Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Times of the Thyme Garden

(Photo taken April 17, 2006)

Trying to design gardens for our 1.3+ acre lot was quite a challenge for me. At first I treated this place like a farm, planting things in rows out in the backyard. Rows were easy but not very pretty. Still, I liked sitting in the middle of those rows and imagining I was on my own mini-farm.

Over the years, as I toured gardens in other states, I tried hard to pay attention to how people managed larger plots of land. The books I read kept talking about "garden rooms" but our property felt like one big room, kind of like a convention hall, all blah and no oomph.

During a tour out west (well, everything is west, even if it's north west or south west), I saw a cool feature. It was a garden that was shaped like a square, set in a large expanse of lawn. While the outside perimeter was a square, the inside path was a circle. I was hooked. When I came home I looked at the 25' X 25' area I had planted in rows and decided to start all over. Thus began the Thyme Garden.

(May 2, 2006)

Once a year I designed a children's garden for the annual flower and garden show at Hofstra Arboretum (on the campus of Hofstra University). This flower show had lots of potential but fizzled out due to lack of advertisement. After the first year I learned that many props were thrown out so I began to take things home rather than toss them in a dumpster.

That year my garden design was a life sized board game for the children to play on. I brought home the stepping stones which my daughters had painted for the show, they are featured in a past post here. We also had a hopscotch board but instead of standard numbers, we painted clock faces with the time 1:00 through 8:00. They now form one of the entrances to the thyme garden.(May 17, 2006)

The circle in the center of the garden is lined with Sedum 'Matrona' and Sedum telephaeum 'Ruprectii'. I started them all from cuttings and in one year we had a nice formal border from them.

Lots of containers went in the back corner. Unfortunately I left those containers out this winter so I hope they're still in one piece come spring.

Another corner in the thyme garden has a large planting of Lysimachia clethroides (Goose neck loose strife). These concrete blocks were found on our property and I'm using them as a barrier to keep the Lysimachia in place (ok, who's snickering out there?).

This beautiful black iron gate was given to me by my friends Gianna and Richard, they live up the road from me and I've written about their many wonderful garden gifts in other postings. I still get a thrill walking through that charming gate. It is the beginning of our garden board game.

Finding the right material to cover our walkway was a tough one. I had seen a walkway of crushed shells out at the Peconic river herb farm on Eastern Long Island. My mom gathered shells for me for two years before the circle was fully covered. Today if you went out there you'd hardly find one shell now, they need to be constantly refreshed with a new layer or dirt and debris quickly cover them up again.

This is a bad shot of my daughter Emily who was getting paid that day to cut back the Sedum, I think that after that day she decided to be poor instead.

This photo was taken in 2004, the first year of the Thyme garden. Back then the stepping stones were newly installed and they were mulched with straight horse manure. I actually think this looks nicer than the Sedum acre that has now over-run that area.

Here's a photo of the hop-scotch entrance right after a fresh layer of seashells were put down. That arbor is no longer there as the grape vines were too vigorous and kept pulling it down.

This final shot is taken of the fall plant material in that garden. Funny thing, I don't remember that Butterfly bush at all and I know it's not there today...hmmm...must have been a "plants on wheels" day.

The sad news is this garden is really struggling now. My neighbor has let her yard run wild and there are now 5 black Walnut trees just on the other side of the fence. Most of the plants in this garden are succumbing to the poison emitted by those awful trees. I really have to trial lots of plants to see what will grow there now. Even the daylilies and the Valerian are struggling just to stay alive.

These photos aren't eye candy, those will come soon.


Frances, said...

Melanie, I really enjoyed your walk down memory lane of this garden. Seeing roses and black eyed susans blooming during these cold cycle hills and valleys give us a boost of warmth with the thoughts of what is to come. Good work using rather than tossing things. Do you always hopscotch on the clock faces as you enter the thyme patch? ;->

Frances at Faire Garden

lintys said...

I feel your pain, struggling to find plants that will grow there now in the wake of the black walnuts.

I have similar issues in my shade garden. The cause is different - shallow maple roots, but it's still frustrating. I've never lost so many plants as I have since living here. It's enough to give a (previously) green-thumb gardener nightmares.

jodi said...

This is a marvelous post, Melanie, with a great series of photos showing the progression of your garden. I want it in my back yard! But you can keep your neighbour's black walnuts as they're toxic to horses. I didn't realize just how much of a plant inhibitor they can be to others...I'll have to look into finding some plants that aren't so affected by them for you, because now I"m really curious. And I love the clock stepping stones!

Gail said...


You have wonderful flower vignettes.

I love visiting your garden.


Lisa @ Little Acorn said...

Your garden is just so lovely I couldn't not comment! Now that the walnuts are there it will never be the same, but I know with your intelligence and creativity that you'll find a way to make it healthy and beautiful.

GardenJoy4Me said...

melanie .. really enjoyed that tour as well. i love the terra cotta pots 9they can be "iffy" when left outside .. I actually cleaned mine out and carefully lined them with newspaper .. believe me . doing that, was a miracle for me to do ! LOL
The gate ... wow ... I would love that too !
I love gooseneck loosestrife .. people can snicker all they want .. i am not a plant snob !
I actually found the "burgundy" cultivar and fell in love with it .. gray,blue green leaves and deep burgundy flowers .. here is a link ?
if you haven't seen it before.
Love the post .. a reprieve from this crappy weather !

lin said...

Your garden is full of fun it! I don't have as large of property (only about 2/3 of an acre) but I've been thinking of adding a hopscotch...yours with the clock faces is great!

Marie said...

Beautiful post :)

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) said...

I like your clever clock walk in the "Thyme/Time" garden. I see what you mean about the shells.

I think you did an amazing job of transforming the space. I'm struggling with the same issue myself because enclosing a space seems wrong in this land of wide open space.

Someday I'll learn the lesson, I suspect.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I love the clocks. I think I may copy cat you.

Melanie said...

Frances, let's just say I hopscotch occasionally :-)

lintys, it's so hard to deal with something that's killing my plants. I've been growing in this spot for 12 years and now it looks so sad.

Jodi, some of the list of tolerant plants includes daylilies but that's not the case here in my garden. I do think lamb's ears, echinacea and eupatorium rugosum are still thriving there.

Thanks Gail, I love having visitors!

Lisa, I know it's going to be lots of work but I really want to get this garden back into shape this year.

Joy, I've always taken care of those pots before, I've got my fingers crossed right now!

lin and MSinclair Stevens, those clocks still make me smile :-)

Marie, thanks for visiting!

Pam/Digging said...

What a neat garden, including those delightful clock stepping stones. I'm sorry to hear that it has declined, but a garden is always in a state of flux, isn't it?

Anna said...

Isn't that lovely? My oh MY...I'm drooling. I have an oak tree that gobbled up all the moisture and nutrients in part of my garden. It also has very acidic acorns and leaves--so I gave up on that area. The new land had some--but not anymore:) I laughed at your goldilocks containment efforts--yea right. I will not let that near my new gardens. It's beautiful but loves NC. What is it in the walnut trees that is killing the plants? My husband has walnuts outside his office and the only thing growing there is nandinas. He has to park his truck in the back when the walnuts start falling--lol.

I can see how you feel overwhelmed at the moment.But when you get a new plan--it will be even more grand than before. Funny too how we forget about plants from days gone by---I look back at some pics of mine and see a plant I don't remember either.

Hoot Owl Hollow Nursery said...

We have a large black walnut as the center of one of our hosta gardens. They don't seem to have any problem with the tree. We also have lots of bulbs interplanted there for spring. Adjacent beds which are surely in the root zone have Ilex decidua, Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', Abeliophyllum distichum, Aucuba, some small maples, and assorted ferns, hellebores, solomon seal, eomecon, Begonia evansiana, tiarellas, and bleeding hearts. All have been there a dozen years
and are doing great.

Melanie said...

Aunt Debbi, those clocks were easy to make. Just plain concrete stepping stones, paint and a ruler. I didn't worry too much about making them perfect, it's part of the charm (in my opinion).

Pam, flux is a good thing, I hope my gardens will be fluxing up this year as last year they really fluxed down :-)

Anna, walnut trees emit something called jugulone that makes the soil bad for many other plants but suitable for more walnuts to grow. Of course there's much more scientific things behind this but I don't write scientifically (no fun for me).

Jane! How nice to see you here :-)
Thanks for the list of plants that do well for you under walnuts. These trees are directly north of my garden so the garden actually gets full sun. They must also be thirsty trees because this soil is always the driest here in my yard. I like the idea of bulbs and I should be able to try some bleeding hearts there. Even the Mondarda I have there isn't taking over like it does out front in the daylily beds.

Kathryn said...

Hi, Melanie, I just came through the Blotanical door so I think I booted you up to #1. Why not?? Your turn.:)
I'm glad I did. What a lovely blog, great photos, good stories. I didn't know about walnut being a pain, either. I have one in my back yard and I am noticing a tree just adjacent not that happy...hmmm. Must check into that. Thanks for all the good info. You are a great resource!

Hoot Owl Hollow Nursery said...

As I was doing some spring cleanup on a very nice afternoon (under the walnut tree) I got to thinking that maybe part of the problem might have been the shells. A lot of plants that prefer an acid soil might be really offended by the basic soil that would be created by the shells, especially since you said they had disappeared into the soil. Just a thought.