The Joy of Landscaping

A Gardening Blog

The Resiliency of Plants (Sometimes)

Tackling my new home landscape: Post 2

Continuing my goal of replacing lawn turf in our new yard, I started working on a new bed in early June. I had identified 3 areas in the front yard where I wanted to either add a new bed or expand an existing one. Given that summer was soon approaching, I decided to get one underway, but hold off on the other two until fall or next spring.

This first bed was to include small shrubs and perennials in a curved triangular space next to our driveway and walkway to the front door. Because it would be viewed mainly up close, I could use more varieties of plants, as well as smaller sized plants than in a bed located in the middle of the yard.

Given the physical labor of working with our clay soil,it took several weeks to get most of the bed made and populated. The bed currently has 6 Nepeta 'Walkers Low', 3 Compacta Holly, 3 Hypericum 'Hidcote', 7 Hardy Geranium 'Roxanne', 5 'White Pow Wow' Echinacea, 3 Variegated Liriope and a Virginia Sweetspire. I still want to add a ground cover around the base of the tree to take up more of the mulch area - perhaps Chrysogonum virginianum (Green and Gold) or Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge), given the shade from the tree.

This site previously had only grass and the ornamental plum tree.

The plants were chosen to create a purple and white-yellow color scheme, with some evergreen structure from the hollies. Drought tolerance was sought given most of the plantings would be near pavement and in full sun. An opening for access to the propane tank cover was required. I also wanted to keep the plants along the walkway low in height since the shrubs on the opposite side are already large and didn't want the walkway to feel like a tunnel.

One of the first plants I put into the bed was a Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica). Three of these already existed on the opposite side of the walkway, so I thought this, along with 3 Variegated Liriope - also on the other side of the walkway - would create some synergy between this bed and the foundation bed. The Itea shrub I bought was in full bloom at the time, with white droops of flowers all over the plant. Unfortunately, we had a very hot spell occur the week after planting. I kept the plant watered well, but gradually all of the nice green leaves turned brown and fell off. Three weeks later, only dried up brown flower panicles remained on a very sad looking plant.

I wondered what I did wrong. It wasn't a lack of water. Sometimes plants die from root rot from too much water, particularly after planting. But Itea can be used as a rain garden plant and can take a lot of water so I didn't think that was it. I didn't see any pests on it. It was a mystery, so I decided to buy an Inkberry Holly to put there as obviously Itea didn't like that spot.

I hadn't looked at the Sweetspire for a few days before purchasing the Inkberry, and it was several days more before I went out to replace it. Lo and behold, tiny green leaves were popping out on the Sweetspire stems. It had survived after all!

So what happened? I can only conclude that the plant went through a tremendous amount of stress. It was putting a lot of effort already into flowering, but then it had to adapt to a new soil and weather environment, with some high temperatures thrown in. We're the only living things that incur stress in times of major change!

So, try to purchase and plant when the plant is not flowering, avoid hot summer planting, and don't give up on a plant too soon. Pretty obvious, but something I need to remind myself after 25 years of gardening!