Thursday, May 9, 2013

Terror Plantae

That's me.  The scourge of greenery.  Any hope of snow for the year now having ended, and the fires of hell set to descend upon the DC area any week now (blessedly, they have held off so far), my pestilential reign resumes.  Flowering plants shake to their very roots.  The weeds, however, are not afraid of me; lo, though I set upon them with vengeance, they are but emboldened. 

So far there is significant and plausible circumstantial evidence that I know what I'm doing.  (Do not be fooled.)  Let's start with the front.  My house has a full-width front porch with some architectural peculiarities.  In front of said porch, a previous owner planted azaleas.  If they hadn't already been there, I would have bought some to put in front of the porch.  They're the perfect choice. 

But in front of the azaleas, somebody planted lilacs.  Lilacs.  Here they are (the tall dead branch-looking things), in winter, looking innocent:

I grew up near the lilac capitol, and my mother managed to fill our tiny yard with them - and only the very nicest varieties.  (I love them all, but she was quite picky.)  I am not a lilac hater.  Let me be clear, however: lilacs do not belong in front of your front porch.  The internet claims they are "shrubs," but the internet is toying with you.  Here is a relatively mature lilac (I would guess about ten years):

(Doggy is for scale.  Not my dog; not my lilac.)  Nor do they stop there:

(Tragically, also not my house.)  I'm telling you, don't think "hedge."  Think forest.  And some nitwit planted a forest of lilacs in front of my azaleas, in front of my house. 

Neither lilacs nor azaleas are invasive species (nothing I like is.  Well, I like wisteria.  Of course I don't have any), but there is a marked difference in aggression.  The lilacs were strangling the azaleas, which barely even put up a fight.  I didn't initially realize that the offenders were lilacs - I recognized the leaves with certainty (I'm still pretty proud of that), but then they never bloomed, so I doubted my identification.  Of course, my husband had just chopped two feet off their height; never crossed my mind that that was why there were no flowers.  (Less proud of that.)  This year, however, they bloomed, cementing their identity, and I perceived a dilemma.  I had let them, and the rest of the yard, go last year because I was (you may recall) remodeling my kitchen.  But this summer, the yard has my full attention.  It was time to rescue the azaleas.  But my original bloodthirsty plans (kill the invaders!) were going to have to be modified. 

I had four six- to eight-foot lilacs, and an accompanying thicket of lilac seedlings (seriously - hundreds.  Some tall enough they were already in flower).  Had this work not been quite labor-intensive, I would have found loving homes for every seedling, but as it was, I just plowed through.  (They will throw off more seedlings; never fear.)  Two of the large lilacs I transplanted: one to form a boundary for a sort of "outdoor room" at the edge of our front yard, the other to replace one of a pair of weeping cherry trees in the back yard that had been cut down.  But that was all the places I could think of that would accommodate lilacs (remember, trees - see above), so I killed the other two.  As the lilac/azalea problem indicates, my yard is already pretty heavily planted by prior owners, and it's only a quarter of an acre to start with.  Here we are with the two right-hand lilacs (and accompanying seedlings) gone, and the left half still to go:

And here we are done:

(That huge green thing on the far left is an invasive species.  It looks woody, but it is also vining.  It is attacking the azalea on the left unmercifully.  It will have to be firmly repressed every year with a chain saw.)  And here is the transplanted lilac in the front yard:

My gardening skills are, as previously discussed, rudimentary, bordering on floricidal.  But I know what suffering lilacs look like, and I am confident these have taken the transplantation well.  Frankly, given that I was involved in the process, I'm stunned. 

I also found a tiny azalea seedling in my excavation, and transplanted it to where half an azalea had simply died off (I told you - they didn't even put up a fight).  The azaleas are all kinds of ratty, but I figure this is not the time to prune them.  I think they should get a year to heal first, and then I will neaten them up. 

In the back, I also have three long garden beds, established by the prior owners.  The soil is apparently excellent, as demonstrated by the abundant plant growth there:

Which makes for what I am telling myself is just great exercise clearing them out for plants I actually want.  But I did it!  Dug out the weeds down to the roots:

And then loosened the remaining soil, added new top soil, planted my seedlings, and added mulch (which permanently stained my fingernails.  Do not buy stained mulch.  Hint: mulch does not naturally come in black.  Yes, I am that dense).  I planted that section with bell peppers:

(And apparently a random stick.)  Here is the whole squash/pepper/eggplant/basil/oregano/surprise-already-existing-chives bed:

I bought most of these a couple of weeks ago.  I have, as noted, forbidden myself to water but for Wednesdays and Saturdays, and even then I watered the vegetables very very little (they didn't seem to want it).  They doubled in size while they sat on the porch waiting for planting.  None of them even died!  Apparently, when it comes to my demonstrative love, plants want less of it.  So right this minute, my vegetable garden looks quite successful. 

And here is my corn bed:

That's a special twilight picture. And that's all corn. (I planted four stalks, of which two immediately died, last year. Apparently the remaining two were unable to cross-pollinate, and after promising early growth, both committed suicide. This year, I am leaving nothing to chance. I planted 24 stalks.) Oh, there is one thing in there that's not a tiny baby corn stalk. I assume you can spot it. It's a large fennel plant, left over from the previous owners. No idea what I'm going to do with it - I don't really cook with fennel - but it's pretty cool and I didn't want to kill it off. (Suggestions welcome, by the way.)  The whole setup:

The third, left-most bed I have not planted, because I am germinating zinnia and sunflower seeds to go in there.  (They go in after it gets warmer, or they germinate, or, ideally, both.)  I also plan to plant Oriental lilies and freesia in there, which are bulbs and probably could go in now, but the store hasn't got the freesia in yet, so I figure I might as well wait for the seeds to come up and clear the whole bed in one shot.  This bed isn't ornamental; I figure since it's a third raised bed, it will look reasonable to use it for harvest.  I have ludicrous dreams of vases full of fresh-cut flowers brightening my house all summer.  Stay tuned on that. 

And finally, because this is not enough work, I (possibly we) are digging a new bed, around the old oak tree.  I have already marked its shape with spray-paint:

And here maybe you can get an idea of what that area will look like:

This, too, was my DH's idea.  A small statue of Mary sits under the oak tree (in the slight indentation.  She was moved in anticipation of digging, which has not yet happened), and he thought it might be nice to have a bed there with some flowers.  Of course, my idea for a bed immediately transmogrified into planting flowers that are not around Mary (partly because the statue isn't very tall, and a lot of flowers would dwarf it.  Though I do plan to move some crocuses and daffodils out of random places in the lawn and put them there).  I'm planning on a row of gladioli and lavender extending from the tree to the driveway, along the long axis of my egg-shaped area.  That will give me another "outdoor room" - it will visually mark off the square of lawn next to the house.  That's where we already put our outdoor furniture anyway, and I am planning to dig a fire pit (to be lined with brick) in the middle of that area. 

I like the visual effect of "outdoor rooms," but I am not even going to attempt the level of effort and expense I see recommended in shiny photos.  So I am hoping that a few modest delineations here and there will give me the desired effect.  The yard is already pretty well chopped up by the driveway, some fencing, the raised beds, a grape arbor, a clothes line, the house, and the carriage house, so I figure it must just need a little bit more demarcation (and some pretty blossoms) to rocket it to magazine-worthy beauty. 

There's no need to tell me that these efforts wouldn't be enough to rival Martha Stewart, because these efforts won't be successful in the first place.  By June my plants will be worrying me.  By the beginning of July, the massacre will have set in.  And by August, the carnage will be appalling.  But I wanted to document this stage, because I don't think people really believe I could be as bad with plants as I say I am.  I am, however, quite serious.  Set the scene in your mind: it's that idyllic opening coffee-shop sequence in Children of the Corn.  But just you wait.  And this time, corn - it's your turn. 


  1. Dang, you planted corn? :) Yum!

    I currently have a basil plant, chives, and cilantro on my counter. I'm hoping they don't die...

    and you planted corn. ;)

  2. Your gardening projects are amazing! I wish that I had half the ambition you had (since I've only done my front flower bed and haven't even ventured into my backyard).

    We have a hideous bush from the pine family that I wanted to remove, but I was talked out of it. It would've been costly to replace and it grows so nicely and effortlessly. It will never be like the enormous lilac bush! That is scary stuff!

  3. I. HATE. BUSHES. except my raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry ones ;-) Good job clearing out that space- I imagine you were exhausted when you got done!! Also I like your new background and header photo!!! ;-)

  4. Can't wait to see the results of all your gardening. If it goes like your home remodeling projects it will be fabulous!

    BTW, sometimes severely cutting back non-flowering lilacs will get them to bloom in following years.

  5. I happen to like the movie "children of the corn", so go ahead. At my mom's, we had this lilac bush that I always loved to read in its shadow. I freaked out one day when I came home from school to find that mom had that lilac bush removed, so she'd have a bigger garden. That was 20 years ago- recently I came visit mom, and found that the gardens had been neglected for years. I chose not to say anything, but if I was brave, I'd have said "all this would have been a waste- could have left the lilac bush alone.."
    I too grow herbs and some flowers in pots (where I live, doesn't allow gardening on yards). I miss that lilac bush. :-P