Thursday, February 28, 2013

Giant Plants

Our swallows are back!  They are early this year.  If Aristotle insisted that "one swallow does not a summer make", what would he say about a pair of swallows nesting in late February?

Of course, Aristotle wasn't talking about the weather.  In his Nicomachean Ethics the quote continues, ". . . nor does one fine day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy."  He goes on, in his eloquent and long-winded way, to conclude that it is "virtuous activity" of body and soul that makes a man truly happy.  He concedes that it is easier to be virtuous if one has the benefit of a comfortable living, with enough friends, good health, and a sound economy.  But while virtue can help a person acquire some of these things, they cannot, even when combined, give one the sense of well-being and peace that comes from integrity, from living a virtuous life. 

And that, folks, is my take on the ancients for the day!  Now, onto something a little more current: the photos below are of the round bed in our North Garden.  We built the bed a few years ago; it was meant to be rather formal in appearance.  The first thing I did was plant three durantas, otherwise known as Golden Dewdrop, duranta erecta, right in the middle.  It was a mistake.  In our area, they are not evergreen.  They die back to the roots at first frost to regrow each Spring.  This year, that didn't happen until late December and they practically became small trees.  Even our purple basil grew to huge proportions before giving up its ghost. 


The next few pictures are of our Waterfall Bed behind the swimming pool.  Many, many windows from our house look out upon this view.  When we moved into the house, there were some loropetalums, a lemon bottlebrush, a mature gardenia, a few dwarf yaupons, a sago palm, and three holly trees.  Our first summer, we took out the trees.  That was hard -- we love trees -- but they blocked the view of our field and made it hard for anything else to grow.  We replaced the trees with one gallon plants, esperanza, also known as Yellow Bells (tecoma stans), duranta, poinciana (caesalpinia pulcherrima), and Mexican firebush (hamelia patens), to name a few.  The first photo is from 2008, the next two are from this past January.


At first we enjoyed a wonderful, colorful, rather tropical view.  When the perennials died back to their roots the first winter, it didn't bother us.  The bare sticks were fairly small and worth the flowers from spring till frost.  As I had read more than once, they were the "bones of the garden."  Over time, we added a butterfly bush and Texas star hibiscus, which also grew really large, as well as various, smaller flowers.  Every year, the rootballs grew larger and the shrubs reached ever higher towards the sky.  We'd might as well have kept the holly trees.  This year, the plants were enormous and as autumn faded into a very mild winter, they continued growing.  Our Waterfall Bed began to look like a rainforest.  Finally, some time in late December, we had a couple nights' frost and they mercifully died back.  However, as you can see, we were left with the skeletons of the giant plants.  That's not what I want to see when I look out my windows.
But what should we do with large, sturdy, flowering shrubs that through no fault of their own go dormant in winter?  We have four acres.  Surely, they would fit somewhere, just not in any of my flower beds.
My thoughts turned to our hedgerow project.  I had orginally wanted the south side of our house to be a flower-filled corridor.  My husband and sons created beds for me all along the southern wall of the house, where there had only been grass.  These beds are filled with roses, esperanza, duranta, lantana, Mexican heather, and a few others.  If we moved the dormant plants to the hedgerow, it would have summer color, we would have privacy faster, and I would actually have the flowery corridor I had imagined.  I related all of this to my husband -- no pressure!  That's when we decided to move the giant plants.  We'd done so before and knew what we were up against.  But it seemed the best solution.
The first thing we did was to cut back the sticks.  We usually leave them because the roots are better protected that way, with more on top.  That took a while because, as the photos indicate, the plants are large and there were lots of sticks.  Then came the hard part, digging up the rootballs.  I didn't snap any photos; I was too busy helping.  But I know that most of them were about two feet in diameter and at least a foot deep.  They were heavy and needed big holes dug out of the lawn to accomodate them.  Some plants lifted more easily than others.  The poinciana, for example, had a long taproot that seemed to reach down to Middle Earth.  But in one short afternoon, we transplanted one esperanza, three duranta, one poinciana, and one Texas star hibiscus to the new hedgerow.
Am I being presumptuous in calling it a hedgerow?  Perhaps. 

All the same, for all of its pitifulness, it's a hedgerow in its beginnings.  This summer, it will look very different, as will the Waterfall Bed and the round bed in the North Garden.  Just as the return of the swallows suggests, change is a natural aspect in the life of any garden and certainly in our ever-changing landscape.  


  1. Such an interesting post! I, too, find that I have had to change a few beds when they didn't work out exactly as I had in my mind. And I love your hedgerow! I hope all the plants spring back to life, I can imagine it in my mind flowering this spring. I don't see anywhere on your blog to email subscribe, please consider adding that to your sidebar. So nice to meet another Texan gardener!

    1. Thanks very much for your kind encouragement and also for your suggestion You have helped me! I love your blog and your garden.