Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Progress and Change

(alt. title: No More Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed!)

This week for my Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum, I'm sharing a set before and after pictures of a bed in my garden. Ok, so they aren't really all that pretty, and I'm not sure they even qualify as vignettes, but just go with it. The point is to share things that inspire, excite, and make us think, right? Well, I'm excited by this little change and can finally think about the next steps. And I'm being a bit lazy and want this post to do double-duty to cover a phase in one of my projects.

Pre-removal. It almost doesn't look bad, looking at this photo, just a bit wild and informal. At least it's mostly full.

Yesterday, I decided it was time to tackle the Mimulus cardinalis in the Acer griseum bed. This bed has mostly been a messy, embarrassing eyesore since shortly after my brother and I built it some years ago. It lay empty and became full of weeds. It became storage for plants that didn't have homes yet, either planted directly into the raised bed or simply sunk into the soil still in their pots for winter protection. One of those pots contained some Mimulus cardinalis I brought home with me when I still worked at Castle Rock Nursery. The monkey flower reseeded and spread through the loose, water-retentive soil of the raised bed like wildfire. It quickly become known as monkey weed. But we allowed it mostly free reign of the bed. It was pretty, required no care from us other than cutting down old stems in winter, and it helped prevent less-desirable weeds from taking over the bed. Also, the hummingbirds might have retaliated with lethal force if we had dared remove the monkey flower, so perfectly adapted to serve and be served by the tiny flying syringes.

Post-removal. Look at all that space! That was all covered in monkey weed! And wild strawberries. Now I can actually see what to do with this bed!

Fast-forward several years, and I've since spread divisions and seedlings of the Mimulus to several areas of the garden, with denser, tougher soils where they won't grow into 4' monsters. That's the real problem with the monkey flowers in this bed. They do far too well (a novel reason for me to pull plants out, over-performing). The soil is loose and rich, easy to grow in. Surely the hummingbird overlords will be appeased, right? I can tackle the Monkey Monster that has overtaken the Acer griseum bed now, right? I nervously set to with a shovel and hori hori, keeping my head low in case of fly-by needles, to de-monkey-fy the bed. I've been wanting to do this for years, but until now didn't have a clear enough idea of what I wanted this bed to be to justify removing them. They've been place-holders, of sorts. Now I not only have a direction for this bed, I'm designing a large area around it. I can't have a chaotic, shapeless weed patch in the middle of my lovely new garden area! Time to clean house!
A full (packed down) cart load of Mimulus, and a bit of wild strawberry. If you've been wondering about the ugly dead grass around the bed, I tilled most of it and sprayed the rest closer to the bed. I don't like using chemicals, but didn't want to risk running the tiller into the rocks around the bed. There are also weeds like Canadian thistle in the soil around this bed, which really do call for spraying.

Tearing out plants can be so therapeutic. I know, it seems an odd thing for a gardener to say, but I don't think I'm alone. It felt wonderful to tackle this project and get it off my mind, sweeping away the dust (oh, wait, those are Mimulus seeds) so I can actually see what needs to be done in this bed, what needs to move where, what needs to be added or subtracted. It's like spring cleaning, even if it's done at the end of summer. It's a bit like what I've been doing with my life for the last year. This won't be the last of the monkey flower seen in this bed. After years of growing in this bed, there's a substantial seed bank that's been accruing interest for all that time. I wish my savings account had interest rates like monkey flower seeds. Hmm, where was I? Oh, right. So, I will have to continue pulling monkey flowers from this bed as the copious seedlings appear. I imagine it will take several years to get it to a point where the bed is planted and soil need no longer be disturbed to awaken the sleeping beast within. But I'm excited to finally know what I want to do with this bed, and to be able to see the bed clearly without the monkey weed in the way (Again, like my life. Ooh, I sense an allegory!). Because of the well-drained, moisture-retentive soil in this raised bed, and a siting that provides mostly full sun with shade during the hottest part of the day in summer for most of the bed, it's the perfect place to experiment with Southern Hemisphere plants like Calceolaria arachnoidea, Bolax gummiferaAstelia 'Red Devil' and Coprosma 'Roy's Red'. I've already had success with the first two in this bed, and I've planted the second two. We'll see how they handle this winter. I have to be careful about height, though. I don't want too many tall plants in this bed blocking off the view of the Acer griseum, particularly on the north side (this photo was taken from the south side). So this bed will be full of plants less than 2' tall, with only a few taller shrubs breaking up the low growth. I'm picturing the windswept heathlands of Tasmania meeting a woodland garden in a strange but wonderful synergy.

You may have noticed in the second picture that there was one monkey flower left in the bed. One of the benefits of letting a plant reseed in your garden is that sometimes you'll get something new. As I was evicting the monkey monsters, I got an unexpected bonus in the form of this rather interesting seedling with flowers in multiple peachy colors on the same plant. I had noticed it a bit over the summer, but kept thinking my mind was playing tricks on me as I would later be unable to find it again in the morass of monkey weeds filling the bed. You never know what treasures you'll discover when you do some serious searching and clear out the dust, in gardening and in life.

So there's my (sort of) Wednesday Vignette post, and some progress in the garden. Progress makes me happy. I've been feeling a little panicked and overwhelmed lately, and it's nice to tackle something where I can see results immediately, and check it off my list. On that note, I'm slowly picking up the pace in my coding studies, establishing habits and figuring out goals to help me succeed. It's a good feeling, like I actually know what I'm doing and have things pretty together. (I don't, but it's nice to feel that way.)

12 comments:

  1. Oh, Evan, I hope you survived the battle without too many injuries from the tiny flying syringes... I had great visions in my head... windswept heathlands of Tasmania... Wonderful. I suppose you'll collect seeds from the tri-color monkey and see if it replicates?

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    1. I did have one low fly by, but survived unscathed. I might try seeds from that monkey, but I think rhizome divisions will be more reliable to reproduce the color.

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  2. I bet you have it a lot more together than you give yourself credit for, Evan! I know that overwhelmed feeling well. I also totally understand the wonderful feeling of progress you can actually see - had a few instances of that this summer. It felt great!!! I can't wait to see what you do with the A.g. bed! Good to know that Monkey flowers require that much space. I have never grown them, but been tempted. Interesting peachy seedling - I think Tamara has a yellow Mimulus, but I've never seen a peachy one. Love your descriptions of the hummers - so funny! :D

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    1. Thanks, Anna! Mimulus cardinalis is usually only half the size of the ones in these beds. It gets supersized in this bed, and reseeds 10 times more than usual, because of the soil.

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  3. Demonkifying beds and flying syringes sounds a bit like the musical Wicked. The bed looks clean and ready for new plants!

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    1. I've never seen the musical, but I love the book adaptation!

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  4. Your use of language provided several chuckles while reading this post. When you start designing websites, I think your clients would benefit from employing your writing skills as well. Mimulus dies out for me...what am I doing wrong?

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    1. Glad I could give you a laugh, Ricki. I'm not sure why Mimulus dies out in your garden. The only time I've actually lost one was last summer in a really hot bed with really terrible, compacted clay. I'm not sure if it was the dryness of that bed or being in hot, wet clay when I watered it that did them in, but they came back from seed.

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  5. Congratulations upon successfully tackling that project (not to speak of your coding studies)! I'm sure your find another way to accommodate the needs of the feisty flying creatures. Kudos too on taking the care to save the interesting new seedling. I had to laugh at your statement about pulling out over-performers - I'm struggling with what to do with an over-performer of my own, Barleria obtusa, currently crawling over everything surrounding it.

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    1. Ha! Yes, let's not speak of my studies, which have been put on hold for fall planting season.

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  6. I spend a lot of time pulling out overgrown vegetation as well, things seem to grow like gang-busters up here in the PNW. But none of mine are as interesting as your Monkeys. It would have been interesting to see the Monkeys flying out of there. My hummers come and protest every now and then over something but unfortunately I don't speak hummese. Probably demanding more red flowers. Your new bed will be interesting, I'm sure, Evan.

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    1. Aside from blackberries and hollies, pulling plants out is a fairly novel experience for me. My garden is so young that I'm still putting things in most of the time, instead of taking things out.

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