On Gardening

February 14, 2014  

Viburnum x bodnantense “Pink Dawn”

Several years ago, my husband and I planted two Viburnum x bodnantense “Pink Dawn” shrubs, one on either side of the steps descending to the lawn from the back deck, and although they are not supposed to survive in our zone 6b gardening climate (being a zone 7 plant), they have consistently been the first in the garden to flower, beginning with a display of fat, pearly pink buds during the winter months.  In mid-March, these turn a deep rose, and then between late March and early April, they slowly open into clusters of sweetly scented, soft pink and white blossoms.  This display will often continue sporadically for another six weeks, even after the leaves have unfurled.

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Gardening Through the Years: Looking Back

When my family and I purchased our present home more than three decades ago, we enjoyed imagining the potential of its large, L-shaped yard.  I had no idea how to garden at the time, nor was I particularly interested.  Tall privet hedges and Japanese barberry bordered three sides of the property, and there were numerous mature trees providing ample shade.  The back part of the L was like an open field, with knee-high grass and little else.  So even though we’ve been living on a busy street in the heart of downtown Dartmouth all these years, we’ve also felt as if we were living in the country.

During the first few years we lived here, we were given divisions of perennials by friends and neighbours who assured us that their offerings–if we planted them–would soon flourish, which indeed, they did.  It wasn’t until after the boys had left home for university and the volleyball net came down, that I became passionate about collecting specific varieties or cultivars of plants.  A gardener friend unknowingly nudged me in that direction, since year after year his once sunny yard developed more and more shade.  From time to time he would dig up a shrub or two and pass them on to me, thinking that they would have a better chance for survival in my family’s yard.  You might say my husband and I became “foster gardeners”.

Now, when I move about the garden with friends, I point out Bob’s burning bush, lilac, Montgomery spruce, peonies and creeping Jenny; his wife Lynne’s fir tree (supposedly a dwarf variety, which now towers over all the other plants near the waterfall), Doreen’s hosta and phlox subulata, her late husband Murray’s pickerel weed (in the pond), Jack’s irises, and Jackie Jordan’s pulmonaria.  In other words, the long, narrow borders I had felt obliged to start planting began to creep around the perimeter of the yard.  With my husband Dennis providing the “muscle”, we soon expanded them into broader beds with sweeping curves.

Then, when my husband Dennis decided to put in a waterfall and pond, the dirt and massive rocks we dug up had to be moved somewhere else. That’s when we first learned the meaning of “building a berm”.  Thanks to our gardening neighbours, they came to our aid many a time when we were heaving and rolling boulders around!  (Literally…Dennis would push each humungous boulder along a plank, rolling it over house-jacking pipes in the direction of our berm site, while I would grab each pipe as it became free, run ahead, and place it close enough to catch the front edge of the aforementioned rock again.)  It definitely was a team effort!

Hurricane Juan had to be one of the most devastating storms I’ve ever experienced, and I say that having survived several typhoons when I lived in Japan.  Foolishly, I watched from the patio window as our eighty-foot tall pine came down around midnight.  The next morning, many of our neighbours told us they’d held their breaths, as I did, while our elm tree’s heavy limbs swung back and forth in the midst of terrifying contortions.  I believe the beech was frightened, too, because it was clinging to the side of the house like a child trying to hide in the folds of its mother’s skirt.  Of our trees that survived the storm, those in the front yard and the elm all had to be taken down within two years because of damage initiated by Hurricane Juan.

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The morning after the storm, we awoke to a landscape that had totally changed; several of my neighbours’ trees had been destroyed, too, and I mourned the loss of them as much as I did our own.  In an amazing spirit of cooperation, the post-Juan cleanup crew of our neighbours and my husband Dennis performed quickly and efficiently over the course of the following two weeks.  But it took months and even years for my eyes to adjust to the absence of once loved trees.  I can’t imagine how people are able to cope with the devastation wrought by tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and wild fires–disasters in which they lose their homes and everything familiar to them in their immediate world.

In the spring of the following year, I looked upon these losses as an opportunity to plant several other trees and shrubs: a more disease resistant crab apple–Malus ‘Sutyzam’ (Sugar Tyme), a Cornus kousa var. chinensis ‘Milky Way’ (dogwood) and two Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ (weeping Japanese maples) in the front yard, and a Acer palmatum h. ‘Osakazuki’ in place of the beech to the side of the house.  A Styrax japonicus (Silverbell tree) went in where we’d lost the pin cherries.  A Magnolia x. ‘Susan’ was planted off the back deck as a mother’s day gift from my husband and son Chris, and a Magnolia sieboldii (Japanese magnolia) topped our second berm in the front yard.  I also purchased Syringa juliana ‘Hers’ (a weeping lilac) on one of our anniversaries to place beside the path next to our side door.

I’ll be returning to this page from time to time to add comments about my favourite plants through the seasons, so please check back.  In the meantime, here are a few more photos of our garden, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Top row, left to right: Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush) “Empire Blue”, with Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle); Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris (Climbing hydrangea) with Clematis viticella “General Sikorski”; English Rose (David Austin) “Sharifa Asma”.

Bottom row, left to right:Monarda didyma (Beebalm) “Raspberry Wine”, “Jacob Cline” and “Beauty of Cobham”; Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy) “Karine”, with Astrantia major (Masterwort) “Rubra”; Nymphaea (Waterlily) “Pink Sensation”.

4 Responses to On Gardening

  1. Peggy says:

    Thanks, Carolyn. Yours has always been my inspiration–the Japanese style one that you used to have, and your current lovely landscaped berm. Thanks for visiting my site!


  2. Carolyn Poel says:

    I remember the big trees (sigh). But your garden is always SO beautiful.


  3. Peggy says:

    Thanks, Jean. Can’t wait until the flowers in the above photographs actually come into bloom!


  4. Jean Chard says:

    So great to see these flowers in the dead of winter!


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