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Notes from the Garden: Finding a theme for my garden

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outdoors River Falls,Wisconsin 54022
River Falls Journal
Notes from the Garden: Finding a theme for my garden
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

A few weeks ago my garden was part of a garden tour and the organizer asked: "What's the theme of your garden?"

I was caught a little short.


My garden is not Disneyland. There are no themes here.

But really I knew what she was getting at. There are a lot of garden themes we come across.

My garden might be styled after Japanese gardens or French parterres. It might be planted with only native plants or all white flowers.

My garden is none of these. It's just my inevitable garden: Full of plants I love; laid out to fit my land, my eye and my heart.

Over the last few weeks this question has been niggling at my mind. I wanted to have a theme.

Then while weeding the other day I settled on one: Darwinism. I have a Darwinist garden.

I don't mean that my garden explains the theory of evolution, rather it explores one of its tenets: "Survival of the fittest."

The plants that populate my garden are required to be true survivors. The pressures on selection I choose to only moderate slightly. I mulch a bit over winter. I water some during dry spells. I amend the soil with manure.

I try to control the pest population and keep the most rambunctious plants in check.

But I do it for the garden as a whole. Only plants in their first season get special pampering. After that it's tough love all the way.

As a result, I'd guess that a fifth of the plants that I've bought for my garden are no longer here. No more azaleas. They didn't like my soil and were defoliated by caterpillars.

Yarrows are thought of as easy going, but here they were out competed by neighbors and riddled by four line plant bugs, so they have left my garden.

I love the pink bellflowers like "Plum Wine" and "Bowl of Cherries," but they seem, inexplicably, not to like my garden.

I've learned not to guess what will thrive and what will die.

Queen of the prairie and great burnet both are native to deep moist soils. Despite coveting their charms, I held off adding them to the mix here, assuming they would sulk in my well-drained sandy loam.

Eventually I gave in, and to my surprise they have thrived with out any special attention at all and now they are key players in my garden.

My latest experiment is with "New Dawn" rose, a soft pink climber I've long desired, despite being only borderline hardy here.

After relocating the vegetable garden, the perfect place for a new rose arbor opened up and I ordered a couple of New Dawns. They've settled in well and are blooming nicely, but this winter I won't take them off the arbor and bury them for the winter.

Come spring I'll know whether to count them as a survivor or another casualty of my Darwinist garden.

To do in the garden

  • Divide bearded iris and oriental poppies
  • Cut a fresh edge around the garden
  • Weed and water

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