Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In the beginning… the first year

I think the hardest thing for me to learn about a new garden was that a garden doesn’t just appear full grown overnight and, even if it did, it wouldn’t stay that way. A garden takes time. The gardener requires time as well to learn how to be a gardener, how to get smarter, how to be a positive force in the garden, how to not be a negative force often by being a negative one and seeing the results, i.e., learning the hard way. So I thought you might like to see how it all started for this gardener.

11/16/06 - a year and a half after the house was built, it was a nice enough plain suburban Florida landscape with liriope, azaleas, African iris and St. Augustine grass with no hint of what was to come.

7/22/07 - summer rain and a Knock Out rose to hide the cable box.

7/23/07 - the first roses of my buying spree appear in the front yard, a 'Don Juan' and a 'Mothers Day' on Fortuniana rootstocks.

10/28/07 - The front garden was needed for all the roses I was finding (and buying) online. The Knock Out is gone, too thorny and black spotty.

11/12/07 - If you're gonna grow a garden, you have to kill some grass - or dig it up or both.

11/18/07 - the grass is gone, old plantings moved out, and the removal of the builder's sand and native crappy soil begins one wheelbarrow at a time, replaced by composted horse manure, other organics and bagged topsoil.

11/18/07 - the Google satellite photos of our area were taken during this time, showing the green circle and the wheelbarrow. Sheesh!

11/18/07 - DH isn't the patsy you'd think, but I can't believe he went along with this.

11/18/07 - the nice neighbors never said a word.

11/25/07 - the vision was becoming more of a reality with every passing weekend.

11/25/07 - a mattock was needed for the bed along the sidewalk. I must admit I never pictured myself swinging one over my head and slamming it into the ground. Scary thought for uncoordinated me, but the 'Don Juans' are in their new homes.

1/6/08 - some daylilies and baby roses are in place. The area in the foreground was not dug out very deeply or amended enough. I was a beginner, and now I have to move the rose that's growing there and start again.

1/13/08 - Mulch! Not really. It's just the hay from the manure compost. I think my compost lady was a beginner, too.

IMG_3158 (Medium)
1/13/08- hey, the lamp post is gone, relocated to the backyard by DH.

1/13/08 - I had heard of something called the lasagna method of gardening, so if memory serves, I put down newspapers and/or cardboard (or maybe I didn't; I forget. That seems like a lot of cardboard.) on the dead grass and laid horse manure compost with a lot of hay in it on top, expecting to dig into soft, grass-less ground in a few months. Wrong! I don't know how many eons it takes for St. Augustine runners to rot, but I couldn't wait to find out. A shovel with a sharp edge was still more than necessary.

1/13/08 -My work areas are never really put away until they're done. I try to make it look organized and as out of sight as possible, but I'm usually at the edge of exhaustion when I finish for the day so this is as good as it usually looks. You can't see the stuff on the porch, can you?

1/13/08 - Do you see the light-colored chunks in the unmulched area to the left? That's the native stuff. Even though there are all kinds of organics mixed in, the soil still doesn't look like much. It takes about six months until it's all dark. It must be those magic microorganisms.

1/13/08 - pretty empty with more empty than pretty. There was quite a slope between the trees and the property line, so I used those big rocks piled by the hose to make a retaining wall that I filled with dirt for azaleas mostly. Azaleas will be planted in front of the porch, too, including two white ones that nearly croaked in the neutral ground in the backyard. There's more builder's sand in the front which I guess the azaleas like.

1/13/08 - How tiny those roses are! That was my biggest angst that first year. (Each year had its own angst.) When will these plants be big?? That wasn't the only thing I didn't know. The amount of stuff I did not know is incalculable. My learning curve was very steep.

2/1/08 - Do they look bigger yet? Taking their photos was difficult. I was always trying to find the right angle that would make them visible.

2/24/08 - In the three weeks since the last photo DH and I were spreading the crushed granite gravel in the backyard. There was leftover gravel so we brought it to the front to form a sort of promenade, a fancy word for what is actually a path. It has since been narrowed, or should I say the beds were widened?

3/18/08 - Time to start work on the other side. The dead grass has been removed to about the 10 o'clock position on the circle, and composted horse manure is being incorporated to make the beds hospitable for the roses. It seems that my ground is never quite hospitable enough, but we can't have everything, can we? 

5/10/08 - I really did love that circle of emerald grass. Mowing and edging it was a royal pain in the butt though. After the gas edger refused to start anymore I resorted to all sorts of cutting implements including scissors which failed miserably to get it clipped neatly. In the summer the St. Augustine runners would grow six inches beyond the edge in a week. So taking a picture when it was freshly cut was my consolation. I might also say that none of these roses are still in the garden.

5/10/08 - the only roses from this period now living in the garden are the three 'Hermosa's hiding beyond the arbor and one 'Gruss an Aachen' which now lives in a different position. Along the way I learned that Hybrid Musks don't like this garden along with some Polyanthas. I think it's too hot and humid for HM's and the soil is too alkaline for the Polys. Some of the Teas that left were kicked out too soon I fear, showing signs of lack of water that I misinterpreted. Doh!

5/10/08 - They're not only bigger, but they're blooming! Funny that those two daylilies are now under two big rose bushes.

5/23/08 - DH got a great deal on a pallet of bricks that made a side patio. I took just enough to add class to the garden. The deep pink Tea rose in the center is 'Marie d'Orleans' (click the link). She's so pretty here, but like most Teas she grew awkwardly as a young plant, and later she suffered from not enough water. I stupidly took those symptoms for insurmountable problems and shovel pruned her, an act I greatly regret. Hmm, I wonder who has her in stock. 'Monsieur Tillier' on the right is another great Tea rose that I shoveled pruned down the road. It really did have problems.

5/24/08 - My garden in miniature, the ever present pile of composted horse manure on the driveway, and bad signs at the curb's edge. Nothing seems to want to live there.

5/24/08 - The soaker hoses aren't hidden under the mulch yet, but the seventy-five feet of hose are surely a dead giveaway that the automatic micro-irrigation system hasn't even been thought of yet. That will be next year's angst.

6/8/08 - I got these two beautiful pots with intentions of making some sort of water feature. Alas, that kind of creativity is not in me. 'White Pet' lives in that one now on the circle.

6/14/08 - The Hybrid Musk 'Francesca' is in the left corner, trying to recover from the neighbor's yardman spraying RoundUp on a windy day. Fortunately, I was standing right there or all these roses would have been gone sooner. The rose next to it is 'Felicia', another Hybrid Musk with a heavenly fragrance. I had high hopes for them, giving them another year in a cooler location, but that wasn't enough to keep leaves on them.

6/24/08 - 'Le Vesuve' is that little pink spot just touching the liriope on the left, the greenish smudge in the center above the brick was fennel which became huge, and milkweed sprang up everywhere.

6/24/08 - can't see the roses for the African Daisies. The growth habit of every plant was a surprise to me, novice that I was. I would buy plants at Lowe's or the Spring Garden Festival with no clue what they would become. Ignorance was complicated by the now fertile garden soil and Florida growing conditions. In other words my garden became the land of giant companion plants.

6/24/08 - but it was pretty, and I liked it.

9/21/08 - Ahem, and then there was the siege of summer. Who knew that if you don't water St. Augustine grass the cinch bugs will come? Not me. I'd only lived in Florida twenty-nine years - but not in these full sun conditions with St. Augustine. Ugly grass and the expanding size of the plantings led me to enlarge the beds, so more grass was removed and "One more time!" Let's move the bricks. Mondo grass would go along the curb. You can't kill Mondo grass.

9/21/08 - Yes, the grass looks bad but not as bad as it's going to. The mulch is oak sawdust.

The Postscript
The next two photos were taken after the first year, but I feel they are landmarks that must be included.

3/7/09 - Hideous, isn't it? Spring has not sprung yet, and despite the fact that winter freezes don't kill liriope, they still look dead, and the freezes did kill much of the weak grass. Hey, what a shock! You can kill Mondo grass. The totally dead grass that was in the center of the circle gave me the idea of a round bed for a centerpiece rose. After receiving many suggestions from my rosey friends on the Antique Roses Forum I decided that 'Le Vesuve' was the obvious choice. Oh, by the way never think that I was winging this on my own. The ARF was a constant companion and source of rose knowledge for which I'm eternally grateful.

4/28/09 - Gravel has many advantages, but two were all I needed. It doesn't need mowing, edging or watering, and it doesn't die. The tweaking and primping and even some outright demolition still continues... and ever shall.


  1. What a wonderful transformation. It is lovely. Lots of hard work to get it there but well worth it.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Those pictures are a wonderful progression, you've done a fantastic job.


  3. Oh wow, I liked that!!!! Thanks for the tour!

  4. You must have great neighbors!!! LOL Fantastic job and great creativity.

  5. I poured over these pictures for a long, long time, Sherry. What a story to tell! I can not imagine all the work this took. And I can't imagine what your neighbors thought, either! ;) Sweet husband you must have to help!

  6. Just look at the transformation. Makes all of that digging and toting all worth while. I know it is hard to wait on some of these plants to get growing. Hard lesson to learn. I have to say I enjoyed your bed making pictures and love the circle you made. It looks so lovely. We have to have room for those roses for sure. Have a wonderful week.

  7. I love that you shared these photos. I keep track of my garden growth through a photo journal and to look back and see the mud pits that are now beautiful flower beds/paths is encouraging to me. It tells me I really am a gardener ;)

  8. I never get tired of looking at pictures of your garden transformation. Of course, a lot has changed since your final picture, all for the better, with the roses and companion plants so much larger. Just looking at all the work it took has made me tired!

  9. I loved seeing your garden the first year! So many changes and widening beds and more plants! You are my type of gardener. Our yard looks so different from when we first moved in. The previous owners wouldn't recognize it.