Gardening With What You Have

It's All About Perspective: A Gardeners Journey

Christine Froehlich 04/19/2020 Comments



Like it or not, gardening teaches us about patience and faith. Both are being sorely tried these days. We don't know when life is going to return to normal or if it's going to be better or worse  when the pandemic we're going through is over. As with gardening, we just have to hang on, wait for the plants to grow and have faith that they'll survive.


Several old photographs of the front garden brought this home to me. Each image was a reminder of  the joys and frustration I felt while I was going through the process of creating it. It seemed like it took forever! I often felt like giving up. I remember thinking it would never look the way I wanted it to. It's taken me 15 years to get it to where it is now and honestly, I'm still not finished.


All a good reminder that perspective is everything. 


At the beginning of this adventure, my husband Phil and I were a lot younger! This photograph was taken 17 years ago. The cat is no longer with us. I still think of her every time I open a can of tuna fish.


The beginning: The front of the house looks pretty bare. Lacking any better ideas, I put this bench  here.

phil and chris


Pretty boring right?  I tried to doll it up with a few containers. Looks like a waiting room.


early garden


The first project: At Phil's suggestion, we turned our rectangular patch of lawn into a cottage garden. The down home look suited us at first, but tracking mulch into the house with the flowers and vegetables got a little old. I got tired of constantly weeding it and both of us thought it looked a little too funky for the front entrance. And it was really bare in the winter.



The view toward the street made me cringe. I wanted to get rid of that ugly cement walkway, but taking it out seemed like a formidable (and expensive) task. 


cement path


The garden definitely needed structure, but most of the woody plants I tried couldn't withstand the  conditions - bone dry soil and harsh winter winds. 


Building structure: We installed a better walkway around year 3. Phil gave me a load of bluestone as a birthday gift and spent the summer building two intersecting paths. That made it much easier to plant. Instead of a wide open space I had 4 equally sized beds to play with.


bluestone path


 When he stopped the walkway at this patch of grass, I thought it looked too abrupt. Moving the furniture to mow that tiny patch of lawn or sitting in the hot sun wasn't my idea of a good time. I campaigned for a patio and pergola, Phil wanted to build a greenhouse. We went back and forth about this all summer. As a temporary measure (and to strengthen my case), I put up this tent so we could see what it would feel like to have some shelter there. I fought the rest of the battle with wine, cheese and crackers at the end of the day.


early garden


By the end of the summer, Phil was sold on the idea too. We ordered more stone and he began working on the patio and pergola.




I got busy planting shrubs to make it more private.



My daughter Emily came by to help me plant.

bill and phil
Phil and my brother-in-law Bill agreed that it was a good place to sit.


This is what it looked like when the shrubs started growing in. That's ninebark (Physocarpus 'Diablo' and 'Coppertina') in the background. The planted urn became a water feature later - another birthday gift.





Here it is in it's infancy. 




Over a few years, it morphed into this. Frogs moved in. This fall I replaced the nepeta (bottom of photo) with miniature hostas and solomon seals I wanted to experiment with. 




Tweaking the plants: This took years - during which I killed a lot of plants. The first edging I planted was a big mistake. I wanted something that looked like lavender, so I planted Nepeta 'Blue Wonder.' It grew much fatter and happier than I thought it would.  After spending my summer pruning it off the walkway, I had to rethink that choice.




I had a fantasy about boxwood edging, but figured it probably wouldn't survive. By chance, I experimented with a variety called 'North Star.' and it turned out to be perfect fit for this tough spot. It lends form to the garden, especially in winter. You can read more about it here


boxwood north star


Once I had the structure of the walkway, pergola and edging in place, it was much easier to narrow down the rest of the plants. Given the soil conditions, I was forced to choose perennials and shrubs that could survive without much watering. I managed to come up with some pretty good combinations in spite of that. You can read more about them in this post


alium combo
Sedum 'Purple Emperor,' Eryngium planum, Alium sphaerocaphalon and Nepeta 'Blue Wonder'


This is around year 10. See that comfy lawn furniture? I wanted time to sit on it. That's when I quit relying on flowers for flash. I still have some, but over the past 5 years I've added a variety of small deciduous shrubs that cover space I used to weed. As you can see, I got a little carried away with gold foliage. These are indestructible little specimens - read more about them here.


front garden


Now: It's odd to look back and remember how impatient I felt. While I was waiting, it seemed to take forever for those shrubs behind the urn to get big - now I fight to keep them under control! I can't even tell you how many vines bit the dust while I was trying to get them to grow up the pergola. Now they want to overtake the whole structure. Some plants die for no apparant reason, others defy all logic and flourish anyway. 


entrance garden


Not knowing how everything is going to turn out is part of the magic of gardening. And for me, that's a comforting thought.













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