Marty's Garden, July 17th, 2019


Every garden should have seat, or two, or more.  A place to sit and relax, to contemplate, to enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or something stronger. My garden is no different. There is my favorite seat; an expensive one at the time, but oh so comfortable and shaded by the curly willows around 4 pm. It overlooks the pond and most of the upper garden and it is my favorite place to be. The patio is shaded by an awning and the chairs are comfy any time of the day, but there is one more comfortable spot in the garden. When you cross the bridge over the pond, there is a seating area just big enough for two chairs and a small table before you go down three steps to the bottom of the back garden. It’s a great place to sit in the early morning in spring before the days get too hot, but in summer it has an added attraction; the fragrance of the Stargazer Lilies growing behind them. Now the lilies are in full bloom and I plop myself down in early afternoon, as soon as the seats are in shade. Bees lazily buzz around, as attracted to the scent as I am. It is a typical gardening moment; it won’t last long; gardening moments never do. But while it lasts, it epitomizes why we garden, a feast for both eyes and nose.

Marty's Garden, early July, 2019


Torrential rain, again. So far, I have captured 2.7 inches of rain in the rain gauge as of this morning and the day if far from over.  So far this spring and summer is starting to shape up like last spring and summer; WET!


The Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus Atlantica Glauca) tree which I bought more than two years ago has not been very happy in my garden. Reason: too much water. Our water table runs high and being almost directly across the downspout of my neighbor’s gutter and about another 20 feet or so away from our downspout, this tree was sitting in too much water. I thought about moving it to the other side of the front yard, near the driveway, which is a drier location. Although this tree had grown about two feet since it was planted, I wasn’t quite sure how well the roots had penetrated the soil. By rocking the tree back and forth it became clear it wasn’t very well rooted. I dug around the root ball, called The Spouse for tree-moving duty and off we went to the other side of the front garden, a mere 60 feet or so. I had already prepared the new planting bed, a six-foot-wide strip of grass, covered by cardboard and then a 6-inch layer of mulch. I dug a hole where I wanted the tree to go, removed some of the heavy red clay and added a bag of soil suitable for tree and shrub planting. Mixing both soils allows the tree roots easier penetration. Once the tree was in place, I had a major decision to make. This magnificent tree grows to spectacular proportions; 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide and the bed along the driveway would not allow it to grow to its full potential. However, the Blue Atlas Cedar can be espaliered, or pruned judiciously into a two-dimensional tree. The public library in Bridgewater, NJ, is home to a pair of espaliered Blue Atlas Cedars and Longwood Gardens in Kenneth Square, PA, has several growing against the entrance wall of this fantastic public garden.


In our previous home in NJ, we also had a Blue Atlas Cedar in our front garden. Planted by the landscapers for the builder about 6 feet away from the front window and 4 feet away from the garage, at first, it looked quite nice. However, 10 years later it obscured most of the front window and it had reached the second story. On windy evenings the upper branches knocked on the windows and kept me up. First, we removed some of the lower branches so I could look out the window again. Then I got tired of all the knocking upstairs and a tree trimming service turned my noisy tree into a two-dimensional tree. All branches pointing towards and away from the house were cut off and those growing in line with the house remained. I liked the look of the tree and for as long as we lived there it grew and thrived. Then the new owner cut it down.


My tree in the front yard got the same treatment. Only those branches that ran along the driveway remained; all others were cut off. Starting about 4 feet from the ground I took a branch on either side of the trunk and secured it a horizontal stake. A foot higher two more branches were secured to a stake and I continued this for a total of five horizontal stakes. Then I “topped” the tree, which means I cut off the top, so it won’t grow any higher.  While it was a gamble moving the tree, now a few months later, the gamble paid off. I can see beautiful blue new growth on the branches and over time this tree will grow into a five-tiered two-dimensional tree anchoring the planting bed to the driveway. I will have to keep up with some pruning on a yearly basis, but I won’t have to worry about this gentle giant outgrowing its spot in my garden. If it ever gets hot and dry, this tree will continue to be happy in its location as it is drought tolerant. Right now, though, the willows around my garden are very happy. The rain gauge reads 4.5” inches and we will continue to have (heavy) rain on and off for the rest of the day and into the night. I think this will be the wettest day since we moved here…

PS: We lucked out. The overall rain amount within 24 hours was 4.8 inches. Definitely the wettest day since we moved here, but it could have been worse. 

Marty's Garden, Mid June 2019


Sedum, a groundcover which comes in a variety of colors from gold to dark red, variegated or solid cover is not a plant I would have thought of for large parts of the garden. I used it on the edge of the pond, which is pretty much bone dry and much to their liking. These creeping plants disguise the edge between soil and gravel patio and as a bonus they bloom in bright colors, attracting many different winged insects. They root easily. Generally, I pull a few pieces off the main plant, scratch a very shallow trench with a piece of mulch and cover part of the stem with soil. Done, it’s as easy as that.


These days you can buy trays with a variety of different sedums to put in the garden. The big box stores have them at very reasonable prices, but I have also seen them at (wonderful) nurseries with price tags up to 75% higher for the same size trays. Needless to say, while I buy just as many plants at nurseries, my sedums come from the big box stores. I started with one tray. Rather than just putting the entire tray in the ground, I pulled the tray apart and planted little pieces of the plants about 8 inches apart from the others. Even tiny little pieces of the plants will root, and I generally just push these pieces in the ground by walking over them. 

Sedum garden
Sedum garden, late spring 2019


In some cases, I put different varieties of sedum right next to each other or planted the same type of sedum in a little clump away from other varieties. I went back a few times for more trays and this spring I bought a few more. It took about a year for the sedums to grow together and by this time next year the butterfly garden will have a sedum garden stretching from the driveway to the end of the sidewalk. The soil here is still atrocious heavy clay but the sedum has grown into the mulch and the decomposed mulch underneath, which gives it about an inch of decent soil. This part of the garden also slopes down towards our neighbor’s lawn, providing drainage for these plants which definitely don’t tolerate wet soils. I couldn’t help myself and bought a few dinosaurs which now “graze” in this sedum field. I need to get a few more to get a proper herd of them, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face or to the faces of visitors which see it for the first time.


Marty's Garden, early June, 2019


Sometimes the garden takes on a life on its own. I have been known among gardening friends to run a tight ship in the garden (i.e. a bit of a control freak), but this garden is following new and different rules. This time around I planned a more restrained color palette and I am also allowing the plants to “do their thing”; well, up to a point.


My first garden included everything that caught my fancy and I loved that garden. This garden includes plants that worked the first time around but this time in larger numbers. Drifts of hostas, drifts of (Siberian, Louisiana, Japanese) irises, similar colored shrubs or, to shake it up, purple colored shrubs offset by striking yellow shrubs. Purple, blue and yellow dominate on one side, orange, red and yellow dominate another. But occasionally I try something new, hoping to incorporate new plants in the scheme that exists in my head.


My Tiger-Eye Staghorn Sumac was one such purchase. I had seen it in a spectacular private garden and wanted to see if it worked for me. As I wrote at that time, Tiger-Eye Sumac was more restrained than its “wilder” relatives, which will take over a hillside. I had high hopes for the two plants I put on the backside of the waterfall. The first year one of the plants put out one sucker, which I pulled off and that was the end of the that. The fall color was a bit of a let-down; rusty red rather than the bright red I had expected. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep these plants, but this spring I was surprised. One of the plants leafed out and looked great with its bright chartreuse leaves, but the second one lagged behind. In the end, it never leafed out and I had to cut it down, but not before it multiplied with suckers in a semi-circle around the parent plant. The ferny looking foliage also looked spectacular against the (chartreuse) background of the Gold Mop Cypress (Chamaecyparis) and the (equally chartreuse) Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’). However, something was missing and while I was (window)shopping for plants, I came across red hot pokers, although the yellow and orange dwarf variety of the plants named ‘Poco Yellow’ and ‘Poco Orange’.  I bought 3 in yellow and 5 in orange and planted them behind the cypresses and around the Tiger-Eye sumac. The result could not have been more pleasing and while the Tiger Eye will grow taller, it will not obscure the view of the pokers.  

Yellow and Orange Poker with Tiger-Eye Staghorn Ferns


One change made to the garden this spring took a bit of work but was worth the time and effort. The garden had mulched paths and while it was soft and springy underfoot, it also took many cubic yards of mulch each year to keep it looking good. It also tended to wash out in heavy rains and I had to rake it back in place time and time again. I like what mulch does to the garden, i.e. decompose, adding nutrients to the soil as well as turning into soil, but why should I have this goodness underfoot instead of using it for the planting beds? Last year I contracted with a landscaper to put down gravel which would also unify the gravel patio with the paths running through the garden. However, I had no intention of having them put weed fabric over the paths before I could dig up as much mulch and decomposed mulch (now good soil) and put it in the garden beds. Day after day I raked up mulch, digging down to the clay soil and distributing all this goodness around plants. By the time the landscaper showed up I had cleared the paths. Now when I walk in the garden I experience that crunchy sound that gravel gives. In The Netherlands, a gravel path to the house is nearly equal to having ADT or any other burglar detection system as you can always hear anyone approaching your house.  The crew also put down some additional rock in the various raingardens and a trench was dug from the pond filtration system to the corner filled with willows. Now the water from the pond filter runs straight to the willows without disturbing the soil and I have another great looking and rocky corner. All in all, April and May were filled with work, but now I can enjoy the results. As soon as the sun comes out again, I will be out in the garden; weed a little, sit and read a little. Yes, it is a rough life, but someone has to do it.