It’s a blustery fall day. The last of the leaves are blowing off the trees and I’m… gardening?
There is a narrow space between my house and the neighbor’s back yard. It is marked by a row of scalloped landscape stones that have been slowly submerged under years of mulch and a maturing yard. I’m not really worried about marking a boundary, except as a marker for who is responsible for maintenance.
A fence seems rather unfriendly, but what about a garden? A rock garden by the driveway is a good way to keep tires from rolling into the garden, and I can use the rocks as a subtle boundary between my yard and the one next door. Rocks, bushes and lawn ornaments are all elements of hardscaping; which is creating a landscape that doesn’t depend on flowers or leaves to add beauty to your yard. When it is finished, I hope my rock garden will be an interesting place throughout the year.
I started by clearing the week-choked margin and recovering the paving stones that were hiding under the weeds. My plan is to reset the paving stones vertically at the back of the garden. I spent a lot of time breaking up the soil, amending it with a topsoil mix and removing weeds.
While breaking up clods of dirt with the blade of my shovel I noticed that I was cutting up a lot of roots. I had visions of the mythic creature Hydra, which grew back two heads for every one cut off! My plan to avoid propagating weeds by chopping up their roots was to hit dirt clods with the back of the shovel, thus loosening the roots without cutting them. That way I could remove whole pieces of root rather than sorting through dirt looking for every broken piece.
Setting a few pavers vertically was a good beginning, but I didn’t want to end up with a mini-Stonehenge, or something that looked like a “spite garden” so I varied the back by transplanting some day lilies. They will grow into a tall, green boundary and will bloom all summer long. The problem will be to keep them from taking over the whole garden!
I worked on arranging rocks so that plants will grow in little protected nooks and crannies. Some of the rocks were covered in lichen. Don’t ignore lichens! They are a hardy combination of plant and fungus that make a colorful contribution to a rock garden. I arranged rocks so that the lichen covered ones were a visible part of the garden. Lichens don’t need a lot of care. They can be found in the extreme conditions of mountain tops. If you want to brighten their colors, give them a spray of water and you will see almost instant results!
I was lucky to have inherited a lot of rock when I purchased my house. I just had to rearrange and reuse rocks that were already there. A dolly is a wonderful tool for moving heavy rocks around your garden. I think I learned that tip a long time ago on a PBS gardening show. That dolly has more than paid for itself in simplifying countless jobs around my house!
I planted several lavender plants at the back of the garden to help with the screen effect. I love lavender but my luck with it has not always been good. These plants were on sale as “distressed” plants. Translation- seriously pot bound and bloomed out. They are not hardy in my zone but they were good sized plants at a low price. I am hoping that with a lot of mulch to protect them over the winter I can keep them alive. We will see!
What is a zone? The USDA has developed plant hardiness zones for different areas of the country based on the average extreme minimum temperature. The coldest zone is zone one and, in the United States, the warmest zone is zone ten. You can check the USDA interactive map to find the zone where you live. Most plants sold at home improvement stores or in the garden section of discount stores are marked with a label that explains where the plant will do well. If you are buying a perennial, check. A lot of plants that are marked as perennials may not be appropriate for your area.
With the rocks in place I began planting bulbs. These will be my biggest springtime reward for autumn preparation! Read the packages when you start to select bulbs. You can overlap tulips of different varieties to get a longer blooming period. The same is true for daffodils. Plant them in random groups at a depth of 4-6 inches. I covered the big bulbs with about 3 inches of soil and then planted early blooming crocus and fritillaria in the same area. The first plants I should see peeping through the snow will be my brave little crocus!
I transplanted some succulents that I thinned from another garden in the yard. I will put in a greater variety when they appear in the stores next spring. The other missing components are anchor plants that will give the garden 4-season interest. These plants not only bloom and have attractive foliage, but also have interesting branches or berries that contribute their beauty to winter months. I look forward to happily searching seed catalogs for my anchors through the cold days of January, when the holidays are over and we start dreaming of spring!