Tuesday, May 5, 2015

More gravel. More grasses. More sleeping.

I've been an insomniac my whole life. Last fall everything got way worse and I basically stopped sleeping. Things are a lot better now, thanks to a light box, melatonin, and what they refer to as "sleep hygiene." At night I cut out blue light which means for the last two hours of my day I live in a world without the internet or TV. I have to read books or work on projects that don't require the Internet. This means I mostly read books because every project leads back to the Internet.

I was reading Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden the other night and I wanted to look up some plants she described . . . but I couldn't. I just had to jot down a note to research it later. It's probably for the best, since I'd just end up on Plant Lust, then I'd fall down the rabbit hole of Google Images and various garden blogs. How did people garden before the Internet? And how much more productive could I be without an iPad?

In our own gravel garden things are chugging along. We've figured out where we want the deck and now we just have to figure out how to build it. The original plan was to wait on the deck until next summer but as I had rock being delivered, Greg said, "Maybe we should just do it this summer," hence my mad scrambling and panic a few weeks back. All of the sudden that vague rectangle on the paper plan needed to be finalized.

We've marked out the spot for the new deck with yellow spikes that I WILL trip over at some point. We're still deciding whether we want to build the deck before or after the wedding in June.

The parabola-shaped rock wall was changed to an even curve. Greg thinks this is a downgrade but my brain likes it better.

I need to retool some of the planting because I totally planted on a grid and I didn't overlap my plants enough, so I have big blobs of the same plants that don't meld nicely into the other blobs. Anyway.

What did I plant?

The centerpiece of this bed is Arctostaphylos 'St. Helena.' I went to Xera and pumped Paul and Greg for their opinions on the very best manzanitas. I originally wanted A. viscida 'Sweet Adinah' but they warned me that it's prone to randomly losing branches and it's incredibly picky about soil, location, and drainage. St. Helena has those big beautiful leaves and will handle being in a northern aspect (though it's still getting 6-8 hours of sun a day) better than others. I also like how blue the leaves are.

Arctostaphylos manzanita 'St. Helena'

I wanted this bed to be low water and I wanted a lot of grasses. We've got a whole bunch of Schizachyrium 'The Blues', Pennisetum spatheolatum, Anemanthele lessoniana, and Festuca roemeri.

Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues' in the garden of Greg Shepherd
Pennisetum spatheolatum send up hundreds of little exclamation points
Anemanthele lessoniana in my side yard
Festuca roemeri Photo source: The Evergreen State College

I have a bunch of Achnatherum calamagrostis on order, which will also get squeezed in here.

I also shoehorned in smaller shrubs like Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' and Hypericum 'Albury Purple.' I also rescued a crapload of Salvia 'May Night' from the front garden so something in this bed wouldn't be tiny. Can you tell I love purple?

I also bought one of those stupid Digiplexis annuals on a whim, which I now regret. I do not like that pink.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

In other parts of the garden, I tore out the flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) that used to live in between the two clumps of bamboo. I hated the color of the blooms and it's a pretty boring shrub. I vacillated for years about ripping out this one. It's drought tolerant and low maintenance but it wasn't sparking joy, so out it went. I planted a new Ribes in the front garden and it blooms a nice hot pink that plays nicer with all of my orange flowers.

In its place I planted Tetrapanax papyifera 'Steroidal Giant' (which is hiding behind the clump of Acanthus spinosus), Miscanthus purpurescens, a cananna (Canna musafolia), and three Calamagrostis foliosa that I rescued from another part of the garden where they didn't get enough sun to color up like they should.

The back rain garden finally got edged too. It's always had a soil berm edging it, which just petered out into cedar chips.

We're not missing a stone, that's the overflow notch.

It looks pretty silly right now because I'm still futzing with the stone placement. Then all the cedar chips in the pathway will get scraped up and replaced with gravel. I still have so much work to do but I'm pleased with how everything is coming along.

We tested happy hour in the garden this weekend and it still worked! Whew.


  1. Heather, it looks FANTASTIC. Pulled together and professional. Your plant choices are spot-on and will fill in so well. Love the gravel. Great job and am really looking forward to watching it grow which it will likely do very quickly. Also, good luck with insomnia!

  2. Looking good Heather! How long have the bamboos been in there, and how are they contained? Like the look against the fence!

    I don't understood the "blue light" thing. What if you change the color temperature of your TV so it's really warm? What if you wear blue-blocker sunglasses? It seems like there could be other solutions than giving up your modern lifestyle.

  3. It's amazing how much we all depend on the Internet now, considering that were still a generation that got on by before without it. The garden is shaping up very nicely. Actually, it looks great already and will only get better! Great to hear that despite all the hard work you guys still took the time to enjoy happy hour :)

  4. I'm in love with that gravel and rock edges. All the plantings look great!
    I think I need to move my acanthus to more sun.

    I think my insomnia is hormone related. My various treatments include hops (the herb not as an activity which would definitely not be sleep inducing) which seemed to help for a while (apparently it has some estrogenic effect). Also reading on the kindle with light set very low, it's pretty amber. Earplugs and eyeshade. No alcohol. Or less. Or no alcohol late. No vitamins/supplements at night (except hops tincture). Have been sleeping very well lately after at least ten years of trouble. Good luck!

  5. So different from when you hosted the first plant swap . It is looking great ! I have ' St Helens ' and 'Austin Griffths' both very good .

  6. Oh, I have to disagree with you about Ribes being boring. I adore mine, and I have four. I've been taking native shrubs out lately that I have multiples of, and those four are the only ones I haven't touched. The hummers love the flowers in the late winter. How do you groom your Anamanthele? I have 5 or 6 of them, and they look like crap right now. I've tried just pulling the old brown stems out with gloves on, but they won't let go. I've decided I'm going to get rid of them. I love that Digiplexis too, but I agree it doesn't work with the May Night Salvia. Your two clumps of bamboo look fabulous!

  7. Heather, FYI , there's free software called f.lux that adjusts the color on your laptop to make it less blue at night. Works quite well.

  8. It already looks so amazing...and I can't wait to see it in person! I'm giving 'The Blues' one more try again this year, based on Greg's experience...I can only hope the Xera strain is better than the ones I've tried...I guess we'll find out :-)

  9. Oh shit, that's the one that flops, isn't it? I always get it and Blue Heaven mixed up. Crap!

  10. We use it but it doesn't cut out blue light completely, hence my Ludditism in the evening.

  11. I used to have five ribes! At some point I just became more interested in other things, I guess. I'll probably fall back in love, now that I've removed it. I treat anemanthele as an annual if it gets ugly. Xera always has them for $4 so I just replace them when they start to bald.

  12. There are so many good manzanitas--I want them all!

  13. I have to be really careful with alcohol too. Two drinks and I'll ding away at 3am.

  14. I know, it's crazy! Remember how you'd get in an argument about a movie line or something and you'd just have to wait until the next day to look up the answer? iPhones killed the bar bet.

  15. The bamboos came with he house, so they are at least six years old (but probably more like ten). They used to be really well behaved and have just recently started sending out runners, which I have to pickaxe out. I've been reading your archives a lot, and I'm thinking about trenching around them to make it a little easier.

  16. And I do use blue blockers but they don't completely block it out. I cheat quite a bit for Mad Men or Game of Thrones. :)

  17. Thanks, lady! And thanks for your coaching. :)

  18. Wow, Heather - it looks fabulous! Love it! I'll bring wine for the next happy hour!

  19. It's looking so beautiful. I sometimes envy those who can have a plan in the garden. I buy and stick it in on a whim. No willpower when it comes to things jumping in my cart. Impatience plays a roll, too, I'm afraid.
    I bought two of those Foxglove this year, but mine have an orangey-yellow throat and the outside is hotter pink. I LOVE them and hope they perform well this summer.

  20. I first read this post last night, in bed, from the blue glow of my iPad. I've read many of those studies about how you shouldn't read from a screen before going to bed. The only time I've had trouble sleeping is when I worry about if they're right. Anyway...nice work! Your back garden looks so much "neater," and the shape of the raised bed is perfection. I do wonder about the nail shoved in the soil next to the Arctostaphylos?

  21. Those are markers for where I buried lilies. :)

  22. It's all looking wonderful. I'm a bit jealous of your ability to site grasses - somehow, although I like so many of them, I can't seem to integrate them into my plantings. A bit surprised you yanked your R. sanguineum, but I know what you mean about the color: there are some gorgeous hot pink ones out there, so why put up with a sappy pink?
    Best of all, I know you don't miss one blade of that turf you removed. Gravel on!

  23. The dark color on your house makes a dramatic background, especially for the grasses. I envy your planning, but not the insomnia (those two things seem to go together). I'm trying to embrace awake time in the middle of the night as an opportunity to curl up with my cat, my Pendleton blanket, a good book and a mug of Ovaltine. The TV puts me right to sleep.