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End of summer in a first-year garden: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It’s mid-August and the summer is winding down. Mornings have a bit of a bite to them and some of the trees near us are starting to turn. I’m not ready for my first summer in this house and garden to be over yet, but admittedly Autumn is my favorite season of them all.
I thought now would be a good time to do a recap of what I’ve done in my first year with this garden and what I think my successes and failures were. You may want to start with this post for photos of how everything started before I got digging!

First: the good!

The flower bed next to the arbor is looking okay. Obviously I need to plant something around the irises on the left, as they start to look pretty raggedy. I think in general I need to focus on foliage next year, so that I have mid-to-low growing plants with interesting foliage that lasts through the fall and keeps things looking cohesive. That said, I think it’s looking pretty good for a first-year bed. Next year it will fill out much more and have that cottage garden look that I love.
You can’t really see the elderflower bush in the middle of all those flowers, but it’s growing very well and is starting to put out berries which is great for a first year plant!

The wildflower patch is looking very yellow with all the black-eyed susans- hopefully they come back next year! There are still poppies, too, and it looks like some flowers may put on a very late summer appearance. I’m very pleased with this experiment and will definitely be repeating it around the garden next year. Behind, you can see our forsythia has gone wild again. We need to trim it back one last time before frost starts hitting us hard.

Here’s a view of the overall area. I think once I get that fence line planted up with tall flowers or shrubs, the garden will be much improved. I need to plant around the cupola and work it into the wildflower patch somehow- not sure how to do that yet. I also need to plant around the patio, but we’re considering building a pergola there one day so I might just wait until we’re sure what our timelines are.

The butterfly bush is nice and big for a first-year planting too, which is wonderful. This is a variety that isn’t invasive, and I love the perky white blooms. I would definitely like to plant another one on the other side of the garden, or maybe out front.

The shade garden is hugely improved from it’s previous state, though it’s still a little rough around the edges. I’m quite pleased with the progress though, and am dreaming of the day it’s full of lush ferns.

Now for the bad:

I don’t know what I was thinking with this front bed. It’s in a weird spot, it’s just floating on its own, and all the plants in it are tiny and dying. The ground here is thick with maple tree roots, and so the plants here need much more water than the ones out back. Unfortunately, my hose doesn’t run this far, and I haven’t felt like carting watering cans out here again and again. The hydrangea on the right seems to be doing pretty well, surprisingly, but otherwise it looks bad. I’m not sure what I’m going to do here, but I’m pretty bummed out about this and mostly wish I’d just left it well alone. I’ll probably just sprinkle a ton of wildflower seeds here and maybe dig some shallow beds to line a grass “pathway” from the front porch.

This is another thing I jumped on too quickly. I thought I could mulch this area with just the pine needles, but they shifted a lot with the wind and the layer of mulch probably wasn’t deep enough to begin with. Now I have this monstrosity. I still have a big pile of mulch left, so I think I’ll lay down some cardboard and then mulch on top of that and hope to keep at least the front part looking neat.

And here’s the ugly: the not-bad, but not-yet-good:

The beds by the house are looking pretty lackluster. I focused on the shrubs and didn’t bother with anything else, so I’m not surprised they don’t look great. On the left is a lilac and on the right is a hydrangea. Next year I’ll be filling this in with a bunch of flowers and it will look much better!

This area is a jungle! You can see my post here about rescuing the tree. On the far right is another lilac, and to the left of that is some cottage garden flower seed mix that I sowed way too late in the season. I didn’t really expect it to do much of anything, but it was a $5 experiment and it looks like at least some of the flowers will bloom very soon. I’m not sure if any will come back next year- we’ll have to wait and see. To the left of those is WEEDS and a honeysuckle that we thought we killed but we didn’t (I’ll probably train it to grow along the fence if it’s not going to die) and a couple irises that I got from a neighbor. This area has a lot to do to make it less wild, but it’s certainly better than it was, and I don’t mind wild so much.

My herb patch is also very ugly. The sage has grown like crazy (I love it!) and the oregano is totally hidden. The parsley is also huge, and the chives, which I never use because Jeff can’t eat onions. The tomato is not doing well- we got one ripe tomato a few weeks ago and nothing since, and the other I pulled because it looked diseased. I bought both from a vendor at our local farmer’s market - never again!
I have big plans for this herb patch! I’m very excited about herbs, especially perennials, and I hope to expand this garden greatly next year. For now, it’s pretty ugly though.

Overall, when I look back at where I started, I think I’ve come a very long way in just one growing season. I’ve learned a lot (especially about what I do and do not like!) and will be posting more about that soon.

August to-do list

Not only can I not believe that it’s August already, but the weather is pretty cool, not predicted to go above 85. Our village is situated in a valley, so we’re always a few degrees cooler than the surroundings, and I’m used to needing to turn on the air conditioning at least a few days during a summer. So far, we haven’t even installed the window units we bought with the house, and here we are with only a few weeks left of the summer. Looking up average temperatures, it looks like this summer is actually pretty normal, so maybe it’s just been very hot the past few years, or maybe I’m just less sensitive to heat than I used to be! Regardless, I’m happy with the window fans and no high electric bills!

It’s strange to think about my garden beginning to wind down for the season when it seems like I just got started on it. I’m not sure what fall interest is in my garden– I think hardly any, next to the giant maple trees we have in the front– but I’m curious to find out. Not yet though! I still want to savor the last days of summer.

I’ve compiled a list of things to do in the garden this month, and am posting here for posterity’s sake.

- Finish digging and mulching beds around maple trees
- Weed and mulch by the pine trees (this area is starting to look pretty awful)
- Trim forsythia into a neat hedge line (as much as we can!)
- Deadhead flowers (admittedly I should have been doing this throughout July as well, but didn’t really)
- Expand front yard flower bed
- Collect seeds from some annuals (like poppies, neighbor’s sunflowers, etc)
- Find a use for the rest of the field stone pile not used for bed edging
- Divide daylilies in late August
- Water dogwood trees when needed
- Order peonies and plant (not sure if I’m going to do it this year; may wait until next)
- Consider herb bed
- Take photos and consider re-mapping perennials for more cohesive arrangements

Flowers in July

Jeff took some photos with our real camera of the garden in bloom.

A day in pictures

I sometimes forget how much I love my life and where I live. After a week away on vacation, I returned with fresh eyes and wanted to record the beauty in my ordinary life.

The view from the front porch. The little flower bed is starting out small, but will one day be big enough to block out the road (hopefully!).

I sit on the porch and read and drink coffee. Usually one neighbor or another drives by and honks their horn and says hello. This morning a neighbor was riding his bicycle by and said “The place is looking great!”

Most mornings we meditate in the attic. The view outside the window is nothing but leaves unless it’s winter.

Then it’s time for work. I’m lucky enough to work from home, but I’m on the computer all day long. We do have an office but usually I prefer to work downstairs. I often sit on the floor to prevent slouching. Orbit helps make sure I get all my work done.

Today was chilly so I made a pot of green jasmine tea. My grandmother just gave me this teapot, and my great-aunt sent me the cup for our wedding in December.

I often eat lunch at my computer and keep working and then take a break walking Orbit instead. This is the shade garden that I’ve been working hard improving, and behind it you can see two big piles of rock and mulch. This area has come a long way!

We walk by the other houses in the village. I love the black and white of this house (one day I will have our house painted white and navy blue!) and I especially love how fun their front porch is.

We walk through the fields and into the woods. Wild ferns grow everywhere. I am turning into a fern fanatic and hope to add lots more to my shade gardens.

Then back into our garden where the flower beds have filled in.

The garden in early Summer

Our fence was installed and the flower beds are starting to fill in. I did a decent job in sorting different heights, but next year I definitely want to add hardy geraniums all along the edges to really make it look full- I think that would make a huge difference.

I am very happy with the septic field wildflower experiment. It’s been a wet spring, so we’ll see how the flowers survive full summer, but so far they are thriving.

More gardening!

I’ve been working double-time on the garden, trying to plant foundation shrubs and the free perennials from my generous neighbor before it gets too hot.

The Icelandic Poppies were the first (and only, so far) to bloom.

Jeff has been on demolition duty. We need to make room for the fence to come through here, and the poor tree on the left was getting swallowed alive. For reference, Jeff is over 6 feet tall– that is one huge bush!

We planted two dogwood trees:

My vegetable and herb garden is coming along nicely.

Our septic field got dug up before we moved in. I sprinkled a bag of wildflowers that I had left over from a couple years ago and it seems like a lot are sprouting.

We also had a nice fire in our new fire pit!

Living Room Progress?

I feel like our whole house (and garden!) is in an awkward teenage in-between phase. You can see the potential, and the structure is starting to show, but generally everything is a little out of scale and a little out of place. Here’s where we are right now:

We got a new chair and coffee table which I love, but obviously the room needs a lot more work to feel pulled together. I am not really sure what to do on this big blank wall. Eventually I’d like big built-in bookshelves with lower cabinets, but that’s a big project and we have a lot of other things that are higher on the list. I’m thinking maybe I’ll take the two side rugs upstairs and move a bookshelf to that big wall and find some large-scale art to hang. And throw pillows! I want lots of throw pillows, too.

A Few Weekend Things

Vegan cinnamon buns for Sunday brunch.

Sushi & tempura dinner Saturday night.

We thinned out the branches at the bottom of the pine trees so we could clear out the maple saplings growing under there. We still have a lot more work to do!

And I went on a walk through the hills behind our village.

Houston, we have shrubs!

I did a LOT of gardening this weekend! Jeff is unfortunately sick with allergies or the flu or something, so he stayed inside sleeping all day. I spent the whole time outside puttering around. Yesterday I decided I was going to divide some of the daffodils out front. I spent about three hours digging up maybe 5 inches of the 5 foot row and replanting the 40 or so bulbs that were crammed in there.

See that little messy part on the left where there are limp leaves? That’s all I managed to dig up in three whole hours! Obviously these daffodils have been dividing themselves for a very, very long time and are way overdue to be divided. I have a lot of work ahead of me here! The bonus is I get a million free bulbs to plant all over the garden!

Yesterday I also found some 2 year old wildflower seed mix and sprinkled it over the septic patch. Probably most of the flowers will never sprout, but I figured it was worth a shot.

Today I finished the curved garden bed in the back. I dug out another 5 inches of width, dug up and loosened the soil, and added five wheelbarrows of mushroom compost and mixed it all together. Then I went to Groff’s Plant Farm and bought some plants! My very kind neighbor and gardening mentor is dividing his perennials and is going to give me a bunch, so I focused on buying things I know he won’t give me.

This is “Spring Fever” Iceland poppy. It grows to 12”s tall and is a beautiful mix of pastel flowers.

Over in the middle of the main bed I planted Oriental poppy “allegro”. It grows 16-20” high 18-24” across and is bright red.

This is a white clematis, but unfortunately I didn’t get the name of it. I removed the arch it was climbing up and trained it to grow up our arbor that Jeff built. It’s on the left.

I moved the arch to the herb patch where I had planted a couple of snap peas just to see if they would sprout. They were from a few years ago and had been kept in very less-than-ideal conditions, so I really didn’t know if they would or not. They did! I thinned the six seeds out to just two. I also have some lettuce growing (from the same seed box), a pot of mint, and the herbs I picked up from our CSA which unfortunately got planted the day of an unexpected late frost, so they may not make it.

This is a common elderberry bush, which is native to our area I believe. It grows 5-10 feet tall and wide. I placed it in the bed directly in front of the back patio to partially block the view of our neighbor’s sad dog. Also, I absolutely adore elderflower pressé and the fruits are edible too (if the birds don’t get them all first)!

Over to the left there is Bigleaf hydrangea “Let’s Dance Big Easy”. It grows 24-36 inches and has beautiful pink flowers with peach centers. It was my stepson’s favorite of the million choices they had at Groff’s, so I got it.

I didn’t want anything too big in front of that window, so this seemed like a decent choice. When we get our fence installed, I’ll probably buy another, larger hydrangea.

Out back again, I bought four “Temprano” bright red ivy geraniums. My grandmother always had geraniums on her front porch, so I think of them very nostalgically. I think our front porch is too shady for these, so I lined them up along the back door.

Over in the septic field wasteland is Lavender “Hidcote”. It may look small now, but it grows to be up to 20 inches tall. It’s the typical silver-leafed, purple-flowered lavender that you see in dried flower arrangements.

In the back, I added two blueberry bushes. They apparently grow well under pine trees and are native to our area. Above is Vaccinium ‘duke’ highbush blueberry, which grows 4-6 feet tall with medium sized fruit early in the season.

Further towards the barn is Vaccinium ‘chandler’ high bush blueberry, which grows to 4 feet and has good fall red color and large berries. I mulched them both with pine straw as I read that they like mulch.

In the shade garden is “Lady In Red” fern, which grows to 36” high and across! I hope to fill this whole area with stones, moss, ferns, and other shad-loving plants.

I also planted tufted hair grass by the side door which grows 2-4 feet and blooms in early summer. Jeff is a big fan of grasses, so I’ll be adding these throughout the garden.

We also have some mystery plants coming in from the previous owners, but I’ll leave those for another post!

Lots of little projects

We’ve been busy with a lot of projects, but no one thing is enough to blog about alone.

Jeff has been breaking in new workboots.

I’ve been digging new flowerbeds until I pass out. We also got a cupola!

These friendly cows and goats live across the street from us. We looked at them, they looked at us. When we continued walking down the road, they followed us in an orderly line.

Spring salad I made for dinner last night. Served with avocado toast.

I created a treasure hunt for the kids for Easter.

And finally, I’ve been using our new laundry line and loving it! We just got our line tighteners in the mail, so it’s not as droopy now.