The winter was brutal, and decimated my Aloe Striata. Decimated. The previous year's winter damage was partly due to our clumsy attempts to protect them: we covered them with sheets, which got wet and then just cold-marinated them in their own juices. This winter I took a harsh Darwinist approach to it and that was also a mistake, as you'll see when I upload the pictures. I also learned that a dead aloe smells BAD. You know that smell right after a cat has had kittens, that's kind of...moist and yeasty? It's like that, but with rotten foliage mixed in. Nice, I know. And they squirt the stuff a pretty good distance when handled! (The aloe, not newborn kittens.)
Winter also burned the leaves of all my Bicolor iris. That was my go-to evergreen grass that never died or even looked mildly affected by the elements, so where does that leave my garden I ask rhetorically and somewhat dramatically?!? I had to get rid of the dead leaves so now they all look like marine recruits with fresh crewcuts. I'm debating replacing some or all with Yuccas. I liked the fact that the grasses swayed in the breeze and looked kind of tropical, but now they're just stumpy clumps. I know that once a grass starts dying out it's never quite the same: you'll always have the dead shorter stalks at the base, and eventually the center sort of clears out and then you've got a silly Friar Tuck effect going. I've never had much luck with more traditional grasses - they all act like annuals for me, despite being labeled perennials. Yeah, so there's that.
Do I sound a little hysterical about it all? I kind of am, or at least seriously angst-y. I feel robbed: I look at magazine pictures of gardens, always in California, and everything looks so happy and green. Sure, your garden's at risk for sliding down a hill in a mudslide or burning in a forest fire or just plain falling into the ocean when the San Andreas fault finally does what we all know it's going to do someday, but in the meantime they can grow aloes and such like weeds there. Aloes like WEEDS, people. I know I live in Texas but dammit, do I have to garden like it?? (Don't answer that. Let's just leave something for next Spring's lesson.)
Yesterday I shopped for plants for the front, and I'm kind of excited about planting some Golden Delicious pineapple sage. It has nice bright foliage and red flowers. I got some Variegated Ginger for the back of the front bed, some variegated Yucca and some red/green coleus too. None of them are evergreen except the Yucca and ALL evergreen was my original goal, but at this point I'd just settle for a front yard that looked nice some part of the year.
I also trimmed back some of the roses, so I'm scratched up. 'The Fairy' rose is MEAN and hateful.
I spent all of today planting irises that arrived from Schreiner's in the Fall. I left them packed in the box in a dry spot all winter, so we'll see how well they do and if I've wasted my own money. I also had to divide up the Louisiana Iris 'Joie de Vivre'. I hope I haven't hurt it, the dividing process always seems so brutal. I had enough for another planting so I put them over in the new bed, by the gutter downspout. I'm not sure the Louisiana Iris 'Black Gamecock' is going to rally back ever, so I'm ordering another online.
Next weekend I want to move those John Fannick Phlox I planted in the new bed last year, and put them in the center bed where the Catmint and Autumn Joy Sedum used to be. I say used to because they both appear to be completely dead. The Sedum might come back, but I'm so tired of them: I get sucked in by fabulous pictures online or in gardening books but in reality it looks good for about 10 minutes, and then it starts flopping. I trim them down a couple times during the season but the end result is always the same. I'm done with it. The Catmint looks great while it's alive, but I keep having to replace dead ones in that spot so I can only conclude that it isn't the ideal location for it.
I'll also be planting all the plants I bought for the front that I didn't get to this weekend. I always do that: buy more than I could possibly plant in a weekend (without help), because I'm afraid if I go back the following weekend all the good plants will be gone.
I always post lessons learned in the Spring, and they are numerous (or at least the words to describe them are):
- There's no nobility in doing your own post-winter yard cleanup. Every year I've done it all myself, and it has taken 3 solid weekends. This year I gave up before I started and paid the man who does my lawn care, and I have no regrets. (Well, maybe one: he topped my Crepe Myrtles mildly and I'm worried, but what's done is done.) There's still plenty left to do as you can tell from the above, but this year I'll get a jump-start on the remaining things I have/want to do. He filled up 12 lawn bags, and I've since filled up 3 more. What does that tell you about the volume of work?
- There's more Winter cleanup to do if you have a lot of perennials instead of evergreen plants. Yeah, that's kind of a "duh" lesson, but I also have to touch wet paint. It's just how I roll. Not sure how I'm going to fix that yet...the evergreens are seldom as pretty as my flowering perennials. I like pretty plants.
- When the plant tag or a website tells you something will get X feet tall by Y feet wide or needs full/no sun, believe it. Sure, sometimes it's going to be wrong, especially when it's a plant that isn't intended for your climate. [But when that's the case you're buying a whole other set of potential problems because you'll be working hard to keep it alive/pretty, so I guess this is a two-fer lesson.] I've gotten better about this as the years have passed, but I'm reminded of my mistakes every time I look at the Madame Berkley roses looming ridiculously large in the front of the Texas Mountain Laurel, or the roses under the Crepe Myrtles that get thin and spindly and sad once the trees leaf out and they're in dappled shade. Or just when I plant something new and dig up the "headstone" plastic plant tag that marked where a plant used to be. R.I.P., Foxglove and Bee Balm.
- My garden lacks foliage contrast in some places. I've got a lot of finely textured plants but I need more broad-leafed things I think. And maybe more contrast in foliage color. Not sure how to fix this yet either, maybe a couple more of the giant red/purple grass that we put in the new bed? (I never posted a picture but it got to be at least 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.)
So in conclusion, I've got a lot to think about. Maybe this is a gardening epiphany year for me, or more accurately a 'learning to garden in reality' year. Epiphany sounds much less judgemental, though.
Sometime soon I'll post pictures of our protracted kitchen remodel and that will make my gardening whine post pale in comparison. How's that for a teaser?!