and wide spreading Japanese maples and flowering trees. Small shrubs have sprouted far above my head, and some areas are planted so thickly that it’s nearly impossible to push through the vegetation.
There was a time when I was impatient for the garden to grow. Though there was a swath of woodland bordering the southern property line, the remainder of the property was bare except for field grass from the farm that once occupied this land, and a patch of brambles in a small spring-fed wetland. I fertilized the first young plants with MiracleGro every week to give them a jump start, and whether this accomplished anything or not, I don’t know, but within a few years the garden began to look like a little something.
It’s been long enough that most of the details are long forgotten, but somehow the small wetland (that was damp enough to suck a boot off your foot) was leveled, and drainage from the spring was directed to a larger wetland at the back of the property. Sometime in those early years a garden shed was constructed just above the origin of the spring, but the back three quarters of the property was left open for football and baseball while the kids were young.
After ten years the front and upper portion of the rear garden nearest the house had begun to grow up, and by now the kids were weary of tossing the ball with dad. So, work was started on the back garden, and suddenly, here we are. There’s practically no space remaining to plant in, though that hasn’t seemed to stop me. Every year plants are purchased and shoehorned in, though I’m now convinced that my wife is at least partially correct. There is no more space for planting trees, but I can’t foresee that I’ll stop planting smaller somethings for at least another decade or two.
Along the way there have been plenty of mistakes made, but there have been more triumphs. I’d be mistaken to say I wouldn’t change a thing, but I have barely any regrets. I’ll say that it would have been wiser to pay attention to my instincts and not plant bamboo and wisteria that were painful and labor intensive to remove, and I’ve probably wasted a small fortune on plants that weren’t cold hardy enough, but I just had to try to see if there was even the slightest chance for their survival.
Some plants have come and gone, and some are back again. I planted evergreen azaleas from the beginning, then was discouraged by lacebugs and poorly drained clay so that most declined in health and were removed. I was content without them, but then began to plant more azaleas when the spring and autumn repeat blooming Encore azaleas were introduced. I was determined to test the Encores to see if they could survive, and if they would dependably rebloom. I found that they were as good as advertised, with increased cold hardiness and a surprise resistance to the lacebugs that had plagued the old favorites that I’d planted and discarded.
A few common, and supposedly tough as nails plants have never survived under my care. I suppose the fault is mine, but I’ve not been successful with Moonbeam tickseed, coneflowers, or Blackeyed Susans, though for a few years the rudbeckias seeded with abandon. Most of these troubles I will blame on shade that has rapidly encroached as the numerous trees I planted grew and spread. And then, the back third of the rear garden is almost constantly damp, and it takes a while to figure out plants that will tolerate almost constant wetness if you’re not willing to settle only for wetland plants.
Some, or maybe most of the blame for failures is probably on me. I readily admit that I buy first, plan later. I’m paid to do this for a living, and of course I should know better, but most everything works out for the best, so it’s difficult to change your ways when there are many more successes than failures. I’m willing to suffer the occasional lost plant, or plants that slowly fade as full sun turns to mostly shade.
I have constructed five ponds in the garden, and another wet weather pond that holds storm water runoff from neighboring properties before it reaches the wetland. The original pond that I built has been redone four or five times, but once I settled on a low maintenance formula the other ponds went in without a hitch. The largest of the ponds is nearly fifteen hundred square feet, and it was was dug deep enough that occasionally I’ll float around in it on a hot summer afternoon.
For a few years I battled a persistent heron that cleaned out koi and goldfish from the smaller ponds, so now all the fish are in the deep swimming pond. I began with ten of the the least expensive koi that I could find, and now that there are fifty or a hundred (who can count?) I’m certain there are no prize winners, but there’s an amazing diversity of color and patterns, and I can’t imagine rambling through the garden without a visit to feed the ever hungry fish.
I’m a landscaper and a gardener, not a scientist (like our son), and haven’t a clue if the ever warmer summers and winters are a long term trend or a short term anomaly. Part of me would prefer to live in a warmer zone, but I know there are severe ramifications if temperatures don’t trend back to the norm. I could move south, but I’ve moved before, and though it was quite a while ago, I determined at the time that this would be my last home, and my last garden. Now that it’s up to speed, I’m content to sit back and enjoy.