Monday, June 19, 2017

My shade garden

Late yesterday afternoon, as I walked past my front door, I saw a baby bird through the sidelight.  It hopped up onto one of the chairs on my front porch, and then fluttered hither and yon, awkwardly, behind the yew and under the porch ceiling.  It had a funny, long, straight tailfeather, like a skinny popsicle stick, jutting out behind itself at an angle.

I didn't run for my camera.  I just stood still and watched the funny, fat little bird.  My impression is that he had white spots on his back, like a fawn, but this may be the poetic license of a hazy memory.  As he darted back and forth between the potted begonias, the hanging ferns, and the porch furniture, I realized that there were two of them.  Indeed, at one point the two tiny birds perched across from one another, right at the edge of my front step.  Then one, perhaps the first one, took off for a low branch in the nearby maple tree, whizzing his little wings heroically as he made his way back to shelter and safety.  The other soon followed, bumbling his directions, but set on gaining shady protection along with his brother.  My heart cheered for him silently as he disappeared among the leaves.

It's been so very dry for the past three weeks.  After our early May travel escapades, Shawn and I spent some time at home.  He bought a little rototiller, and we installed a collection of plants in the lower terrace behind our garage.


We worked on the upper terrace last year, and salvaged some of what had already been there.  The lower terrace was a total overhaul, absolutely nothing to save.  I guess at some point, we'll have to go back and remulch the upper tier to match.  But for now, it is so much better, so exponentially better than it has been ever since we moved here, that I cannot feel too worried about the two-toned mulch.  We've added stepping stones, because it is nearly impossible to tend a garden you can't access.  I loved my upper path--we laid it out according to where my feet fell as I walked through.  My lower path is even cuter, if not quite as ergonomically designed for my paces.

I did a project, and photographed the gardens from the same vantage point, every hour on the half hour through the day, to gauge how much sun exposure there is.  (I will not bore you with those pictures!)  Nothing gets more than 3 hours of sun back here, but the hydrangeas that we planted last year get three hours from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. which wilts them every day over lunch.  I am at my wits end concerning what to do about this.  Nothing but a hydrangea could withstand so much shade, but even three hours of sun is offensive to them.  They will simply have to toughen up.  Apparently, I am not helping them toughen up, as routinely, when I see them withering on the ground, I run back to turn a sprinkler on them until the hot sun passes.  Training spoiled plants; yes, that's me.

Earlier in the season, we saw some beauty in the upper terrace:

This is lungwort.  A neighbor gave it to me, dug some out of her garden.  It is interesting because its flowers come out in both purple and pink. Two-toned leaf, two-toned flower.

The same neighbor gave me this lavender columbine.  It delighted me; I had no idea it would be so pretty.

This is an earlier columbine.  We planted it last fall and waited until this spring to see what the flowers look like, thankful that it bloomed early.  The other columbine we planted last fall was smashed in our roofing job, just before the blossoms opened.

This is another plant we put into the top terrace last summer.  The pink flowers were a precious surprise this April.  It's called ajuga.

Those flowers are all past now, but my astilbe has burst forth--

I just adore pink flowers.  Last year, I was a stickler for planting nothing but pink (well, and blue hydrangeas).  This year I got undisciplined with the colors, I'm afraid.

I bought this for the lower terrace, before the lower terrace was prepared.  This is quite a magnification; it's actually a tiny flower at the top of a stalk.  This is a second bloom I was able to garner by an early deadheading of the original bloom.

I bought this plant after doing a great deal of research on plants that thrive in shade.  It is called Jacob's Ladder, because it has a ladder-like leaf structure (the technical term is pinnate, I believe).  For some reason, I had this perennial mixed up in my head with one called Jupiter's Beard.  I kept reading about Jupiter's Beard, and everything suggested that it liked full sun.  Since I was looking for shade plants, I was confused as to why this was on my list.   At one point, I did a Google image search to try to figure out exactly which plant I was looking for, but in the search bar, I typed, "Jacob's Beard."  Imagine Shawn's chagrin when he stopped by to see what I was doing, and discovered me peering in horror at a computer screen filled with hairy men's faces.  Anyway.  It's Jacob's Ladder.  It's nice.  It's also in the upper terrace, because I stuck it in the ground to wait until the lower terrace was prepared, and there it has remained.

We've had such dry weather, I've been having to water.  I should deep water, but I've been using the sprinkler.

Here you can see the spray of water, which is so gorgeous to watch in real life, sparkling and flying every which way before falling in nourishing, life-giving drops to the ground.

Because it has been so dry, all the little creatures gather in my garden when the sprinkler runs.  Robins glory in the cool mist.  A family of cardinals lives in our lilac bush, happily enjoying both the water and the birdfeeders that project from the deck.  A striped chipmunk tears about amongst my plants, digging holes and chattering angrily at me when I come out to weed or water.  He is astonishingly cheeky.  The other day as I approached, he ducked into a loose space between the steps, then turned around from inside his stronghold, clucking at me in a fury.

One day I looked out my kitchen window and saw something dangling in a spider's web that had appeared, strung from a euonymous to my astilbe.  My first reaction was disgust at a spider's web on my astilbe, but then I saw that the caught insect was a shining black and silver dragonfly.  He was hanging from his tail, spinning madly as he fought to free himself.

Immediately I left whatever I was working on in my kitchen sink, running back to the terrace where I pulled the dragonfly free and knocked down the spider's web.  The dragonfly was bound up in webbing; it had bent the end of his tail, and one of his wings also bent askew when he tried to move it.  I did the best I could to loosen his bonds, but in the end, I just placed him amongst the leaves of the lilac bush.

I hope cardinals do not eat dragonflies.  We have plenty of nice birdseed out for them, songbird mix.

It is astonishing to me how water brings life, making the plants grow, attracting the little animals and birds.  Water is amazing, inexplicable, a substance that behaves unexpectedly according to the rules of science, yet exists as a totally necessary compound for life.  We drink it.  We wash in it.  We are made of it.

This is Lady's Mantle, covered with water droplets.  It's one of the new plants I'm trying in my lower garden.  It doesn't have pink flowers.  Its flowers are a soft, almost unnoticeable yellow-green, with tiny, furry blossoms.  They are subtle, tasteful, understated.  This is why the plant is called "Lady's Mantle."  The flowers are said to adorn the most gentle and modest of ladies, the kind of ladies who do not like to draw attention to themselves.  Old European folklore has it that the Virgin Mary herself wore Lady's Mantle.

This is another picture of Lady's Mantle, at a different time of day, with different light, and not right after I turned off the sprinkler.  The leaves have a way of cupping morning dew in gleaming globes, holding it there, as if to invite a woodland creature or a tiny fairy to come have a delicious drink.

This is the view down the path that runs through my lower terrace.  We got that tiny Rose of Sharon for $11.98, presumably because it was so little.  It's blooming up a storm.  The nursery people seem to have really outdone themselves with fertilizing.

Here's my most recent shot of it.

Further down the path, we have two new hydrangeas.  These are not to be confused with my three droopy hydrangeas from last year.  These only get about an hour of sun per day.  They are happy.

You can also see some pink geranium blossoms in this photo.  These are perennial geranium, not the annuals that you see all over.  Between the pink geranium and the Rose of Sharon, I did still manage to insert some pink this year.  I was surprised when the hydrangeas turned blue, because originally, they looked like this:

But.  I will never complain about a blue hydrangea!

Off on the far side, I've planted some foxglove and some lilies of the valley.  That's the poison section of my garden!

I deadheaded this foxglove, and got a small rebloom.  I don't know what it will do next year.  Since it's a biennial that supposedly self-sows, I'm hoping it will reseed itself, and meanwhile I can plant more blooming foxglove from the nursery next year.  I wish I had bought three instead of one this year, but we shall see what we shall see.

I killed two tiny rhododendrons which I planted up near the water spigot.  They were just too tiny, I think, and had been overfertilized to produce a striking bloom for the store shelf.  I made the mistake of adding some plant food for acid loving plants after I put them in, and they just couldn't handle it all.  This afternoon, I cut them back to the ground, as I think their only hope is if they could somehow come back from the root.

Anyway, that's my garden, my shade garden in the back.

It never fails to amaze me when I put things into the ground and they actually grow.

Miracles abound.




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