Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Perennial Garden

            Just ten feet or so past the first wildflower garden are my perennial flower/rose garden and another wildflower garden, separated by a trellis.  When I look out the kitchen window, this section is in full view.  The wildflowers to the left of the trellis and the roses/perennials to the right.  It’s just about in the middle of the backyard, bordering the cement patio where we sit in the summer. 

            The wildflower bed is basically only sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias.  (With a few other random plants thrown in.)  These plants are so worth it that I had to have a second bed of them.  Nestled in the middle of this bed is a birdhouse that I got from my mom.  It’s perched on a post alongside a real horse’s saddle.  It’s a little bit of country in the middle of my yard.  And it looks wonderful covered in snow. 
            But it’s the perennials and roses that I want to talk about now.  This bed is my more permanent bed.  Once I get it looking the way that I want, I won’t really have to add to it every year.  I’ll just have to maintain it.
            These roses are not the old-fashioned kind.  They are newer shrubs, but they are still just as beautiful.  Bonica, Blush Knockout, Double Pink Knockout, Music Box (a really neat yellow one that develops pink edges), Cinco de Mayo, Kiss Me (smells good, and as a cut flower, it’s the longest lasting one of the bunch), Easy Does It (a beautiful sunset-colored one), Gene Boerner, Queen Elizabeth, Iceberg, and another Rose de Rescht. 
            (As you can tell, I am a bit of a “proper name” freak.  I love knowing the proper names of my plants.  I love calling them by name.  I think paying attention to details adds depth to life.  It takes life from two-dimensional black-and-white to three-dimensional color.  And when you know them by name, the plants almost become friends.  They take on more character, and you care for them on a deeper level.  It’s just one more aspect of gardening that I love.)
            I also have a pale pink New Dawn climbing up the trellis, and another one climbing along the fence that runs through the flower bed.  I nearly tore these New Dawns out the second year I had them because I thought the bases were rotting away with some disease.  It turns out that since I buried them deeply, it was just that the hard outside of the stems were sloughing off and becoming more like roots again.  I am so thankful that I figured that out before I ripped them out.  However, I had already chopped them way back in my anger, but they survived just fine and are growing well.  (Thank You, Lord!)
            I used to have a Queen Mary II in this bed (a gorgeous, white, beautiful-smelling rose) but the Japanese Beetles loved this rose more than any other.  And I barely got to see one bloom on it for two years because they covered every inch of every bud and stripped the bush bare.  I would go out every day and kill 20-30 of these beetles.  Every day!  And yet they still came.
            And so I had a choice to make.  I could either keep putting out a buffet every year for these awful, greedy, prolific beetles, or I could sacrifice the beautiful, expensive rose bush I just bought for the good of the other plants.  And so I tore it out and threw it away.  There was no point in having it anyway if I never got to enjoy a blossom on it.  It broke my heart, but I had to be ruthless for the good of the whole garden.  (And I treated the rose bed with Milky Spore Powder to kill the beetle grubs.  It’s a “natural” product, but the warnings are still terrifying.)     
            Mixed in with the roses are my perennial flowers.  There are peonies, purple salvias, tiny speedwells, pink Japanese anemones (whose foliage alone is worth the plant), lavenders, thyme, lemon thyme, onion chives, coral bells, irises, bleeding hearts, daisies, a hydrangea, and two purple butterfly bushes. 
            The butterfly bushes are very large shrubs, but they are definitely worth the space.  The butterflies and hummingbirds love them.  And they are graceful looking and add a lot of dimension.  (You just have to cut them way back every year.  For fun last year, I took all the cuttings and tied them together to make a rustic-looking birdhouse.  We’ll see if anything moves in this year.) 
            Now that my plants are in (and it’s filled to the gills), I’ve been watching to see how the garden likes this arrangement.  The thing about gardens is that they will tell you when they don’t like something, when you need to change something or move a plant.  I’ve found tiny speedwells overshadowed by the roses, and I had to move them over to a sunnier spot.  I’ve had to dig up and move daisies that were spreading too much.  I moved Angel Face to the wildflower bed when I saw that it was pouting in the spot it was in.  And I had to take out a third butterfly bush because it was shadowing a rose too much.  (Unfortunately, the butterfly bush did not survive my attempts to replant it.)
            Initially, I was thinking that the best part about having a perennial garden was being able to put the plants in and leave them alone, to let them keep doing the same thing every year.  And I think the hardest part for me (someone who likes to have clearly written plans) about having a perennial garden is finding out that it’s not as permanent as I thought it was going to be.  It’s hard to lose plants (my pinks and scabiosas and some early roses) that I carefully picked out and planned on having around for a long time.  It triggers my feelings of despair and being a failure.  And it’s hard to get in there and make the changes that need to get made.  To break the roots of the plants I need to move, to destroy ones that just have to go, and to cut back the ones that are spreading too much.    
            You have to really commit to a perennial garden - to diligently monitor and maintain it and to lovingly care for it - because you can’t just start over fresh every year.  (It’s a good thing that I love garden work.)  You have to provide the right conditions for it, be on guard for it, and take care of the problems.  You have to listen when it’s crying out for help.  And you have to make the necessary, hard changes that will help it thrive more.  Sure, moving a plant might set it back at first, but it will thank you for it later.
            But once you have really invested in the garden – once you know your plants by name and have watched them grow and have learned to enjoy caring for them – you want to do the best you can for them.  Once you’ve experienced their beauty, you want to do whatever it takes to draw out that out more.  Because the rewards are tremendous! 
            Having a perennial flower and rose garden is a lot like developing a friendship or maintaining a relationship with others.  And with God.  You have to be willing to pour yourself into it, to put your heart on line, to give it your best time and effort, to expect and work through difficulties, and to work for the good of the other.  Because this is what will produce the best-looking, healthiest garden (relationship) possible. 
            And as I stand at my window looking out at the delicate pink roses, the happy white daisies, the insanely adorable chickadees, and the graceful butterflies, I have to say that it’s worth all the time, effort, tears, and sweat that I put into it.  Because it’s going to be with me and be a blessing to me for a long time!