January 2006 Thoughts
Thoughts From The Belly
copyright January 2006
By: Dan Mays Ironbelly1@aol.com
Fresh gardening opportunity lies before us again. I like to ask myself these two questions every January.
1. What do I want my garden to do for me this year?
2. What do I want to do in the garden this year?
These two questions lend a sense of direction to my gardening efforts. Although we all joke about plants that just jump into our shopping carts at the garden center, inevitably these willy-nilly decisions too often wind up looking willy-nilly in the garden as well. Of course, a large portion of the answer to question #1 always includes wanting a garden that requires less repetitive maintenance chores for me. Whenever a new, beautiful plant especially tempts me, one of the questions I always ask myself is: How much maintenance is this plant going to require? Especially with our recent (and pending?) drought, plants requiring lots of watering should be finding it especially difficult to make it into your take-home basket at the garden center.
I plan to propagate and continue investigating a fairly new, drought-tolerant Artemisia that is easy to maintain. To be certain, one has to be careful with the genus Artemisia because so many of these become rampant thugs in the garden. Of course ÂSilver MoundÂ Artemisia, although well-behaved, has always had problems with lodging. Just after it would get that really nice, full look, the darn plant would flop open from the center, even if you grew it in a very lean soil. Last year I trialed ÂSea FoamÂ Artemisia as an alternative and was quite impressed. It too has a compact, well-behaved growth habit but never even hinted at flopping. It also has a curiously distinct texture and color that is unmatched in the garden. The only visual comparison that I can make is that the leaves of ÂSea FoamÂ look like the lichen they use for fake trees on model railroad sets. Although this plant has earned a larger role in my garden this year, it lacks that ever-so-soft feel of ÂSilver MoundÂ. If for no other reason, IÂll keep my ÂSilver MoundÂ because I know of no other plant that is softer to the touch.
As to my #2 question: I want to install a paver patio off of my new sunroom at the rear of my house. Additionally, I would like to create a little shade from trees planted to the west of this area to temper the intense, afternoon prairie sun.
One thing that I will be bearing in mind with this project is avoiding the dreaded Do-It-Yourself look. Now I have nothing against a DIYer. I am a fully-fledged one myself. However, in our exuberance to let people know; "I did this myself!" we DIYers sometimes lose perspective. We are proud of our efforts and too often want to make a bold statement. We mistakenly choose materials that really stand out in order to accentuate our abilities. The problem comes when multiple projects are eventually completed and everyone of them tries to individually stand out. Pretty soon, each project begins visually competing with every other project. A sense of demure continuity is lost and each project separately demands attention to the point of distraction and visual chaos. Although I want to imbue a sense of quality in the patio, the chosen paver color will be somewhat subdued to allow guests to pay attention to my chosen focal points in the landscape. Rather than creating a patio as an ultimate destination for my guests, I prefer that it become a comfortable "launching pad" into the wonders of my prairie landscape. Of course, guests can always return to the patio for a comfortable seat and a cool drink Â but I want that to be an afterthought.
Several of the tree choices are still open. However, rather than one large shade tree, I think that I will concentrate upon utilizing several smaller trees to create variety and generate multiple seasons of interest. One of the trees I have already purchased is a hybrid of the red buckeye called 'Fort McNair'. Another tree choice fairly recently brought over from China will be the Seven-Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides). An interesting mix of conifers and deciduous trees is what I am striving for. To be sure, it will be a fine line I have to walk when trying to utilize trees within an essentially prairie garden. Normally, trees are not considered part of the prairie. This will be one of the issues IÂll be mulling over a cup of coffee this winter with my lovely wife, Cyndia.