Monday, June 6, 2011

The Renovation Begins

The first step to a garden renovation is clearing some space for new hardscaping. As mentioned last time, we will be having a small patio installed and also 2 small pergolas, so I needed to move all the plants within range of the construction to a no-work zone. I have previously tried leaving the plants in place, only to have the contractor’s size 13 waffle-stompers deprive me of some favorite plants.
The first bed to face the shovel was the one along the sidewalk, facing the pond. All the plants in the middle of the bed had to be relocated. When I first made this bed, I planted a couple of spiraea shrubs named ‘Golden Elf’, one near each end, and a rose in the middle. ‘Golden Elf’ is a lovely, small shrub, only getting 2 or 3 feet tall and wide with bright, green-gold foliage and pink flower clusters in the spring. It’s tough as nails and rarely needs any care except the occasional trim.
The 2 spiraeas are staying, but the rose, named ‘Gourmet Popcorn’, had to be moved. Additionally, 3 astilbes (2 ‘Peach Blossom’ and one ‘Spinel’), one daylily (‘Stella d’Oro’) and a Japanese forest grass (‘Aurea’) were also shuffled off to the holding bed. There is a patch of daffodils left which should probably be moved, but I’m hoping to let them bloom first.
Pruning ‘Gourmet Popcorn’ in preparation of moving was traumatic for both of us. This rose forms a twiggy shrub that is covered in tiny white blooms all summer and looks uncommonly like its namesake. It is generally no care and a pleasure to have around. In testament to its vigor, the main canes were as big around as my wrist and the whole plant just screamed “don’t move me, I’m happy!!” I hope it forgives me for hacking off all but a few strong limbs and ripping it out of the ground. I felt exactly as I imagine a parent must feel when bringing their kid to the doctor – you know it’s for their own good but you hate to hear them scream. I did give it some fertilizer and a position with more sun, much as the parent takes the kid out for ice cream after a shot.

Rosa 'Gourmet Popcorn'
The astilbes were much less trouble and popped out with no struggle. The reason for the lack of resistance soon became clear when I saw all the roots had been chewed off by the local varmint population. Fortunately, astilbes are quite tough and I believe the few roots remaining to them will be sufficient to get them started elsewhere. ‘Spinel’, in particular, is a favorite of mine. The flowers are a vivid dark red and last for most of a month. When the blooms fade, the foliage remains and looks vaguely fern-like for the rest of the season. No pests, except varmints, seem to bother it.
The varmints in question were voles. These rodents look exactly like a fat mouse with a short tail. Unlike moles, which are insectivores and only eat worms and bugs, voles are mostly herbivores, though they will also gnaw on insects. They use mole tunnels as their highways to the supermarket; also known as my garden. Their very favorite food will always be the roots of whatever plant you are currently most enamored with.
If you’re lucky (?), you might even get to watch them eat your plants. One second you’re admiring the new tulip bloom and the next the entire plant is shaking. Then, the flower stem suddenly drops into the ground. Looking into the hole, you see a smug little mouse face looking up at you, bits of tulip bulb still decorating its whiskers.  Generally, I don’t remember what happens next, but my spouse tells me it involves flying garden implements and much profanity.
If you know how to get rid of them, I hope you will tell me.
Other activities of the day included whacking back another of my favorite roses, ‘Ramblin’ Red’. This rose was bred by Bill Radler, the breeder of the famous ‘Knockout’ rose. ‘Ramblin’ Red’ is a lovely medium red climber that blooms in waves all season and is fully cane hardy in our zone 5, meaning there is no die back over the winter. If you choose this rose for your garden, plan on putting up a very strong trellis or fence for it to rampage on – the canes can get upwards of 15 feet long and have deadly thorns.
Since I didn’t plan carefully, I gave Red a flimsy trellis that was no match for it and the rose proceeded to break off the legs and pull the whole thing out of the ground. I had to chop Red down and move it to get the remains of the trellis out of its grasp. Brad (Signature Surfaces) will be building a new pergola for it which should be proof against its exuberant nature and I’m sure it will fully recover in a year or two.
Next, it will be time to shovel prune plants that have outlived their welcome. Shovel pruning is the delicate euphemism for removing unwanted plants, though I will probably give many away to friends with smaller gardens and more energy. Several prima donna roses and many daylilies that no longer thrill me will be among the casualties. Fortunately, all this carnage will result in room for the boxes of plants arriving on my doorstep!
Stay stubborn!

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