For all the successes I have had with our new garden at Oldmeadow, there are parts of this space that defy any attempts to create beauty.  They are so awkward, so large, so weedy and so uninspiring that had I ten times the budget I am not certain I could solve them, unless that budget went so far as to allow the hire of a top landscape designer and his little magic pen.

Lycoris squamigera, Stephanandra incisa, Juniperus procumbens 'Nana', stone wall, barn

A rare moment of beauty in the Driveway Bed, brought to you by Lycoris sqamigera and photographed at a VERY chosen angle by me. (Moral of story – never trust photographs to tell the entire truth.  See below)

But budgets here are used for superfluous things like light bulbs and college tuition, and so these inherited beds (there are two in particular that vex me) remain boring.

They remain vole-ridden, root-ridden and filled with Japanese stilt grass and shrubbery so indescribably dreary that I am lulled to sleep just staring at it.

Even mid-season attempts to tidy and neaten leave me dissatisfied. What does it matter if your magenta azaleas are pruned if you detest magenta azaleas?   What does it matter if your space-filling junipers are healthy if they represent an abdication of duty? Such things try the soul of an adventurous gardener.

My misery, in brief:

The Long Bed

This bed is a whopping 100×15 feet, and came with a mix of mite-infested azaleas, an overgrown forsythia and two American ash which have recently perished and await expensive removal.  At the time of purchase, the bed was heavily mulched which gave the impression of effortless control in the midst of chaotic nature.

I believed.  For a while.


boring garden beds, azaleas

Even weeded, the Long Bed is a study in shabby.


Japanese stilt grass

Not weeded, it is the stuff of which nightmares are made.


The Driveway Bed

The bed that really haunts me is an awkwardly shaped area of approximately 20x15ft that is regrettably ringed by a low stone wall, making demolition and re-design morally challenging.  The voles have an underground temple here, to which I offer the plump roots of my best hosta and my most favored stephanandra.

Yet another 60-foot naked ash sits waiting for money to rain down from the sky, and a twisted black cherry dumps web worms and stunted fruit on the driveway below.

It is here that the junipers thrive.


Awkward bed, weedy bed

Ugly. Period. Black cherries litter the driveway, weeds spring up between ill-chosen plants in an awkwardly shaped space. In all – ugh.


Successes trump failures, or do they?

Yet all this would be fine.  I could live with turning my head away to stare beyond at the geometric patterns of miscanthus and canna down by the barn or to view the wild success of deep red ‘Moulin Rouge’ zinnia paired with ‘Bananarama’ lantana in the sunny beds that I have created.

Lomandra 'Platinum Blonde' Stachys byzantina 'Helen von Stein', Verbascum thapsis, Hymenocallis narcissiflora

The California Garden makes me smile every time I walk by.

After all, the new California Garden is coming along beautifully, ready for its first winter challenge, and the vegetable garden (now in its second season) is filling the house with vegetables and guilt, just as any respectable vegetable garden should.

The shadier beds near the house are constantly reminding me how happy I am to have shadier beds near the house, and consistently spill forth with a vigorous mix of hardy perennials and ferns, tropicals, and shrubs that make me grin.  The voles haven’t found these beds yet, or more likely, they have found them a bit too damp for their liking.

Nothing to see here folks.  Move on please.

And I could focus on these successes to the exclusion of all beds which pain me if it wasn’t for the fact that those beds of shame dominate the view from my office window.

To be squarely faced with one’s gardening ineptitude each morning is certainly humbling, but it takes a wicked ego to then sit down and pen words of horticultural advice whilst staring at it.

For that matter, those beds also dominate the view from the deck, and are thus a primary representation of the resident gardener’s actual aptitude in wrestling this land back from Mother Nature.

“If that’s the best you can do, just give it back to her.” I mutter to myself on my worst days, and then go on to imagine the snide asides from visiting gardeners underwhelmed by my design prowess.

(Though to be fair the list of gardening colleagues that deal in such petty viciousness is small compared to those that do not.)

Above all, I am shocked by my complete lack of motivation.  Is this the result of inheriting beds carved by other hands? Is there just too much area involved? Have I finally hit an age where undesirable aspects of house and garden are skipped instead of solved?  Is this why my parents’ home never changes?

In my defense I have tried. Before I understood the true scale of the deer and vole problem and the Sisyphusian aspect of pulling out stilt grass, I had dreams of a hosta kaleidoscope running through these beds, showcasing a rare beauty here and there.  It was last week that I finally realized this dream is dead – along with a three foot ‘Sun King’ Aralia cordata and a ‘Blafra’ Daphne  x transatlantica.


Japanese stilt grass

I’d love to show you the celery sticks of chewed hosta which dominate the back side of the Long Bed, but alas, the stiltgrass has covered them.  Maybe next spring. Ironically, you can just glimpse the beginning of more favored gardens in the sunny meadow beyond.


There you have it.  My Achilles heel.  Both of them in fact. I thought that, in the interests of transparency, you needed to know. However, when you visit, may I just ask that you look discretely away and ask me about the meadow project down by the barn instead.

This article reprinted with kind permission of The Frederick News Post