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Monday, March 03, 2008

Down the Drive - Part 2

Designing a perennial border along a driveway seems easy at first. You have one border already established for you, the driveway itself. When I first began planting this garden I gave thought to light conditions but that's about it. I knew that some areas were very shady and other spots had more sun. That's the only thought I put into deciding on plant material.

What I learned after 2 years though is that conditions varied greatly depending on how close plants were to the hot stone border. This would also apply to a garden planted along a blacktop driveway but not so much to a garden along a concrete driveway.

In sunny areas the belgium block and gravel really heat up and wick any moisture away quickly. Plants that would thrive just a foot or two away from this border would crisp up and look awful right against the front edge.

Yet other plants would thrive in the excellent drainage and dry conditions against the stone and gravel. At the top is a photo of Verbascum 'Jackie' that lived for at least 4 years in one spot. As I understand it, 4 years is pretty long in the life of a Verbascum.

Daylily hybrids were prefectly happy with the conditions near or far from the stone and gravel but I don't really care for daylily foliage. While there are a few shorter varieties near the front, on the whole I have the daylilies set back in these gardens. Above is the cultivar 'Magic Carpet Ride' which is a strong grower here and has the most clear red color imaginable.

In early spring, the first big patches of color come from Euphorbia polychroma. This is a plant that has been in gardens for a very long time and yet every year we have visitors who have never seen this and must have a piece. I let my Euphorbia go to seed but never get enough seedlings from it to keep up with demand.

I'm so taken with this plant that I did a Plant Profile post on it when I first started blogging. You can click on Plant Profiles in the list of labels (on the right here) and scroll down. The last post is about this plant although I see now that research gave me the name Euphorbia epithymoides. Peeking in my trusty plant catalog here I see it listed both ways.

In late spring there are a number of different Iris cultivars in bloom. There are Iris Germanica, Iris Siberica and above is one of my Iris Ensatas although I don't have the name here at the computer today.

Another spring bloomer that I couldn't do without are my hardy Geraniums. This photo shows a Geranium sanguinium, it was a pass-along plant given to me so I have no cultivar name. Over the years I have added pieces of this geranium to every bed on this property and shared (and sold) many pieces to other gardeners.

While I could never pick out one favorite plant, I will say that I have a special feeling for the white Baptisia in the middle border. The first time I saw this plant was while lecturing in the South and I just had to have one of my own. I let it go to seed every year but have never yet found a seedling. Sometimes I wonder if I'm at the northern most zone for this lovely plant.

Penstemon 'Sour Grapes' was a 3 year beauty. At the time it disappeared I didn't know it was a short lived perennial and thought I had done something wrong. If I see this for sale again this year I will be sure to pick up a pot or two.

Hard to photograph (at least for me) but lovely in the garden is the dark purple (almost black) Aquilegia vulgaris (columbine). This too was a pass-along plant and I love it dearly. It self sows nicely, never too much but I don't have many people asking for a piece. One year I let it sow in an area that had been top dressed with tons of aged horse manure and it made an instant clump!
Unlike some other columbines that resented too much manure (just in my own experience) this variety really grew like crazy , I have the same result with Digitalis (fox gloves).

Throughout all my gardens are waves of Lychnis coronaria (the gray leaf in the background). I have both white and shocking pink. People usually assume it's Stachys (lambs ears) unless it's in bloom. I wouldn't be without them in my gardens as they make great cut flowers for informal bouquets. Another perennial that self sows around a bit is Campanula persicifolia 'Alba' (Peach leaf bell flower). The bunnies here like to nibble on this one, probably why I never have enough to share.

Here you can see a combination of hardy Geraniums (the cantabrigense varieties are just fantastic in this location) a Sedum 'Vera Jameson', the tip tops of Stachys (lambs ears) and in the back ground is Achillea (yarrow). I like to add lots of yarrow here because it invites a beneficial insect that eats thrips. For some reason, the yarrows haven't been hardy over the last few winters and I have to keep adding them.

I know that at one time I was worried that my yarrows were too aggressive and would take over so I don't really understand why they keep dying out now. Perhaps they prefer plainer soil?

Come summer time the huge clumps of Phlox burst into bloom. I'm still not sold on them, I either need to move them somewhere else or give them different companions but once they start blooming I don't have the heart to even touch them.

The waves of Liatris, coneflowers (both Echinacea and Rudbeckia) and daylilies during the July and August are just breathtaking in my opinion. It's funny though how opinions differ. We have a neighbor in a new house two doors away who is heavily into landscape. He drives his bobcat around his property pushing soil this way and that way and plants lots and lots of trees and shrubs.

A year after these neighbors moved in the wife made a comment that I must get very depressed in the winter when I see how dead my garden looks. I don't remember how I answered her but I've thought often that I should have just said that I'm a gardener, not a landscaper. I didn't design this garden to look beautiful year round, it's my idea of the perfect combination of a country/cottage/English perennial border.

That same year I had another woman stop her car out front while I was weeding. She told me that once a month she drives down our street to the old-age/assisted-living home up the road. Her grandmother is there and this woman stops in front of my garden and looks at what is blooming. Then she goes to visit her grandmother and tells her all the flowers she saw that day. When I told her she could bring her grandmother here she explained that her grandmother was blind now but the joy of hearing what was blooming in my garden made each visit special. I cried after she drove away, it's probably the best compliment I'll ever receive about my garden.

One last note, if you don't read the comments that other post, you are really missing out. On my last posting I incorrectly named the plant in the last photo. It should have been Heliopsis 'Summer's Night' and my thanks to Connie for catching that!

Off to head outdoors, we're supposed to reach 50 degrees today!


Pam/Digging said...

Gorgeous! I hope you were able to forgive your tactless neighbor's comment. What did our mothers tell us: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all? That goes double for neighbors. :-)

I love your euphorbia in bloom. I recently posted pics of my euphorbia (a different variety), and a reader told me how toxic the sap is supposed to be if it gets on your skin or in your eyes. Have you ever had any problem with yours, or do you do anything particular to protect yourself? I've moved mine around a couple of times without a care in the world and came to no harm, but now I'm wondering.

lintys said...

Melanie, your gardens are just breathtaking. I'm drooling!

kate said...

What a wonderful post this was to read. You have certainly achieved the style that you were going for. I love your choice of plants, especially the Baptisia (I have several blue, but not a white form), the Penstemon and the Euphorbia.

Gail said...


I loved this post and as I scrolled down and looked at each flower photo I just thought "beautiful", "great "idea", "oh, I never thought of that, "beautiful"...."


Connie said...

Beautiful plant choices! I will be adding the white Baptisia to my wish has the perfect cottage look.
That was a touching story about the grandmother who enjoyed hearing about your flowers. I think I would have cried, too.

jess said...

Thanks. Melanie! I'm salivating just looking at your photos. You're very creative and talented.

Concerning the "dead" look of winter -- I love how dried seed heads catch the snow and how ornamental grasses turn strawlike in the winter. I suppose there's no accounting for taste.

Frances, said...

I loved reading this post. Going along, enjoying the flower pics and their descriptions, the comments of neighbors and then got to the lady whose grandmother loved to hear about the flowers blooming in your space. What a wonderful comment, that you will always remember with much emotion.
Frances at Faire Garden

Anna said...

I'm crying too--what a wonderful story. Actually, I was already trying to get my throat to clear up before I read about the blind grandma. The thought and effort you put in to these post and educating us---is priceless. I am so emotional about my new gardens and eager to make them look very much like yours. I like to see my gardens sleeping and storing energy for the big shows of spring and summer. It's like things need to be quiet for awhile before it takes our breathe away again. I completely understand your style of gardening and love it.

Rosehaven Cottage said...

How touching that your garden is bringing joy to a woman that is now blind but can still envision your lovely blooms in her mind. I would have cried too!

I LOVE your Iris Ensatas!!!! I've never seen that variety before. I just love iris.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Love the phlox. Pink is so photogenic.

So much of gardening is trial and error isn't it? It would be so nice if perennials lasted forever and if flowers would bloom wherever we put them, but then gardening wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Lovely post.

Melanie said...

I love reading all your comments, thank you so much for taking the time to post them here. It's funny how everybody picks a different flower or photo, that's what makes a garden so wonderful, all the diversity.

There are so many beautiful flowers out there that I just have to get as many as possible to grow and bloom here. This year I have to make an effort to capture more of them on camera, there are many that I've never photographed such as Inula, Dracocephalum, Chelone, Cimicifuga and so many more.

Melanie said...

Oops, I forgot...Pam, I have no problem with the sap from my Euphorbia (same family and same sap as Poinsettias). I've read about that reaction though so I always warn people and I wear gloves just because it's so sticky.