We have all seen the joke about someone painting themselves into a corner. Of course that never happens to you or I. We have more foresight than to allow such foolishness to happen to us. Having said that, I believe I worked myself into a corner in my garden. While it did take time and effort, I managed to find a way.
About half way up the hillside where my garden resides there is a stand of three mature cedar trees. The trees grow in an almost perfect triangle. My first efforts were to have a shade garden beneath, but soon gave up due to rock ledges and shallow clay soil. I did resort to cleanup with a weed eater and installing a bench, but then realized you could be seen by passing traffic on the nearby street. When in my garden I enjoy my privacy.
To the front of the first two cedars I constructed a raised bed from cedar logs with the back log against the boles of the cedars. The raised bed was the same width and length as space between the two trees. Two azalea were transplanted to form a screen. One azalea took off like a gardener’s dream, while the other sulked, pouted, and within a couple of years went to be big compost pile in the sky. The first azalea filled the bed while leaving room for smaller plants to be grown around the perimeter. Not only did I have my privacy, turned out to be a decent example of a small shade garden.
I was never satisfied with the concept of a bench under the cedar trees, feeling it was far too limited. One day there was a cartoon balloon in the sky that read: “Gene, build a deck.” Well, how could I not? It was a sign. As it turned out there was an exact space for a ten foot by ten foot deck nestled between the three trees beginning on the opposite side of the two tree boles. That left a kind of awkward no-man’s strip four feet wide by 10 feet long at the base of the two trees. At each end where the boles were located the strip was only two feet wide.
So Now What?
I weeded that plot of neglect for some years until it finally evolved into a design challenge. I took a probe and began to locate roots in the space. Turned out soil was not all that bad. I drew up a list of plants and did a thumbprint design in my mind and went to work with my spade. That design got changed every time I hit a large root or a mass of smaller ones. Which was frequent. There were several expressions of rottenruckensuch!
Listen to the Tree
I sat my design concepts aside and listened to the trees. I removed the log that defined the edge of the azalea bed. Then two bags of pine bark mini chips and two bags of composted cow manure with peat were spread. Amendments were worked into the three to six inches of soil that were available to the spade. Once plants were transplanted there would be a mulch of fine pine bark chips.
All plants had to be champions of root competition, tolerant of shade and somewhat dry soil. I also wanted a good mix of foliage forms and colors with some emphasis on fall.
Asarum maximum ‘Shell Shocked’ or Panda Faced Ginger, I have grew from three starts in a large container for some years where it spent its’ winters in the greenhouse. It is rated as 6b or 7, which, I feel, is borderline hardy here. This winter both the ginger and I find out.
Clumps are eight inches tall, gently spreading to form a colony of large shiny deepest-green foliage with silver tortoise shell patterns overlaying heavy substance. Individual heart-shaped leaves reach eight inches across by nine inches. Outstanding. We will see how evergreen they will be here, but they are in a protected area.
Polystichum setiferum, or Soft Shield Fern, is two feet of airy, feathery, soft as a baby duck’s down fronds. I have had this one for years in my garden, dividing and moving it several times. This time I took a spade and cut off a chunk to transplant. Should provide great contrast to all the other plants used in this now no longer awkward area.
Geranium maculatum ‘Vicki Lynn’ is an exclusive of Edelweiss Perennials. I ordered two for this project. Flowers are a bit larger than our local species with a light center. Foliage is why it was selected with each leaf large, glossy and maroon-red in fall.
Hemiboea henryi is the groundcover that will tie it all together. Foliage is bright green, highly polished, rounded and almost succulent with spots of purple-cinnamon on the stems. Blooms come arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel, well displayed above the leaves. Each creamy white flower is shaped like a foxglove and have cinnamon spots in its throat. All creeping about just beneath the mulch to put on a show in September.
And, I managed to back out of that one without leaving footprints. Not so awkward after all.