Call me Cosmo. I've lived in the Tidewater area of Virginia for 22 years and I've been gardening for most of them. I read more gardening books than I do novels (even though I'm an English teacher by day), and when I can, I plan my week around prime time I might spend outside. But despite the fact that I write for a living, and despite the fact that nearly every one of those gardening books I've read recommends it, I've never been able to keep a journal (gardening or otherwise)--and so I constantly struggle on Wednesday (or in September) to recall the brilliant insight I had on Tuesday (or in June). The impetus for this blog, then--and I am a novice blogger--comes first of all from my need to record my ideas, my successes, and my mistakes. The idea of recording those publicly is potentially embarassing, but then again, what I've found missing from most gardening books is exactly the gritty, delightful details of gardening--and so I thought it might be helpful to share those with people experiencing some of the same challenges and joys that I do.
I have two very close friends who garden, and when I told them I was thinking about creating this blog, we talked about blogging together. But we garden in somewhat different conditions: my collaborators live in suburban neighborhoods, while I live in the country; one of us is a landscape architect who grows and promotes native plants, while the other two of us have jobs totally unrelated to gardening and should own stock in Lowe's; one of us has too much sun, another too much shade; the two of them are incredibly "handy," while I couldn't lay a brick if the life of my 14-year-old osmanthus burkwoodii depended on it. We decided instead to design a website for Tidewater gardeners with general information and advice and to establish links to our respective blogs; the website, "How It Grows: A Different Take on Gardening in the Tidewater," will be up soon.
I should say just a bit more about where I live, what I care about, and what kinds of decisions I face when I walk outside. In the fall of 2000, the love of my life bought a wonderful house on 10 wooded acres. The house was about three years old when we moved in, and the previous owner had a small vegetable garden in the front yard (at the time, the only place close to the house that got enough sun), but had otherwise left nature as it was after the house was built. The main room of the house has large windows looking onto the back (a southern exposure) and smaller windows looking into the woods to the north. I moved in with some favorite plants I brought from the suburbs--day lilies, bearded iris, hosta, Lenten rose, pieris japonica, two kinds of osmanthus, dwarf quince, daphne, a couple of big stands of rosemary, a struggling Japanese maple--and I created a little shrub garden in the back and expanded the vegetable garden in the front.
The gardens were developing nicely, and then in September of 2003, Hurricane Isabel came roaring up the York River. We were lucky--although we lost hundreds of trees in the back, none of them did any serious damage to the house. But when the sun came up the day after the hurricane, our house was literally framed on all four sides by fallen trees--our dog had to walk across four or five trunks to find a patch of grass. Our little gardens were underneath the timber, and the heavy shade in the back of the house had become nearly full sun.
We are still recovering from the hurricane. The timber was cleared by the fall of 2004, but we now have about six acres of weeds where the trees used to stand. Believe it or not, some of my plants survived weeks under the tree trunks; however, their protective shade was gone, and they needed to be moved. We transplanted the back gardens to the front of the house for a few years; although the hurricane had destroyed the front vegetable garden when a large oak fell onto it, the overall damage to the trees was minimal in the front and we could shelter the shade plants at the edge of the woods. By 2006, a few trees, some pines, and some bayberry shrubs had grown tall enough in the back to provide shade, and we began to replant the back gardens.
As I begin this blog, I have already established a few perennial borders in the back: a white garden surrounding our blue bird house;
a more vibrantly colored sun border merging into a shade-loving shrub garden behind it; an herb-and-shrub garden surrounding our deck; and what we call our "tropical" garden outside the hot tub on the screened-in porch.
The front of the house still needs a lot of work, and this blog will document that work. My gardening is constrained by my job--I'm lucky to have summers off, but early fall and late spring tend to be crunch time at school, and so I lose some of the most valuable weeks for gardeners. I'm proud of what I have done, but daunted by what I still have to do--I hope this blog will keep me focused and motivated, and that it will show you both what I'm capable of, and what I still have ahead of me.
One last paragraph on the specific conditions in which I garden. I am in Zone 7-b, with a couple of micro-climate areas that are probably Zone 8 (for example, a lantana overwintered in one warm corner near the hot tub). Our soil is heavy clay; but in my garden, the soil is much more alkaline than is typical in this area (my hydrangea in the front is a beautifully dark pink). Deer and rabbits are a constant problem--I'll address this problem in a separate post, but I spend a fair bit of time protecting the plants. Liquid Fence is in my experience the best product available here, but I still have to use cages for particularly vulnerable plants. And Virginia is humid, which for plants is a good thing, and for gardeners is usually a good thing--but the wonderful conditions for plants that humidity creates can promote invasive growth. We will address many of these conditions on our website, and I will dedicate specific posts to my meager victories, as well as to my ongoing struggles.
This blog will give me the opportunity to record my progress and to hear your advice as I work through new areas; I hope that reading about the details of my work will help those of you tackling similar challenges. And I hope most of all that my love for gardening comes through. I don't love bugs, sunburn, or humidity--but a little Skin-So-Soft and a little planning provide me time to deadhead or pull a few weeds or just enjoy the beautiful plants despite the aggravations of a Virginia summer.
Welcome. Comment. Please, please, advise.