Thursday, April 14, 2011

Anything but Hydrangea!

Last weekend my boyfriend and I got out the rakes and trowels and joined the rest of our co-op community in the annual garden cleanup.

The garden consists of a sideyard about 15 feet wide and the entire east-west width of the building, as well as a space some 25 feet wide that serves as the air shaft for many of the units. The two parts form a skewed T shape (with the topbar being very long, and the bottom of the T being very wide).

Every year plots are alloted to interested shareholders. Part of the sideyard is very sunny all day long, with relatively unobstructed eastern and southern exposures. That part is reserved for growing vegetables. The rest is for flowers.  My plot is right on the corner of the vegetable and flower part. I have lovingly cultivated it for about 8 years now, unfortunately with little success by my standards.

I'm not a "brown thumb", as it were. I successfully maintain several plants inside my apartment, a feat given that only one window really gets direct sunlight at all.  And my outdoor plot is actually one of the sunniest of the flower plots, with about half of it getting 4 hours or more of sun in the summer. The other half gets much less light, however.  And I don't really like shade plants that don't flower. Every year so far, we have trooped out, planted, watered, weeded (at least for a month or two), and stood back dismayed as very little of our plan ever comes to fruition.

What's wrong with it? I'd like to think it's not us. We're not prize growers but we are attentive to our plot. We  suffer the same as everyone else when it comes to squirrels. They eat rosebuds and dig up bulbs. I did get crocuses to grow one year, but construction in the building killed off everything in my plot as the construction workers apparently thought it was a pathway or something. (and unfortunately we may end up with that again, but I'm trying to avoid thinking about that).

Part of the plot is very sandy and easy to dig. But the other half (which coincides with the half that doesn't get much sun) has a large amount of red clay in it!  I am constantly digging up shards of glass, ceramics and/or metal (at least 2-3 eating utensils). It's like an archeological dig.  Over the years I have added topsoil and mixed in compost from the garden compost pile. But not much has been willing to grow in there.

I haven't sprung to have the soil tested (though apparently parts of the garden have high levels of lead in the soil - yikes!). But I have gotten a small number of plants to grow over the years. Not necessarily to thrive, but to live. Here they are:

- Common Jasmine: I love this flower because it is so fragrant. The plant is vinelike but it can grow like a shrub if trained. I planted two jasmines the first year I had the plot and they grew. Unfortunately they died when the winter came.  Apparently we have too harsh a winter climate for them to survive. Though I wonder if they could if I wrapped them like a fig tree?

- blue ageratum.  These little flowers actually do grow and thrive, at least they did most years - there were a couple where they didn't make it.

- Impatiens. I have to point out that I didn't actually plant these in my garden!  The woman with the neighboring plot planted them in hers, and they reseeded themselves into  my plot. Every year I still get them.  Oy. I don't really like impatiens, though I can get distracted by popping their seedbugs in the fall.

- Shasta Daisy.  A friend of mine from Michigan sent me several packets of seeds, but the only one that grew was the package of Shasta Daisies. They seem to like part sun the most but grew all over the garden. I had so many I had to get rid of some.  These guys reseed themselves. It's probably been 5 years since I planted any  but they still pop up around the garden. Not in my plot though. They grew fine the first year but I've never had any actually in my plot since. I think I spotted a few growing in the border between my plot and my neighbors. Sheesh.

- Heath. Ok, heaths (cousin to heather, the hardy moor plant known to be found on the English prairie) don't really like my plot. They just kind of survive there. They don't actually grow.  I have one heath left that's been there about 4 years. The rest have slowly died. I got ones that like acidic soil. Perhaps I don't have acidic soil?

- Hydrangea.  This is the super heavyweight champion of my plot!  I bought the first hydrangea as an 8" indoor plant from Whole Foods. I've always loved them since they were in my next door neighbor's yard as a kid.  I planted it in my plot thinking it would be a nice divider between my plot and my next door neighbors. Well, it just took off from there. First, I had to keep cutting it back. Then I moved it (a 3 hour process with a VERY BIG ROOT BALL) after 3 years to the other side where there was more neutral territory. There it has been since. I cut it back every season to keep the walk way clear.

It grows dark blue flowers dappled with pink. I know that means there is aluminum in the soil. I can't remember my chemistry. Is aluminum acid or alkaline?  Anyway, the flowers on one side are pinker than the flowers on the other. Very odd.

Last spring I discovered that a low hanging branch had rooted itself into the soil. So now I had two hydrangeas. I figured nothing else would grow so I moved it a bit to give it some space. It shot up quite a bit last year and is now quite established.

But wait, that's not all!  This year I discovered the mother and daughter hydrangea had each rooted a baby. Now we are totally overrun with hydrangeas. We offered some to other gardeners but no one wanted to take us up on it. So we have two mothers and two babies. I have clipped the lower branches on the more mature plants to try and keep it to four. I guess there could be worse things than having a beautiful lush leafy plant with gorgeous fragrant flowers overrunning my plot. But I wanted to seem like a real gardener who can coax a small plot into a coherent oasis worthy of extreme contemplation.

So, I'm throwing it out to everyone. Please send suggestions of plants that might work in my plot. Just not hydrangea!

Hydrangea Nikko Blue macrophylla - Bigleaf-A Top Seller 4 inch pot