Thursday, October 16, 2008

Constructing A Shade Garden

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A quiet night here on the mountain. Gail is reading, Alex is grouching away at a home school project and Karl the Wonder Dog is in front of the wood stove, almost motionless with only an occasional rise and fall of his ribs. Dogs apparently mellow out better than humans when they are relaxing....I should be so lucky!

It's quiet outside too with everything well dampened from a full day's worth of heavy rain. The foliage season had never been so good until this morning. It has been going strong since about the 22d of September, with bright reds and strong yellows, greens and browns. Many of you have asked for more pictures but I have had so much work at the nursery to finish up that camera clicking has been off the list. Here are a few shots in haste on my part. Just click to enlarge if you're so inclined.

As for today's topic, return to the introductory photo at the top of the page. If you have followed this blog, or The Vermont Gardener, or have checked out our old but good website, Vermont Flower Farm, or if you have just plain visited us at Peacham Pond Road before our move, you will have an understanding of our love for shade plants. We maintained (past tense) a beautiful garden within an old barn foundation and by it's virtues it had become a destination for many gardeners.

This summer we moved to our new location and placed a few thousand hostas and shade plants in and around a couple shade houses. One house was 20 by 30 feet and the other was 20 feet by 60 feet. The plant quality was as superb as ever but the displays, no matter how often they were changed, just weren't the same as the real thing.

Moving and developing new gardens in the same summer is an impossibility without a bundle of money. As such we progressed as best we could and we're proud of what we accomplished. A 10 foot by 200 ft garden breaks the entrance to the nursery from the plants themselves. It's weedy but plantings held up well and will be completed next spring. The "stone bones" of what will become a certified daylily display garden are set. Other gardens have been started and the 5000 daylily plants in various garden plots is a good start by itself. Just the same, the shade plants hadn't received any real attention.

Gail had herself convinced that I would not get to a hosta and shade garden this year and perhaps not until later next year. Let me just say that she does not know me as well as some that work with us. Three days ago I began what should amount to about 40 hours of tractor work excavating a site a little over 300 feet long and 10 to 100 feet wide. If you enlarge the picture at the top, you will receive a sense of the proposed garden.

To the left of the picture you'll note a piece of the Winooski River which winds behind the garden. The couple house roofs suggest where the village of Marshfield commences. The new garden is only scratched out in the land as I used the tractor bucket to skim off all the weeds and then began the process of rototilling back and forth, back and forth. The soil is free of as much as a peeble and being close to the river it leaches water at a depth of about 10 inches on down. The end on the right is lower and a line of heavy clay forms an underground dam and holds water at that end as it seeps through the bank and into the river.

A little more than a week ago, George the geologist came by and sampled the area. The proposed area was covered with weeds at the time but now its nakedness confirms the samples. It is at least three feet deep in alluvial soil deposited over the years during various floods. Although this soil type is devoid of organic material and although the top dries to dust in 2-3 days, it's all fixable, it's easier to improve than clay and it's perfect for shade tolerant plants like hostas.

Riding around on the tractor is great fun for some but it wears on my back and legs after a bit. Just the same, one look at what I have done so far is sufficient encouragement to keep at it. My goal is to have it ready to plant before the snowflakes get too deep. That will give me the days of winter to design what will go where, bring in the rest of the hard scape and order up trees and shrubs. I know the single picture lends little direction to where I am heading but bear with me. This new garden won't be able to replace the old barn foundation, but it will be a shade garden you'll want to walk through....time and again, in peace and tranquility. Be patient. Plan a visit.....

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where large flocks of Canada Geese flew high
during Tuesday and Wednesday nights moonlit skies. Cars now come with built in GPS's but geese always had them.

With cool garden thoughts of fall chores,
Gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm