Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Garden Diary: The garden in between …

October 3, 2015

I call this the Edgar Allan Poe season in my garden …

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… that time at the end of summer, before the colors of autumn begin. The fog brings an atmosphere of something like despair.

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Do these Gordlinia blossoms suit the Poe atmosphere? Perhaps they are luscious enough to suggest some deeply illicit, carnal, certainly subconscious, sexual note.

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A bud.

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The canal pond.

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The bank.

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Sanguisorba canadensis and Miscanthus in flower.

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See the gravel piles below? This is an experiment.

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The old septic system that failed last spring was here. The area had to be cleared and heavy construction equipment brought in, further compacting the already heavy clay (and doing much more damage). I’m adding tangent circles of pea gravel (the hula hoop is the unit of measure) throughout this area. I got the idea visiting Derry Watkins’ garden and nursery, Special Plants, near Bath, UK, in July. Derry, who gardens over wet clay, discovered that she can grow many plants that shouldn’t do well if she plants into gravel of various depths. The gravel also promotes seeding. This article in The Telegraph tells that story.

So I’m trying out the idea. Not such a new idea really. I’ve noticed that some of my plants clearly want to climb up from their clay dungeons onto the gravel paths, where they grow much more vigorously. Many garden plants also seed into the gravel paths in preference to clay. I’m simply creating opportunities in the garden for more of that to happen.

Now back to the Poe garden.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Steer October 3, 2015 at 11:17 am

So sophisticatedly subtle – you have a stunning garden. I like the experimental heaps of gravel.

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James Golden October 3, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Thanks, Paul. I brought seed back from England, which I intend to use in some of the gravel mounds. I can’t wait to see what happens next spring.

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lindaB October 3, 2015 at 5:07 pm

A delightful post on this stormy weekend. But where are the ravens? Thank you.

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James Golden October 3, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Alas, no ravens were available.

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Diana Studer October 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm

what a simple and easy way to deal with plants that are unhappy in clay.
I used to harvest volunteer seedlings from our gravel paths in Porterville.
Now they come up in the gaps between the paving slabs.

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James Golden October 3, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Some of my largest Silphiums regularly seed into the middle of the gravel paths now. I look forward to having them in the middle of the garden. I am a little concerned that I may be violating my self-pledge not to take any direct action to improve the soil conditions.

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Emily October 3, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Can you explain the thought behind making mounds as opposed to layers of uniform depth? Will that accommodate plants with different needs and result in more of a matrix or tapestry? I read the link, but didn’t find the answer therein.

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James Golden October 3, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Emily, Derry has some areas with 8 inches of gravel, others with only 2 inches. I decided to experiment to see if depth of gravel influences successful germination and longer term growth. This is certainly not a scientific experiment in any way, but I want to vary the depth of gravel to see if I can observe any differences in germination or performance. Eventually, I expect all the gravel to settle at about the same level. And another reason? I like the look of the little piles of gravel, at least for this first winter.

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Julia October 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

Sensational images James – not a term I use lightly. Very well done. Just seen Derry at the Dixter Plant Fair – in her element as usual – lovely. Dixter looking GREAT in the autumn sun and the fair has exploded in popularity – pleased for them.

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James Golden October 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Thank you, Julia. I’ve seen several posts on the Dixter Plant Fair. It seems to have grown immensely popular.

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Pat Webster October 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

James, the photos are extraordinarily evocative, with or without ravens. I was surprised to see the gravel mounds — for a moment I thought our garden plans were in sync. I am planning to add gravel mounds to my Japanese/Zen style gravel garden, not as an experiment in germination or growth but simply as an element in an otherwise flat area. Using the hula hoop to keep the mounds the same size is a great idea — simple and practical. If you happen to have a hula hoop lying around. Which I don’t, of course. But now I’m on the lookout for one.

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James Golden October 6, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Pat, how interesting to hear you intend to use gravel mounds in another way. I do like the look of them, though in my garden, I know they will eventually subside beneath a layer or rather layers of plants. I was intending to search for an expensive metal hoop, when I came across cheap hula hoops, I don’t remember where.

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Nell October 4, 2015 at 11:56 am

The occasional shot of warm color among these superb images is restorative to those of us who find them a little *too* evocative, having been surrounded by moist, moody mist for a couple of weeks now. Just the time when berries (winterberry holly?) and your red-painted stumps are especially valuable. The smoldering sumac makes a contribution, too, even if subdued when compared with the flaming flag it’ll be when the sun comes out.

The brief horticultural interlude has a similar cheering effect. Give yourself a pass on the soil improvement issue; this section has had such intense human intervention and damage, from the installation to the de-installation of the septic system, that mitigation of some kind is called for. And the circles of gravel are so much more than soil improvement: They’re science! Art! And fun.

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James Golden October 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Nell, you’re certainly right. The damage caused by rather massive human intervention is excuse enough for resorting to “soil improvement” so to speak. For color I’ve had a lot of New England asters this year, but they are almost all gone over.

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Nell October 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

Is that a dark-leaved Acacia in the last two images?

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James Golden October 6, 2015 at 3:27 pm

It’s (and I hope I spell it correctly) Albezia julibrissin ‘Chocolate’. In zone 6, it’s right at the limit of hardiness, but it’s made it through two very hard winters. It comes out so late, I thought I had lost it this year and had picked out a replacement tree, then I saw the first green sprout.

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Huw Morgan October 7, 2015 at 5:55 pm

James, your garden is so beautiful. And you have photographed it beautifully. I like the sculptural presence of the gravel piles. And tell me about the conifer in the pool garden. What plans do you have for it ?

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James Golden October 7, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Huw, thank you for your kind comments. I like the gravel piles too, and intend to add more, but my garden is so wild (and subject to various forms of marauding wildlife), I don’t think the forms will hold without major maintenance. As to the evergreen, it’s the only evergreen that will grow in my wet conditions, the very common (over here) Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’, which can grow to 12 or 15 feet. Much of my gardening is response to what presents itself. Thomas Rainer today made reference to my style of gardening as playing a never ending game of chess. So, I’ll wait and see how large it grows. I have no clear plans. I put it there simply because I felt a strong vertical contrast, well defined against the softer plantings around it, would be satisfying. Akin to abstract painting, I suppose.

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Faisal Grant October 10, 2015 at 8:23 am

Magnificent. Undead. I’m really lost for words. You’ve done so much without apparent strain. Really beautiful. It reminds me that gardens can’t be ‘stopped’, and that’s the wonder. You keep yours moving. Thanks James, for such excellence.

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James Golden October 19, 2015 at 6:57 am

“Undead,” I like that, Faisal. Actually, this weekend, we had our first freezing weather, which brings in the peak garden season for a short time–until snow arrives. The winter season, and rest, have arrived.

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Patrick Hockey March 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm

“an atmosphere of something like despair”…***claps*** I like this – well done.

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