Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tearing out the Perennial Bed

After a miserably long and hot summer in Atlanta and a delightful trip to see a gazillion gardens in England during September, it became clear to me that it was time to tear out some of the beds at the Big House and revamp them. 

The walled garden that surrounds the greenhouse was redesigned and planted by my predecessor about five years ago, and served its purpose well for a few years.  The problem, as with many gardens, was that it was planted with lots of "bulletproof" plants that would give the homeowner instant satisfaction.  Over the course of a few years, that means that we were overrun with asters, rudbekia, and a few other plants.  Another factor was that "Mrs." really likes fine textured foliage, so by late June each year, the garden has been a mass of green stems with fine leaves.  Hence the "ruthless thinning" that we are now undertaking.
I'm afraid neither of these photos is great, but it will give you the idea.  Since they are also taken at very different times of year, I trust you can use your imagination.  I'll post more photos as we progress with this project. 
This bottom photo shows us making some real progress with the "demo" stage of things.  Gone are the banana shrubs, which have a unique and fragrant flower (as long as you stand on a stepladder on the right day in spring, and the wind is blowing in the right direction).  The treehuggers of the group are probably cursing me at the moment, but there simply wasn't room to keep them.  Our goal is to make this more of a cutting garden for house flowers, while also having it be an attractive display garden around the greenhouse.

The longer I garden professionally, the more comfortable I become at editing plants that don't produce.  As much as I love old fashioned garden phlox, I'll not spend the rest of my summers fighting powdery mildew when there are lots of better cultivars out there.  When six purple irises turn into 50, I'm comfortable donating them to a plant sale and don't feel obligated to keep nurturing them, moving them, grooming them, etc.  I'm clear that not every plant needs an exquisite bloom.....Canna "Pretoria" adds incredibly to the garden bed and the floral arrangement with or without blooms. On the other hand, I'm happy to plant something to hide the late season peony foliage, because (in my opinion) there are very few flowers that are that beautiful.

We're up to the replanting phase in a couple of the sections, and I'll get photos on Friday.  It has been a great project to have three experienced gardeners (including myself) honestly go through the different plant options and justify why a particular plant should be used in the beds.  Hopefully it will be as incredible in reality next summer as it is in my mind right now.


  1. Wow, your greenhouse is GORGEOUS.

  2. I've been doing that all summer. I finally have most of mine in place aside from the recent purchases. I'll be planting them on Friday.

    I'm not trying for a cutting garden, but something that can handle drought or rain without falling to pieces.

    I'm interested in seeing what you chose.

  3. There was a time when I simply couldn't get rid of a plant, sometimes keeping it just because it was there. That time is gone. I no longer have a problem digging up and giving away plants or even sometimes throwing them on the compost pile, especially if it's a "problem" plant. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the renovation. I'm to the point in the season where I begin to garden vicariously through gardeners in milder climates.

  4. I want that greenhouse Tim. Looking forward to seeing the borders progress. Take care.

  5. Editing is an art form in the garden. Having the guts to move through it isn't always easy! Bravo to you for taking shovel in hand.