Central Virginia gardening

Photo by Lynn Stayton-EurellWhen asked to design a garden recently, my conversation with the homeowner was almost entirely prepositions - words and phrases which locate in time and space; over, under, around, and through. We looked up, down, along, beside, and behind. And further discussed across, amidst, between, opposite, and underneath. These perspectives lead our senses through the garden. What do we want to see and what is in the way of the view? What will we hear and smell? Where will we touch and taste? Be inquisitive and explore when designing; use all angles guided by the five senses.
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A Green frog lives in this Lake Monticello pond. Photo by Michael R. Eurell

Ephemeral means temporary, here today gone tomorrow, and it describes much about springtime. Vernal pools are ephemeral. These are indentations which are filled with water in spring but dry out in summer; the perfect habitat for salamanders. Salamanders are programmed to reproduce where they were born throughout the ages. What was once an ancestral wet depression may now be the water in a ditch by the side of the road. Or it may be a depression that fills with water in spring in your woods. If you have such a pool, look now for salamander egg masses. Several kinds of salamanders live in Virginia’s vernal pools as well as fairy shrimp and newts, peepers and the American, green, leopard, and pickerel frog. These are small animals but they are the big insect eaters we need. But vernal pools are often considered insignificant so they are lost to development or pollution. These small animals won’t get a chance to reproduce without their ancestral vernal pool. If you have one or two, clear out the debris and make it a little bigger; don’t let it disappear until it is supposed to later in the year.

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I have a small field where we used to play whiffle ball until the children grew up. We could still play in the fall when the World Series is on TV, pretending to be the Red Sox or the Orioles and I want to keep it available for that. However, this doesn’t really suit my garden plan. So I planted it with 2,000 daffodils in the form of a labyrinth. It emerges like magic in spring and I can mow  by mid-June. That’s how I got started planting patterns. I planted several labyrinths for people; one for a wedding with black-eyed Susans; one with bulbs circling around a small pond; one which stays all year, planted in consecutively blooming plants. You can lay it out in winter and mow the path to keep the pattern ready to plant in the right season. The uncut wild flowers and grass will preserve the pattern.

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Many of us have inherited gardens and are working to keep them going. One dilemma is how to preserve the garden left by the ancestor and still work with the inevitable change that goes on in every garden.

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I have problems with water. Unlike some of you who can grow Russian sage and santolina, I have wet soil and bad drainage.  I have tried to change this over the years, but going with my new garden philosophy of ‘go along get along’, I am now planting bog plants, plants for wet conditions, moisture loving plants.

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