Give The Gift Of A Garden

Barb Mrgich
Adam's County Master Gardener Program

(12/8) Itís December, and Christmas is coming. If you are a gardener, you might be looking for a gift idea for a special friend or relative. How about a garden? Obviously, you canít plant a garden in Pennsylvania in December, but you can give a homemade gift certificate promising one in May. Hereís what I did.

A couple years ago, a friend asked if I could help her design a garden around her small patio that is surrounded on all four sides by the walls of two-story buildings with two door-sized entrances into the space. Talk about a secret garden! I told her the garden would be my gift to her.

The space was devoid of any plants (after I pulled the weeds), with the exception of a Crape Myrtle which was blooming nicely in a corner. I would have wondered if anything would grow in the confinement of those high walls, but when I saw that Crape Myrtle, I realized the answer must be "yes!".

My friend is physically incapable of caring for a garden, but, I knew she would get pleasure from the beauty of this tiny, private outdoor space. My pleasure was in giving her this garden, and my plan was to use low maintenance hand-me-down plants from my own garden, and to stop by once a month to maintain it.

The first plants I chose were Heuchera 'Palace Purple' for the nearly full-shade side of the patio. They are a deep burgundy variety that can't take much sun without turning crispy. That was not a problem here! Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells, will hold its leaves all winter and just require a little neatening up in the spring. For my own garden, I have added some of the newer varieties of Heuchera which are much better able to take a little sun, so I contributed my 'Palace Purples' to this very shady spot.

Under the crape myrtle,occupying the largest planting area on the opposite side of the patio, I underplanted daffodils, grape hyacinths, hosta, and forget-me-nots. The daffodils and grape hyacinths will both multiply and fill in the early spring garden with a mixture of yellows and blues.

Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis scorpioides), an annual, prefer some shade with a little sun, so they seemed perfect for this area. You'll never forget about them because they will drop their little seeds right after blooming, and just keep coming back year after year. I just love the look of their delicate blue and pink flowers.

The hostas, which I rescued from the front of her house, had been planted in full sun and they looked just dreadful. Back in that shady corner they are much happier, and take over the space when the bulbs and Forget-me-Nots are done.

To replace the hosta out front, I put in Sedum 'Autumn Joy', a beautiful plant from spring to fall with a nice pink flower in the late summer. No maintenance required. It enjoys the hot sun that the hosta couldn't tolerate.

I added a trellis for height against the brick wall in the only somewhat sunny spot. I put a clematis 'Jackmanii' against it, with a Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue' in front of it. The limited time of the sun striking and warming the bricks seems to be enough to support these two sun loving plants. The yellow foliage of the Caryopteris shrub compliments the purple clematis flowers, and adds color when the clematis is not blooming. The Caryopteris is not quite so yellow with the limited sunshine, but still makes a nice, bright plant. Both of these plants benefit from being cut back hard in early March. Caryopteris, commonly called Blue Mist Shrub or Bluebeard, is a small shrub that will reseed itself to produce a couple babies each year, so I was able to dig one from my garden at no cost.

For a narrow and shady area between the building and sidewalk leading to the front gate, I put in some Liriope, a pretty ground covering plant that blooms in the fall. Liriope does not seem to mind how much light it gets. It will grow in the shade or take full sun, and it fills in nicely without being pushy. Its only necessary maintenance is a shearing in the spring.On the opposite side of the walk, I planted Lamium 'Beacon Silver', a shade-loving ground cover with a variegated leaf all year, and nice lavender flowers in the spring. Lamium, also known as Dead Nettle, spreads quickly and makes a lovely filler.

Towards the end of the walk where it gets brighter near the sunny gate, I mixed Shasta Daisy 'Becky', and Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), each a long-blooming perennial. I brought these through to the outside of the gate to frame it and add color.

Finally, to finish to project, I mulched everything with about three inches of hardwood mulch to retard weed growth and conserve water.

All these plants have thrived with very little attention and absolutely no coddling or watering. None of these plants are the newest garden must-haves. They are old garden stand-bys, easily gleaned from an established garden at no expense. The result is beautiful, relaxing, next-to-no maintenance, and a great gift for someone who canít do it herself.  

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