We are zone 4, in the St Lawrence River valley north of the Adirondack Mountains. The garden started when I moved into the place in Spring of 2002. We have a hundred acres of mixed woods, orchards, beaver ponds, hay fields/pasture, and wetlands. The house is surrounded by an acre of (what was once) lawn. When I arrived, some of the usual perennials were already flourishing here: lilacs, peonies, valerian, iris, small white poeticus recurvus narcissus, baptisia, forget-me-not, a comfrey patch, a lot of orange daylilies and tiger lilies. The soil is slightly acidic, variable from a few spots with clayey soil, some areas of subsoil (reddish, sandy, with lots of rocks) from when the foundation was dug over a century ago, and the rest average loamy soil. Since I started, soil amendment has been a major priority.
Where the plants come from: I have ordered from White Flower farm, Bluestone Perennial, and John Scheepers, among others, but I also got a lot of plants from gardener friends, a local nurseryman who sells at our farmer’s market, my parents-in-law, and my sister. In the past year I am prioritizing native plants so I am learning more about nurseries that sell those in my area. Some plants I got from the roadside. The picture below is of gorgeous lavender phlox which came to my garden from a roadside patch near here. As it spreads I’ve divided it so now I’ve now got a half a dozen separate patches in various shady spots.
I also have a patch of very aggressive tansy I got from from the roadside. I keep giving it away and it keeps coming back–the bottomless tansy patch. From my own woods one spring I pulled up a tiny tiarella (foamflower) plant. When I planted it in my garden it spread like wildfire. I now have large patches in at least half a dozen places.
My parents-in-law gave us chelone (turtleheads), a wonderful native plant that spreads at just the right speed and has leaves as beautiful as its flowers. They also gave us a few orange poppies, and within one year we had an eye-popping late May display. They gave us ajuga and forget-me-nots, which are now spread over the entire garden.
The (brief version) history of the garden: I arrived here to live in this old farmhouse on an acre of lawn in late winter 2001. My first gardening here was planting a row of tulips on the south side of the house. Since then I have spent March until Thanksgiving gardening in every spare minute. The lawn shrank, and the gardens grew. In the last two years I’ve started to consider pulling back and consolidating. I abandoned a huge and unmanageable herb wheel last summer; we now have a young fruit tree orchard started there. I planted 500 lily bulbs, loved them madly for five years before red lily bugs became too numerous to control–I ended up destroying hundreds of lilies–I didn’t dare give them away, because I don’t want to spread the bugs around. I saved out several dozen favorites and planted them where I can patrol them and keep ahead of the bugs.
In my efforts to eradicate the lawn, I dug some by hand and composted it, or simply buried it with newspapers and manure and compost. We went on many forays with the 1958 tractor and an old converted manure spreader to the hedgerows to gather flattish rocks to build short stone walls here and there.
I also bought hundreds of narcissus and scores of daylilies, along with hundreds of other perennials. About five years ago the plants started to need regular dividing. Like most gardeners, I have been constantly picking pests like Japanese beetles, moving plants to better spots, weeding, mulching, making bouquets for inside and for friends, studying books and catalogs to learn more, creating paths and trying to keep plants and weeds out of them, and welcoming visitors to the garden.
The garden in overview: The garden surrounds the house, and most of the individual garden “rooms” are named by where they are. The front yard garden slopes gently down from the front porch all the way to the road, framed on one side by the driveway and on the other by the potting shed. It is shaded by two old maple trees.
The Southside garden runs the length of the south side of the house, on a level space about 15 feet wide before the ground slopes sharply down to level out in the vegetable garden. The southside garden has forget-me-not, poppies, dame’s rocket and tall garden phlox.
The meditation garden is tucked into a corner where the woodshed meets the house, on the southeast corner of the house. It is edged on the non-house side by a lilac hedge. I do constant battle with lilac shoots who want to take over the meditation garden.
The backyard garden features a shade garden under an old apple tree, many peonies, a dwarf Korean lilac tree and several viburnum shrubs. The main backyard garden gets a lot of sun most of the day and is protected from prevailing winds by the house, so everything planted there grows, and grows, and grows.
There’s a small garden on the north side of the house that we call the kitchen window garden” This garden is shady, framed by a wall of rocks, filled with deep barnyard soil that carried with it lots of stinging nettle and other weed seeds. Last summer I hired a college student to help me and we removed every plant and mulched the whole thing with a foot of rotted hay.
It is now a hosta garden.
On the north side of the driveway are two more beds, the white garden to the east of an old wooden swingset, still being constructed, and the square garden to the west of it.
My specialties: I collect daylilies, ordering from Oakes Daylilies and from the pricey but glorious Klehm’s Songsparrow nurseries, mostly. I also have received divisions from friends, and I once bought 18 unnamed “seedlings” from White Flower Farm that have been very rewarding.
I also have a collection of around 40 peonies. I bought some locally from nurseries, some from catalogs, dug some up from an abandoned house across the street, and got roots from my sister and from my parents’ yard. I collect narcissus. Most of my collection came from catalogs. I ordered the Golden Legacy collection from White Flower Farm and love it. I’m addicted to ordering narcissus every year from Scheeper’s catalog.And I discovered thousands of old style poeticus recurvus narcissus and a double cream narcissus on the south steep hillside, in clumps badly in need of separating. It’s basically an endless supply.
The double whites are deliciously fragrant and gorgeous. Here’s a picture:
I’ve been careful to protect the plants that were here when I arrived. Some of them were certainly planted in the 1970’s by a woman who lived here then, named Ceesil White. She is the one who planted the narcissus and the baptisia on the southside slope, and possibly the iris. Most of these don’t need a lot of protection, being very tough and long-lived plants. They’re special to me because they’re part of the long history of this place.
The garden has grown and evolved as I learned more and experimented. Some things just will not thrive here–I’ve given up on tall bearded iris, perennial oriental poppies, and hellebores, for example. Other plants have flourished spectacularly, and some need my attention to be sure they can keep a place among the aggressive plants. Lately we have been planting more shrubs and also edible fruit bushes and trees, and vines. We aim for plants that offer food or shelter for birds and insects. It’s a work in progress, and that’s what this blog is documenting.