Overwhelmed with new garden

texasfrecklesMay 30, 2011

Good morning gardeners! I feel bad that my first post is a bit of a cry for help, but I guess we all have to start somewhere.

My husband and I rebuilt an older house in a charming neighborhood last year. The yard was a total mess from years of neglect and the construction process. When finished construction last year, it was a bad time to lay sod, so I threw out some annual rye and waited for better weather. I had originally planned very large, deep beds all the way across the front yard and we installed them last fall, but I've been slow planting them. This spring when it was time to lay sod, I was able to convince my husband to let me plant my dream cottage garden instead.

Now, I'm overwhelmed. I spent so much time working on my pathways and fence, that now it's blazing hot here (it was 97 on Saturday) and I feel like it's getting too late to plant anything that I hope will survive the summer. My garden looks terrible!

I know it's going to take time. When my neighbors walk by and comment, I usually tell them, "Just wait a couple of years, it's going to be beautiful!" I can see it in my head, but the reality is I'm dealing with hard black clay full of rocks and soaring temperatures.

My biggest problem is that I want to consider what will be in bloom at what time of year and how tall things will get so that nothing is hidden or shaded. I want to work in some evergreens so it's not completely bare in the winter (I've got some wax myrtles, rosemary, lavender in there already), but I'm stumped. My house faces east and one side of the yard is shaded by a large pecan tree and the other is full sun. Here's that I have planted so far:

In the shade/part shade:


wood fern

holly fern

Asparagus fern

dwarf Wax Myrtles


coral bark Japanese Maple

Salvia Greggii (I need to move this, it's in part-shade)

Shasta daises (in part shade and not doing well)

Columbine (in the shade and already died)

Dianthus (part-shade)


Wax Myrtles

Knock Out roses

two old roses (a Tea and a Bourbon)

Stella de Oro daylilies (which are turning yellow since planting)





Turks Cap

a low-growing Japanese Yew

Texas Sage

Hot Lips Salvia

Bee Balm

Rock Rose

Echinacea (started from seed - growing extremely slowly)

Rudbeckia (started from seed - growing extremely slowly)

This post is getting too long, but I guess I'm just looking for some advice. I keep working the soil as I go, removing rocks, hauling some of the clay to the backyard and amending with a variety of composts, but it's taking so long that I just end up planting things wherever the soil is ready and I feel like it's becoming really random and haphazard.

So there it is. I'm Melanie from Fort Worth and I am overwhelmed with my new zone 7b cottage garden.

I've got vegetables and herbs growing in pots. The wood raised bed is sweet potatoes.

I don't know that to do under that window. I don't want a hedge or shrubs, but I don't want it to be bare in the winter.

We still need to finish the fence; it will go all the way around to the house. This is the shady side of the yard.

All of the rocks (limestone) lining my paths and sitting around are rocks I dug up right there in the yard.

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That doesn't look terrible - it looks like a new garden!!!! What are your neighbours saying???? If I were to take pics of my gardne that needs a good trim right now....LOL I love the paths and the rock edging!! What a cute little fence. You've got great bones in this garden. Now just for a little "frosting" to soften things out.

What about a window box under that window? That way you can change it up with the seasons and each year, as your garden develops. I don't know what goes well in your area, plantwise but I love all the plants you listed. Just remember to plant them in swathes so they don't start looking bitty - I try for at least 3-5 of each of my "backbone" plants and then do my 1 of specimen plants dotted around. You've already done so much planting - it takes a few years for a new garden to establish and gain that vision of a cottage garden as we know it....

Keep your plants watered and if you have them in the right spot and they are in the right spot, they'll reward you!!!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:40AM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

Oh, Melanie, I totally understand. I did the same thing in my backyard as well as my front yard! Give yourself time. It will be beautiful. I don't know anything about what will grow in Texas (I am in northern VA), but I know you will get suggestions. If you don't want shrubs under the window, I could see hosta, ferns, digitalis, astilbe, hellebores, anemones, and some taller perennials such as aruncus dioicus (goat's beard-love this) and cimcifuga or actaea (I am not sure which is the proper name now-think it is actaea racemosa). These all grow here, although I seem to be particularly adept at cultivating weeds! ;)

Can't wait to see your pictures next year-or even as this summer progresses. Just water a lot this summer and you should be fine.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:46AM
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silverkelt(Z5b/Southern Maine)

In the island bed plant a tall item, surronded by the shorter ones.. it looks fine, things can always be moved.

I would be proud of the effort you have put in. There shouldnt be any complaints.

Im always half way done with a project when I pick up my next.. lol, just to finish one and relize I need to do something else ect.

Gardening is a journey not a destination.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 11:55AM
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texasfreckles, I think your front garden looks great, and you will be amazed at how much growth you'll get in just a year. I notice you're going with some Texas natives. After trying to grow everything under the sun, I've found there's a reason the natives grow so well here :). You have some great nurseries in your neck of the woods, Redenta's and Weston Gardens come to mind, am sure there are more.

I live in a suburb of Dallas, and try to get out early in the morning; by 11 am or so am back in the air conditioning, just can't take the heat and humidity as well any more. By the time August gets here it's usually just long enough to turn the hose on!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 12:15PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Nothing wrong with random ... it's a new garden and if you're like most of us you'll be moving stuff around for years to come.

I'd like to suggest adding some angelonia to your sun garden. In no time it'll fill in some of those empty spots and look great until first frost. I'd wait until fall to do any more planting.

I know you said no shrubs under those windows, but what about low growing gardenias?

Did you buy your fence at Lowe's by any chance? I have a similar one around my kitchen garden. Two-thirds of the panels developed rust from the inside out within 4 months of installation.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 12:31PM
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Melanie, don't get disheartened! It all takes time. What you have done looks very nice! What you are doing is laying the foundation of your garden. It takes time...and then more time. Believe me I know! This is the first year that we have not added a new garden since 2002! We are done. Well as done as you get. The first year we developed the bones of our garden I did almost no planting.

If you would like, pop in to my garden web site and see the progress through the years. I have a page documenting our progress each year! So believe me, I know it can get you down, but pick yourself up again and keep going. Sorry I can't offer suggestions on plants, I live in a very different zone that you do. But I am sure whatever you decide on will be lovely.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our gardens from the beginning

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 12:50PM
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freezengirl(3aMN and 5AK)

Melanie your garden will be beautiful, in a year it will be lush and full! I planted/landscaped my sisters front and back yards in Flower Mound, couldn't believe how things grow in that part of the country! There are a lot of ground cover type plants like (monkey grass?) or the tiny lirope, mexican petunias that self seed that can knit togather areas like under the tree. Be observant when you are out and about, visit the arboretum (fabulous!) and in time you will learn, refine and enjoy every step of your journey into gardening.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 2:07PM
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mehearty(So ME z5a)

MaryLu your website is amazing! Please please please tell me you're practically a neighbor since we're in the same zone! =D I'm so impressed.

Melanie, your bones are gorgeous! I can't make any plant suggestions since we're practically on different planets when it comes to growing conditions, but I can offer this:

1) Do not worry about what the neighbors are thinking. If anything, they're psyched that something wonderful is about to happen right before their eyes.

2) A few years back, I planned a rose bed right in the front yard and ordered a bunch of bare root roses in July. =-O I started ripping out established plants while the roses were en route. How silly of me to think they would do anything that hot summer! Most of them sat and sulked until September. What I ended up doing was filling pots with red geraniums (nothing else) and slipping those pots throughout the half bare beds. At the very least, there was some color while things started to grow. I chose 1 color because I wasn't designing. I just wanted some cohesive punches of color to brighten things up. I think I left half of them in the store's cheap plastic pots.

3) You're being very smart to plan before planting. I can't tell you how many beds (especially the ones right in front) that I'm still trying to correct mistakes made years ago.

4) Do what you can. You've accomplished the hard part. The rest will be fun. Just give yourself time.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 2:41PM
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plantmaven(8b/9a TX)

Love everything so far and your fence is to die for! It just takes time.
BTW the best planting time in Texas is in the fall, so it can grow during the winter and not be heat stressed.

Welcome to this site. It is a wonderful place. But hop over to the Texas gardening also. I know of several posters from your area.
I hop back and forth between here and there, as I live in San Antonio.

Soak all your growing areas and mulch, mulch, mulch.

Old Texas way of planting: If you are going to plant anything this time of year, dig your hole much larger than what you are planting. Fill it with water and stir it up, all soupy. Soak your plant in a bucket until it is very wet. Then plant your plant and mulch.
Use something to make a shade for it until it seems to be getting over the shock from transplanting.


Here is a link that might be useful: Texas Gardening

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 4:43PM
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Welcome to the forum! You are doing just fine! Take a deep breath and enjoy what you've done, plan for the future, and everything will work out great.

Gardens are always evolving so they are never 'done' IMO. I'm a bit overwhelmed at times this year with my 14 year old garden as I'm redoing a lot of beds so it's *almost* like starting a new garden. Doesn't take perennials long to fill out tho. Your garden will look totally different soon! :-)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Your garden will be wonderful. It is already very pretty. remember the old Sleep, creep, leap rule. A year from now it will be very different and in two years, Look Out! It takes time and is never finished. Gardening really is about the journey, not the arrival.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 8:28PM
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cziga(Zone 5 -Toronto)

I know exactly how you feel ... I felt the same way myself when i first took over our garden. It was overgrown with Bishops Weed and tons of other awful things. I am still working through it all, and still feel overwhelmed sometimes. Even just today I was thinking how much work it can be sometimes.

[ "Just wait a couple of years, it's going to be beautiful!" I can see it in my head, but the reality is I'm dealing with hard black clay full of rocks and soaring temperatures.]

LOL, I say the same thing! And I have clay that is back-breaking as well ...

I started off with a meticulous garden plan my first year and ended up plonking plants into the ground before winter just to get them planted. I can tell you, most plants are easily moved. They might sulk for a little while, but you can always move them. You will keep changing your mind, over the years, and then moving plants around ... and it all works out just fine :)

Take it in stages. Pick the area you are most excited to work on, or you have the most plants for, or the best plan. Work on the soil (ammend with compost) as much as possible because it becomes more difficult after you've planted. Plant your plants, water them to get them established and mulch the ground to keep in moisture. And then move on to your next area. It feels more manageable when you have smaller goals ... instead of one huge area and a ton of chores.

And I find that I always need an area to feel good about, when everything else is "under construction". Whether it is the vegetable plot or a small corner that I just finished that looks really good with plants blooming ... every time I start feeling discouraged, I go grab a drink and pull up a chair to the area of the garden that I'm proud of at the time, and sit and enjoy :)

I love how you've laid out your pathways and edgings ... it looks like a really great backbone and plan. As the plants grow, they fill in the spaces and take on a life of their own ... everything will look better a year or two after it is planted, once it grows a bit.

As for under your window, I'd suggest Heucheras but I don't know much about Texas gardening and I don't know if they do well in your area. If so, they are great foliage plants and there are tons of varieties for colour and variation. They seem to do well enough in either sun or shade, although I find they like part shade best in general, which is what the front bed right by a house usually is. They get about a foot tall, so not really tall (you could put a window box above them) but should stay evergreen down in your neck of the woods ...

Here is a link that might be useful: Mad Dogs and Englishmen

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 9:28PM
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gardenbear1(6 Ma.)

I see nothing wrong with you garden, forget what your neighbors are saying, and keep doing what you want you have a great start, it takes time for things to grow and what will work best in the garden, its taken me 8 years to get my back yard to look like I want it,the front in still in the works, never give up on a dream garden


    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:30PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Your garden looks great and will be so beautiful and special by this time next year. You've done the right thing by spending some time getting the layout set. I read through your list and you have planted a lot of plants so far. The columbine should have done fine in the shade, but sometimes we lose plants for no reason. You don't mention the type, but Texas Gold Columbine is a good choice for replacing it.

In most Texas cities, there is a push to replace lawn turf with water-wise plantings so you are right in your approach. There are some folks who are still skeptical about this trend, but you can win them over as I did by creating a beautiful garden. One important element is the inclusion of evergreen plants so the area looks good in every season. Rosemary is a good start for that.

You can continue to plant new plants in the heat. I prepare the holes early in the day and plant in the evening. Water well and use a box propped on a stick for shade. Move the box around during the day with the sun.
This is the time when many plants are on sale so I take advantage. Transplanting those plants that don't work where they are needs to wait until fall because it's too much stress.

Gardening in Texas has some unique challenges so if you have specific questions about what works, I also invite you to hop over the the Texas Forum for answers from those with experience in your area. Like Kathy, I spend time on both.

Be sure to share your progress here. We love pictures!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 11:16PM
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love the way your garden is coming along. it will be amazing when it is done. just keep doing what you are doing. the reminder that it is the journey not the destination is a good one. i will keep it in mind for myself too. keep posting pics, i am a complete newbie and enjoy seeing what everyone else is doing.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 9:47AM
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I, too, love your gardens. They look good. Many of us have been in your shoes, it is wise to plan and take your time, but it was impossible for me to do. After Hurricane Katrina, I relocated, and severely missed my established gardens. I had to get some gardens going for my mental health. My suggestions to you would be add compost or other organic matter. Mulch everything well. Use annuals or perennials that are easy for now, until you decide on permanent plantings. Some suggestions would be sages, salvias, herbs, ornamental grasses, coneflowers. Dwarf crape myrtles could be used under your window, although they are not evergreen of course. I love nandina, especially the larger ones with berries. I know they are used alot but they do perform well and have so many good features: color, texture, berries, and they can be pruned as needed.
Take alot of pictures for before and after and progress. You will be amazed each year how things fill in. I also agree that most of us do end up moving things around. Most of the time the plants handle this well.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 11:03PM
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I second mulching well & building some good soil for fall planting of perennials & shrubs, so you won't have to babysit new plants in the summer heat and cause you to be a burned out gardener. :o)


    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 11:20AM
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Thank you so much, guys! I thought I set up my preferences to email me when I received a reply, but I didn't get anything and haven't logged on in a while. What a nice surprise to see all the kind comments, words of encouragement, and great advice!

It's already so hot here, we're already into our 99 degree days. I think I'm going to spend me time over the summer digging up the remaining beds and amending the soil and keeping everything mulched. Every new thing I plant just wilts all day long despite keeping it watered.

Now I want to plant some trees or shrubs between the garden and the street to create a cozier feeling walking through the little garden. I think that will need to wait until fall. Thank you again so much, everyone!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 5:24PM
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