Every winter, I look back over flower season to rue mistakes and cheer successes. This year has been a mixture of both. Since 2014, the first season, I have documented the garden—first with an iPhone 4s, and now with an iPhone 8 and Minolta Maxxum 7D. Documenting is a separate activity from the floral portraits I capture on film. Often, I will shoot many frames for the same plant or related items to look for problems and for later study, which is why I never use film—it’s too expensive. My growing library of images is proving to be invaluable, allowing me to go back and see what has otherwise faded from memory. The only downside when reviewing past years is being reminded of what I cannot grow— like hyssop and speedwell—believe me, I’ve tried. After eight years, I am still figuring out what will grow in the hot Georgia sun. Neither the labels on the nursery containers nor wise words from gardening books have been helpful.
Pincushions are among my favorite flowers. Starting in early spring, they provide a delicate lavender wave near the front garden border abutting the sidewalk. To my ongoing regret, they cannot take the sun. And after this year, it also appears they cannot deal with too much rain either. The weather here has become crazy over the last three seasons. Three years ago, there was very little rain and above 95-degree temps for most of the summer. That ended the brief lives of about a third of the pincushions. But for the last two seasons, the temps have been more moderate, and there has been plenty of rain– much more than usual. So, the ground was soggy for extended periods, which proved to be harmful as well. To make matters worse, they get little rest in winter because it takes cold temps of about 20-22 degrees to make them dormant. They haven’t had a decent rest for three seasons.
Next season I will try them for the last time. My new strategy will be to put replacement plants in the ground earlier, say mid-March instead of mid-April. Also, before planting, I will aerate and amend the soil to give better drainage. If that doesn’t work, I will reluctantly remove them from the front yard and find a new place for them.
The crocosmias, which in past years have yielded five-foot high and four-foot-wide sprays of bright red flowers, this year barely made a peep. No shoot grew more than three feet, and instead of a wall of flowers, there were only a few scraggly hangers-on.
However, there were some successes. My experiments with angelonia and verbena went exceptionally well. Verbenas are listed as annuals. Well, in 2020, I planted scarlet and magenta as border plants. I grew tired of watering them towards the end of summer, and they appeared to have died. Being annuals, I didn’t mind and considered the season a success. Guess what—this year, they came back in force. Did I mention they were annuals?
I chose angelonia for the hottest, sunniest part of the yard, and they did not disappoint. They seem to like heat and ignore the wetness. The only problem was that I chose new varieties (not on purpose), and they grew much taller than expected. Past plants maxed out at about 18 inches. The new guys hit two and a half feet with no problem. I will read the labels even more carefully next season, for whatever good it might do.
I have to mention the Gerber daisies. I planted five of them three years ago, about a foot apart. Since then, they have bloomed faithfully until the frost killed them. What I did not expect was how large they would grow. That group of five has merged into a large bushy mass that sends up what must be hundreds (only slight exaggeration) of flowers over the season.
Having watched the ferns take over the hosta garden, I initiated two experiments that will require a few years before I know the results. First, I moved ferns to two backyard areas where everything dies in the summer shade. They could be the start of two shade gardens, but they could just as easily overwhelm everything nearby. We’ll see.
Finally, in the space where a 75-foot tall sweet gum tree once stood, I’ve planted a variety of verbena, pincushions, and bellflowers. So far, all have survived and are still green as of today. Each is some shade of purple. Alongside them are hostas, which have proven they can take direct sun and live. If all goes well, there will be a purple wave from March until September interspersed with sprays of white hosta blossoms in mid-summer. A man can dream, right?