By Maureen O’Connell
In several of my columns this spring, I talked about the effects of our past, harsh winter on our gardens. Mine suffered many losses and damages, but some of the plants and shrubs struggled through to face another summer, if in a diminished state. The Phoenix lived—but with his feathers quite clipped.
It is now early August and what is the State of My Garden? Well, rather than throwing in the proverbial towel, I decided to make some garden design changes. Whether you believe in climate change or not, many of the plants that I have grown for many years are now struggling to deal with our summer’s heat and drought conditions. The six, new hybrid tea roses I planted in the spring (against my better judgement) did not survive the heat and my no-spray program. By the time I got back from London three weeks ago, they were covered in Japanese beetles and blackspot and were seriously dehydrated. I cut them back to the ground. Most of the tender perennials and annuals that I so lovingly planted in May gave up the ghost. I was particularly disappointed with my six White Flower Farm dahlias. I ordered them in March and received them at the proper time for our planting zone. If you recall, our spring was wet and chilly. Three of the dahlia tubers rotted in the ground, but I had hope for the other three. I lovingly pampered them, but I did not spray them with any insecticides or fungicides. Last week, they were about two feet tall and they needed to be staked, which I did. To my horror, when I checked them the next day, they had all wilted overnight, probably from a virus infection, their nascent buds, so close to blooming, hung their heads low, never to emerge in a rainbow of bright, luscious colors. What was left? The plants that thrived in the survival-of-the-fittest category were plants of the Mediterranean.
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.”
Those of us of a certain age might remember these opening words of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 hit cover of an old ballad, “Scarborough Fair.” The song is taken from an 1889 English canticle describing the virtues imbued in these herbs. I will throw into that mix my favorite herb lavender. My point in this digression is to show how these five Mediterranean herbs have filled the gaps in my garden. As you have probably surmised by now, 2014 has not been kind to my gardens. I will admit that part of the problem stems from my new policy of not using chemical insecticides and fungicides. You can try all the home remedies, but with our climatic conditions, it is impossible to grow most roses and many perennials without the help of chemicals, but, as we all know, the environment pays a price for our longing for Camelot’s Garden.
In the lower part of my garden, I have a small, rectangular plot that used to be home to six old roses. They were victims of the winter and the increasing shade from six very old and tall white pine trees. What should I plant there; roses were not an option. It became my new herb bed; with just the right amount of shade and sun, it was ideal. I love delphiniums, but I never had great luck with them. They flourish in England, but we don’t have their climate. They might grow here for a short time, but soon the heat wilts them, so my new herb garden could also be home, for a short time, for six delphiniums. They were a beautifully-azure blue for about three weeks and then they were gone. I cut them back to the ground; I recently noticed that they are setting out new signs of growth to hopefully rebloom in the fall. Around the delphiniums, I planted flat-leaf and curly parsley, three varieties of sage, rosemary, thyme, dill, cilantro, and chives.
The rose gardens were not the only areas that were left with gaping holes. What to plant to fill the gaps? Here again I looked to herbs. In my travels visiting gardens, I have noticed the trend of inter-planting herbs with flowering plants. If you choose the right ones, they are resilient with colorful and different foliage and flowers with the added bonus of providing fresh herbs for cooking. I have planted amongst my flower beds basil and lavender. I cannot say enough about the wonders of lovely lavender. Many people grow it for its fragrance, but it is also a very reliable garden plant for summer and fall with its resistance to deer, heat, and drought. Plant them in masses for a spectacular look or scatter them amongst other flowering plants. Even when they are not in bloom, their cool, gray-green foliage adds a dramatic punctuation mark.
Who else survived in my garden? This year my garden phoenixes are: Rosa rugosa, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ Echinacea (cone flower) ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and ‘Fragrant Angel,’ lilies ‘Casa Blanca’ and ‘ Stargazer,’ Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm,’ salvia ‘East Friesland,’ and Heuchera (coral bells), especially ‘Georgia Peach.
Everyone might have their own successes or failures in their gardens this year. My experiences with my gardens these past few years have changed or refocused my direction in what to grow and how to handle the challenges of gardening in our area.
Odds and Ends. I have seven Buddleia (butterfly bushes) in my gardens. For years, they have always been covered with butterflies, especially the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. This year, I have seen, at the most, two butterflies on the bushes. Has anyone else observed this decline in the number of butterflies on plants?