Every year,when I finish some moderately challenging project—a new garden bed, digging up and re-seeding an area of lawn that’s infested with a terrible weedy grass,
creating a seating area, arranging for dying shrubs to get taken down, then
moving everything around because there is no more shade—I think to myself, “I’m
super glad that’s over. Next year, all I’m going to do is do the spring
clean-up, plant out my goods and enjoy.” I’ve been waiting for that season for
about seven years now.
This winter, our curly willow succumbed to a very heavy snowfall; most of its major branches broke and there was no way to salvage it. I’d planted this tree in 1995 when I
bought my home. It was about five feet high and adorable. As it grew, I realized
I’d sited it too close to a neighbor’s tree, so it leaned a bit to catch the
light. It grew to about thirty feet and was unusual and pretty. Friends and I
gathered the curly branches for decorations—crazy cheap, when five of them go
for between seven and ten bucks depending on where you shop.
An old friend, fallen
I wasn’t too sad to lose the tree, even though I really liked it. After a brief mourning
period of about half an hour, I began plotting. I could get a different tree,
something small, planted away from the neighbor’s tree, and make it the star of
a new bed of shady plants! Winter went on and my garden mind slept. In early
April, I got a notice about the Tree Trust program in Minneapolis. You can buy a tree for $25.00, part of an effort to get more trees in the cityscape. I checked out what they
were selling and found it: The Perfect Tree. Ok, the Really Most Perfect Tree
would be a fast-growing magnolia, but they don’t make those. Look, I’m 46 and
don’t feel like I have time to wait 15 years for a tree to do its thing. What I
bought instead is a serviceberry tree, or Amelanchier canadensis. They grow to about 25 feet, have clouds of white flowers, purple berries that feed birds and stupendous fall foliage.
The pile of soil, waiting to be shaped and raked. The dog was included at no extra charge.
I also became determined to have one of those nice orderly beds that has space between the plants. This is a very different approach—my usual m.o. is to buy plants that I like and cram them in where I find space. This results in a garden full of really cool things, but a very full, some might say, chaotic look. This time, I really, really promise I will stick to my plan. The bed will be an oval, about fifteen feet by five at its widest. I’ve picked
out three big hostas to put at one end, two bleeding hearts, maidenhair ferns,
Heucherella ‘Stoplight’ and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost.’ I’d been thinking about the
bush quince, Chaemoneles ‘Camille’ but I think it’s too weedy looking overall.
You can just make out the tree
This was to be quite the project: after getting an estimate for sod removal, I decided I was going to dig that out myself. Then I thought about that some more, and paid the guy. Also, when you plant a tree, you have to dig a hole three times the diameter of the root ball so it grows really well. Thankfully, you only dig as deep as the root ball. I also decided that a raised, mounded bed would look really pretty, so I got a bunch of soil—a cubic yard was perfect. Even better, my partner took pity on me and moved it from the alley to the front yard. She didn’t count the number of wheelbarrow trips.
Those very tiny plants in back are the hostas. In three years, they will be giants
Spacing of plants has always been a challenge for me. I set the pot down, look, and think I’ve got it right. I plant. Then, and only then, do I notice I missed the plant 6″ to the right. (See tree story above. Although that took about five years to show.) I think I did all right with this bed. I also walked around it, as it will be visible from every side. Some of it’s empty; I couldn’t find a white bleeding heart, and since brunneras are so expensive, I’m hoping to split mine next year.
I think I already know the next project: I have a shade garden filled with large plain hostas. Some of those have to go, to make room for fancier ones, as well as other shade plants, such as dogtooth violets, hellebores and anenomes. Yep, there’s always something.