Friday, May 5, 2017

Next ... the Plants

Planning the shade garden was by far the most fun part of this project.  I started last fall to go thru catalogs and several reference manuals I have on perennials and woody plants (taking classes has greatly expanded my gardening library!) to find plants that would be happy living in Central Virginia in the shade.  There are two main criteria, other than shade-loving:  their ability to tolerate heavy clay soils and to tolerate the heat and humidity of the summer months.  This is especially a problem at night here.  Many nights in July and August the humidity stays above 70% and many plants don't like that at all!

Oh, the photos!  It was like gorging on your favorite chocolate!  In recent years I have started trying to use colorful foliage to add interest to the gardens, so foliage was a factor, and I wanted to choose a variety of leaf sizes and shapes, flower colors, and look for ways to bring light into this darker part of the yard. 

I looked first at shade-loving selections and then checked them against my "hates this climate" list.  A lesson I learned years ago is that you cannot go by zone tolerance alone.  Zone 7 on the west coast is very different from zone 7 here.  Then I scoured catalogs and web sites to find the best deals on the plants i wanted and placed my orders.  Purchases at local nurseries would come later.  Once I had settled on most of the plants, I drew the plan:

The elm tree that provides so much of the shade is actually to the right of the drawing, with the Vitex underneath the elm.  The neighbor has a water oak (Quercus virginiana) that partially shades the elm, as well as a lot of our yard.  Most of this area gets a little sun in the morning, and a little in the late afternoon.  From the birdbath to the left is sunny all day. 

Before - Solomon's Seal from front to back in the bed.

After: same part of the bed, slightly different angle, but you can see how much less material there is. Locations for new plants are flagged - both white and green.  (I ran out of white.)

In mid-March i started cleaning out plants that had become invasive, and moving things around.  Then I marked out the location of new plants (white flags) and the spray heads (orange heads).  Later as I added plants that were too small to see clearly, i added green flags until they grew a bit. 

Existing plants that I kept include huchera, Lady's Mantle, nandina, Monk's Hood, a native aster, phystostygia, and Solomon's Seal.  The latter three are invasive at best, so 50-75% of what was there needed to be removed.  (That will be a continuing project all summer.)  New plants include Bear's Britches 'Whitewater', Goatsbeard 'Kneifii', columbine mountain rue, several different heuchera, hosta 'White Feather', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', and sarcococca.  The last planted in hope of growing pretty foliage for arranging.
The "mill wheel" in the center is actually the top of an old birdbath.
We had left it to hold water for the butterflies.  When I sat it up
 to clean around it, it just stood there and settled in, so i left it.
 It seems to fit.
With the planting spots marked, planting was a snap and I was able to plant things the day they arrived, and finally made my run to local nurseries to get the last things into the ground.   By mid-April I had finished planting and had started watering .... and, so far it all works.

It will be the end of the summer before I have a good idea what will make it and next spring when things come up again before I really know if it's a successful plan and planting, but i already love the new look.  (Have lost one goatsbeard already, but if I can find it locally, I may try replacing it in the fall.)

But here's how it looks today:
Right end: Heuchera and Solomon's Seal.  There's room to add a couple of tiarella in this area.
 I see a trip to a nursery this week!
The left end from the back side.  White plant is Acanthus mollis, then phystostygia and
 a native aster (too invasive ... am pulling it as other things grow).
The "wheel".  It's settling in nicely with Columbine Mountain Rue behind it
and hostas in frong.
Life is good!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

First ... the Water

Water is always a problem in this neck of the woods.  We have hot, very humid summers when we must provide water for all the plants, but our soil is way too heavy with clay, so drainage is crucial - especially in the winter.  Fortunately, 15 years of soil amendment has taken care of the drainage issue - at least in the garden beds - so putting in an irrigation system has been at the top of my list of projects for retirement. 

Many years ago I admired the solution of a neighboring gardener, who simply ran irrigation pipe on top of the ground and covered it over with mulch - LOTS of mulch.  But she did have sprinkler heads and could just attach a hose and run it.  Unlike my yard, that is lawn areas and planting areas, hers was entirely planting areas built in a series of mounds, so the mulch-covered pipe was just hidden in plain sight.  That doesn't really appeal to me for my situation, so i have been looking for a different answer.

Fall semester i took an Irrigation class at the community college in the hope of learning enough to do most - maybe all - of it myself.  I learned two important things:  1) what i wanted would be more expensive than i wanted to spend, and 2) I did not want to dig up the whole yard - both lawn and gardens - to "do it right".  What i did learn, tho, was how to design what i wanted, how to measure precipitation,  and how to make sure that the different zones received enough water to meet their various needs. 

From the shed (bottom) to the top and then right to the end of the bed there are four zones.  Look hard and you may be able to see the colors.

And, luckily i discovered a commercial product that met my needs: an above ground "snip and spray" system from Gardener's Supply.*  From there it was a snap.  I laid out a four-zone plan and ordered a sprinkler kit for each zone, while stopping by the local big box garden center to pick up a four-zone control box.
When the plants fill in and we add the normal yearly mulch the tubing will start to disappear.
Once the design was done, I just needed to figure out how to set up the operating system and I found a neat garden tuteur on Etsy from The Diligent Gardener.*  My plan was to mount the control box on the back of it, while planting a climber on the front as camouflage.  
Green are small plants; white places to put future plants; and orange for spray heads.
After marking the location of the spray heads with little flags, I bought a 3/4-inch hose to increase the pressure coming from the house water to the control box, built the tuteur, installed the spray heads and voila!
The water covers a 7 - 10 foot circle from each head.
It took me about a month to order everything and several days to put it all together, but if i had had two days without interruption, i could have easily done it that quickly.  Details about both follow, in case you have a need for more information.  Otherwise ... hope your day is sunny!

The Nuts and Bolts:

Snip 'n Spray kit contains three (3) sprinkler heads, 50 feet of tubing and all the connectors you need to set up a straight line or a circle.  Literally, the only "tool" you need is something to cut the tubing the the right lengths for your system - heavy shears, an exacto knife, etc.  The heads are totally adjustable and will spray from 0 - 360 degrees, and in any direction.  They also adjust from full pressure to no pressure at each head.  I added two (2) more heads to each circuit for a total of five (5) each - which is the recommended maximum.  Total $45 per circuit. 
Mounted on the back of the tuteur.  We had to add an extra piece to hold the top of the controller flush.  It's just screwed into the frame like the rest of them.
The controller is a Melnor Hydro-Logic Advanced Four Zone Electronic Water Timer.  It is battery operated and can control up to four zones individually.  Easy to program, altho i did have a problem and tried to contact customer service for help.  They have never responded and i figured it out by myself.  $50 at Lowe's or on line.  It gets good reviews on line, and so far is working fine for me.
It took less than an hour to assemble the tuteur.  Nice design in cedar.
The tuteur is from The Diligent Gardener.  It comes in two sizes and is made of cedar; came as a kit.  Was easy to assemble.  Could also get it painted.  I found it on Etsy, but you could Google and find him. About $80.

*Neither Gardener's Supply, Melnor nor The Diligent Gardener paid me for endorsing their products.  Am pretty sure they don't read this blog!  But i do recommend them all - easy to put together and well made.  Kudos all around