Gardening is not for Quitters

Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ is one of my favorite new plants. When I see things thriving, I want to grow more plants, and that is exactly how you get hooked on gardening.

Gardening brought much joy to people, young and old, during the worst months of the pandemic. My garden was one of the few places where I felt like things were “normal”. Like many, I spent too much money on seeds, bulbs, and mail-order perennials, but I have no regrets. Growing plants helped me cope with all of it.

Mint bush ‘Poorina Ballerina’ has proven to be a tough, resilient, and beautiful shrub in a new garden border.

This summer, now that we are taking vacations and catching up on all of those things we couldn’t do in 2020 and 2021, I wonder if those garden newbies are still growing vegetables or flowers? I hope so. We’ll likely never be a country of gardeners, like the British, but I love the idea that more and more people are finding joy in this pursuit. The question is: How are new gardeners dealing with the ups and downs of growing plants?

Native white penstemon blooms reliably for weeks in late spring in my garden, and has become a favorite. I like to use white in my spring garden, with brighter colors in the summer-blooming borders.

 I’ll tell you that every gardener I know has a day, every now and then, when they see something that has happened (or not happened) and they just walk back in the house and close the door. Despite all of the beautiful gardens shared on social media, there are a lot of slug-damaged, deer-trampled, rabbit-nibbled, sun-scorched, mud-drenched plants out there. Gardens are never perfect and if that fact annoys you, then you probably need to find a new hobby.

This summer Georgia is experiencing a drought and I’m spending far too much time looking at the weather app on my phone wondering if there is rain coming anytime soon.  Every day or two by 8:30 a.m. I’m standing with the garden hose watering areas of my garden that, in a normal year, would need no effort from me. If I was new to gardening I might ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

Maybe I’m stubborn, or maybe I’m ridiculously optomistic, but the strange thing is that no matter what happens in my garden, I just keep going. I can’t help myself. So this year,  with temperatures that may set records this week, I’m pleased to say that my summer garden is hanging on by a thread. If you look at my instagram feed, RoxannWardDesign, you will most certainly see reels of lovely blooming plants, because that is of course how this whole social media thing works, but let me tell you that 2022 has not been a cakewalk.

All that remains. Deer ate most of the nectarines off my new tree after ignoring it for nine months.

In February, a deer climbed (or leaped?) onto my 25 s.f. raised bed, which sits a good 3 feet off the ground, making deep hoof prints in the beautiful, lush annual rye grass beneath which I had carefully planted dozens of bulbs.

After the deer debacle, I still had high hopes for my meadowy bulb display. By April it was obvious that several batches of bulbs that I ordered from suppliers in a pandemic-induced buying spree arrived as substitutions (most likely because of the bulb shortages last year), and therefore were a disappointment. Others never arrived, again due to supply shortages, and apparent panic-buying by my fellow-gardeners. Ever the optomist, I will of course be ordering more this week for next spring’s garden.

With lawns, you know what to expect. After all it’s just grass. Exactly one half of my new shade-tolerant zoysia lawn, which is adjacent to my back garden borders, has mysteriously refused to grow, leaving my yard looking half brown and half green.

After listening to a series of classes taught by Kelly D. Norris I jumped on the plug bandwagon, and ordered small plugs of a specific coneflower from a specialty grower in hopes that eventually my part-sun native plant border might begin to look like a Georgia-style meadow. That is the plan. Out of 32 plugs of the beautiful echinacea ‘Pallida’ that I ordered and planted in late September, I can see only two in my garden today. I had a happy moment when one of the 32 sent up a small bloom stalk in May, however sometime in the last week, a rabbit decided that they were tasty, and ate them all for breakfast, despite the fact that I spray them routinely with deer and rabbit repellent. The rabbits have now moved on to the fancier coneflower cultivars, much to my dismay. I’m now trying homemade cayenne pepper spray to see if I can keep them moving along, maybe to my neighbor, who I see has some tasty-looking begonias. Trapping and releasing them into the countryside is my next task.  I will keep you posted.

Deer seem to be grumpy about the early arrival of summer drought and heat, and are nibbling on chelone, fothergilla, zenobia, and anything else that looks appetizing in my garden of so called “deer resistant plants”. This has prompted me to protect sections of a new shrub planting with bamboo poles and fishing line, something I typically never do until winter. It does not look pretty and I don’t care.

I bought a small nectarine tree last fall (I cannot explain this purchase at all) and placed it in a large container in an area where the deer typically don’t venture. It bloomed beautifully in spring, set fruit, and looked so charming near a seating area in my back yard, until last week, when the deer found it and ate most of the fruit and leaves. I should have known better, but I thought I would let it get a bit taller before I planted it in the landscape, where I would surely have to surround it with chicken wire until it was big enough to keep fruit out of the reach of bambi and family. Lesson learned. Any plant in any corner of my yard, no matter how difficult it may be to reach is at risk. The deer are simply hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable in the 98 degree weather, and who can blame them?

I’ve been in and out of town lately, so each time I return I hold my breath while I look around to see what is still blooming, what’s been eaten by something or other, and what needs to be pulled (weeds). One thing is for sure. Gardening is never boring.

No matter what happens in your garden, a four-legged companion like Miss Emmy Lou, makes everything better.

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