Now that we are deep into March, I look back on the month and even February and January. We have had more rainfall then we've had in a long time. It never really got cold after Christmas, and for that, I consider us lucky. I cringe when I think about the damage caused by ice storms. The heavy rains and strong winds have caused enough damage to our ground and our trees. In my yard I feel like all of my topsoil has washed away leaving bare spots where grass is going to try to grow.
I have a pond in the middle of my backyard, so everything drains towards it. When the rain stops I will bring in some sharp sand to fill in those areas too hard for the grass to take over. White sand works great for helping grass find its way to a healthy return from winter. I put enough in the bare spaces and rake a little more into the areas surrounding the bald spot.
I was spared from the big winds that hit the Gluckstadt area, but I have friends who lost trees that night. Not only do they have the big, expensive cleanup from that disaster, but now they also have sun where they didn’t before. I suppose that could be considered making lemonade from a lemon, as sunlight is usually a good thing in a yard. As I ponder how close that was to our yard and garden center, it makes me realize it's really not a matter of if, but when, that will happen to us one day. My driveway is lined with live oaks that form a beautiful tunnel to the house. My yard is spaced with very old oak trees that provide some shade but are spaced out enough to give us plenty of full sun areas which allows us to try out sun plants and shade plants. For the 10 years Mimi and I have been gardening in this yard, we have felt very lucky to have such a magnificent garden to add to without the interruption of any rooftops in our view.
After visiting and reading about large, stately gardens all over the world, we realize that wherever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It may be yards dug up and trampled by the family dog. It may be the waters rising from the Pearl River only to recede and leave behind a foot of mud. In a matter of several minutes, a tornado can forever change the landscape, just as a few months of drought can. Record-setting freezes, especially that come along with ice, can kill the 25-year-old camellia that has been loved and cared for like a family member.
A garden is considered very old, though not mature, at 40 years. By that time many things have had to be replaced, many treasures have died, and many great schemes abandoned. In our relatively short time in our yard we are beginning to see this come true. We have planted trees and bushes in the wrong place or too close together. Countless plants have not survived, and we have discovered plants do have varying life expectancies, some living longer than others. But, true gardeners are the ones who, ruin after ruin, have high defiance of nature herself, creating in the very face of her chaos, more garden. It’s the defiance that makes us gardeners.
Consider this an encouraging shout out to all who were affected by March’s wind and rain as well as to those of us who were spared this time. Do not give up. Stay defiant. These weather events have occurred many times before and will occur many more times. A gardener knows that where there was a garden once, it can be again.
While I'm on the subject of making lemonade from lemons, one of my sweetest lemonades came from the lemon we have called an overpopulation of deer. I have a nine foot fence around my property to keep deer away from my garden. Of course, being able to plant whatever I want without fear of deer destroying it overnight, definitely sweetens the lemonade, but the sweetest part of the fence has provided me with hundreds of feet on which to grow vines. Vines are a great way to go vertical without needing much width. Most vines need a trellis to wrap their tendrils on, but the trellis doesn't have to be expensive. They can be made from cables, cattle fencing or anything the vine can get around.
Some vines can adhere to flat walls of brick or wood, such as Fig Vine and Boston Ivy. These vines will require a lot of maintenance as they will get out of hand very fast once established. We have Boston Ivy growing on two sides of our house. We have to snip it a little every week during the growing season or it will quickly venture into places we don't want it. I do not suggest planting Boston Ivy on your house, though. We are treating it more as a horticultural experiment. The walls we planted on are small sections that are not too difficult to maintain. Boston Ivy doesn't have many insect or fungus problems, and the glossy, green leaves turn golden red in the fall before dropping its leaves, leaving an interesting vein system on the wall for winter. In the spring the leaves reappear on the old wood and the snipping starts over.
Years ago, when Mia and Max were kids, they helped me build an arbor across the pond for Mimi’s mother’s day gift. That is where our swinging, thinking chairs and disco ball hang. We planted evergreen wisteria at the base of each post and later added perennial coral vine. The leaves of the evergreen wisteria stay dark green year-round with blooms that are a deep chocolate-burgundy. The woody vines growing on the sturdy eight by eight posts are just incredible. I'll allow the vegetation to do whatever it wants above about 10 feet to shade our little thinking area. The coral vine crawls all through the wisteria and blooms bright pink on top of it in September and October, and then in the winter it dies back.
On the fairly shaded side of the yard, the fence is covered by evergreen clematis. Evergreen clematis doesn't look much like the perennial clematis. It has long, dark green leaves that stay on year-round with loads of white blooms riding on top of the fence. It started blooming last week. On our sunnier sections of the fence we have used Confederate jasmine, which is an evergreen that blooms white fragrant flowers for many months. The deer on the outside of the fence keep the vine nipped as far up as they can reach. It’s turned out really cool. It shows green with white blooms from about six feet up and higher. I keep them trimmed into neat squares on every other fence panel so I can see through the wall of green every 15 feet.
I attached a 15 foot trellis to my Martin house pole for a Dutch honeysuckle that blooms rich yellow and red all summer long. On my vegetable garden wall I have discovered that red passion vine is hardy enough to come back after winter, and I have planted that in combination with Mexican Flame Vine, which is also a perennial vine. We use annual moonflower vine inside the corner of the vegetable garden fence, which we enjoy in the evenings when the white trumpet blooms open just before dark.
Cucumber climbs on part of my garden fence because it is so handy to have cucumbers for picking at eye level. We have allowed native trumpet vine and English ivy to grow high on some of our pine trees towards the back of the property where we get a good view of them from the house. This spring I will add a dash of annual vines such as black-eyed Susie, firecracker vine, mandevilla and dipladenia wherever I get a chance. I’m excited about a climbing hydrangea that has finally caught onto a rock wall and should be striking this year.
Now that I'm writing about it, I'm beginning to think I might be a vine nut. That's a lot of different vine varieties in one yard. I like plants to give a lot of bang, make blooming statements, and are hearty. Vines give me all of that and are great for creating screens and privacy without having to have a giant evergreen where you may not want one.
The local family owned and operated garden centers should have all these vines as well as trellises to grow them on. If you don't see the vine you're wishing for, ask them to get you one. Right now the trucks are rolling in with fresh spring plants, and they should be able to find and get what you want. We love it when someone asks us for something we don't have or know about because it gives us a chance to learn about and try out a new plant.
Allen, along with his wife Mimi, own Martinson’s Garden Works in Ridgeland.