Lessons from My Garden

So far, in Maine, this summer has been nearly perfect. Warm and hot during the day, cool at night, and just enough rain for the plants and flowers to flourish. Oh, I could take nine months of this. I know. I live in Maine, where it is downright cold much of the year. Perhaps that’s why summer here is so sweet?

My front gardens, with their profusion of evening primroses, come into their own the end of June and the beginning of July, when everything is an exuberant burst of yellow. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it is with the evening primroses, which are nearly done blooming. There are other flowers to look forward to—black eyed Susans and daylilies—and the hostas and ferns hold everything together, but for the front yard, the peak is over.

It is now up to the hostas and ferns to hold everything together.
It is now up to the hostas and ferns to hold everything together.

On the other hand, the back garden is just coming into its own. The Bee balm is in glorious red bloom—I can’t stop taking pictures of it—and soon there will be a profusion of especially lovely daylilies to join them. There will, of course, be more pictures.

The backyard coming into bloom.
The backyard coming into bloom.

I like to joke—well, maybe it’s not such a joke—that I have the worst yard in Winthrop in which to garden. There is shade galore, and much of it—especially in the front yard—is dry. Thirty years ago, we bought this house for other reasons—the price, the woods, the roominess despite its small size. It was our first house, and I hadn’t yet been bitten by the gardening bug.

However, after a couple of years here, I was bitten. Hard. I was young, I was strong, and I began digging like a fool. I planted willy-nilly, with little regard for the conditions.  Let’s just say that there was plenty of heartbreak and loss. What I wanted was a blooming cottage-style garden. My yard had other ideas, and I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money before I came to my senses. In retrospect, I realize that I should have put raised beds in the front, which would have helped with the dry shade.

But, as the saying goes, we grow too soon old and too late wise. The gardens are dug, and I don’t have the energy or the resources to replace them with raised beds.

I have finally followed the advice of a friend who is an accomplished gardener. “For God’s sake, Laurie, plant some hostas.” This I have done. They are thriving in the dry shade, and they look cool and elegant until the slugs munch them to ribbons. I’ve also planted ferns, which are lovely. But, oh, my heart aches for hollyhocks and roses.

In the backyard, I am happy to report that I learned from my mistakes in the front yard, and the large garden along the patio is indeed a raised bed. There are only six hours of sun in that garden, but I can grow irises, bee balm, and daylilies. Phlox does well, too.

This might sound a little woo-woo—to borrow from my friend Susan Poulin—but the garden has taught me lessons. That is, conditions are not always ideal.  We might want hollyhocks and roses, but instead we get evening primroses and hostas. Yet, in what we get, there can be creativity, value, and even beauty.

More photos from my mid-July garden.

A winged visitor.
A winged visitor
Another little guardian of the garden.
Another little guardian of the garden.
Oh, bee balm!
Oh, bee balm!
Black and white against green.

12 thoughts on “Lessons from My Garden”

    1. Derrick, as long as we live in the we woods, I’m afraid we must settle for ferns, hostas, and evening primroses. But never mind! The woods are beautiful and full of life.

  1. You have learned well that every garden setting is a challenge and an opportunity. I often wish I could go back in time to apply what I know now to gardens in the past. (We have had three very different yards over the past 30 years.) For instance, I would probably not try again to grow tomatoes in the shade of a black walnut tree. You’re garden is lovely, and should give you a lot of pleasure. Given your justifiable love of Monarda, you might want to look at all the many varieties available now and give a new one a try now and then.

    1. Yes, yes, Jason! And when it comes to gardening—and perhaps to life in general—nothing can substitute for the experience of trial and error, even though the error part can be very frustrating. I can just imagine those tomatoes didn’t do especially well. 😉 I have, however, found one—Juliet—that does pretty well with 6 hours of sun, the most that my backyard gets.

      1. You’re right about those tomatoes, both because of the shade and because the black walnuts are allelopathic and secrete toxins that harm some other plants.

      2. So much to learn! We could live three lifetimes and still never know enough.

  2. I have been stubborn about replacing gardens with raised beds, even though the advantages of doing so are very clear to me. But I’m working on it. Slowly. 🙂

    1. Bill, raised beds are a lot of work and expense. No wonder you are stubborn about it! I really can’t foresee a time when we will replace the gardens in front with raised beds. Too many other things to consider first.

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