Story last updated at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Successful gardens build upon seasons of past preparations
By Rosemary Fitzpatrick
The Kachemak Gardener

I have been having a truly wonderful time in my garden this whole week.

The perennial beds are showing life, and, unfortunately, death. I have taken this opportunity to make some determinations that, I hope, will save me time and effort this summer.

I am hoping to streamline my gardening efforts. The past four seasons have seen me in my garden more than anywhere else. Now, this is not a bad thing, but I am not running a professional nursery, this is my garden, just like yours. I am supposed to be having fun here....

As you probably know, this garden is "new."

This the beginning of the fourth season and I have spent the previous seasons building the soil, raised beds, perennial beds and planting a massive amount of trees and shrubs. To minimize the fact that all of the major plantings have been very young and, therefore small, I have been planting annuals and biennials in between so the ground would not look so bare and inviting to weeds. The overall effect has been very pleasing but very labor intensive.

This season I am hoping to let the plants that have survived the last few seasons strut their stuff. They are established enough to put on a strong show on their own and not depend on "filler" plants for visual support.

If a plant died over the winter, I am not going to replace it with more of the same. At least not this year. It is still too early to tell if the Verbascum Bold Queen will come back. These are a short-lived plants, four or five years, but it is well worth it. The zillions of small white blooms with a plum eye massed along a 3-foot stalk is a sight to behold. If it fails me this year it will be too late to order more for this season. I have yet to figure out how to make that work, any suggestions would be appreciated.

I have been cleaning up the perennial beds for the last week. Before that the weather was too unsettled.

Yes, I know it snowed, but really the temperature wasn't that low and the snow lasted a few hours. Now this is where those of you who live at the higher elevations will just want to choke me. Please, take heart. I have been chatting with friends, probably your neighbors, and they report that the snow is receding from the house foundations and primulas and bulbs are showing signs of life. You really are not all that far behind "town." Your dandelions will bloom with all the same gusto as those at the lower elevations.

Last spring I planted two mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) Blizzard. This is NOT the variety suggested in Landscape Plants for Alaska published by the Alaska Cooperative Extension. They suggest Philadelphus coronarius or p. x. virginalis. I bought what came my way. They are looking quite excellent. So excellent in fact that I have moved the delphinium that was behind one of them.

I was hedging my bets.

I am counting on plants that are old standbys to see me through this, what I consider, a transitional garden. A garden that is not yet, but is almost, established. I have divided the shooting stars and used them to accent a few rock stepping stones . Hopefully the roses will cover their spent leaves before they become tiresome.

I also divided and moved the trollius. These are the lovely fragile yellow globe flowers that you see everywhere in spring and into summer. They are a must have. They are a yellow that plays well with others.

The Theresa Bugnet roses, three of them that are surrounding the common lilac, are looking hale and hearty, a switch from the previous three years. Last year I planted a batch of cosmos in their midst and almost missed the roses themselves when they bloomed. Not so this year. They will be standing on their own and looking far more mature and dignified. And I will be able to appreciate their very lovely, fragrant blooms.

Same goes for the delphiniums. I do ever so want a mass of Black Knight delphiniums moving from around the corner of the house to the front third of the porch. I don't know why, I just do. But I have already planted a Nepeta sibirica that achieves 3 feet in height at the porch. I have chosen not to try and move it because it is spreading all over the place, which is just fine with me. It will blend well with the delphiniums and I am, after all, trying to make things a bit easier.

Which brings me to spreading plants.

Now is the time to pull out what you do not want. If you have something that is invasive, get working on it now. You will be "weeding" it out all summer but now you will be able to get a good bit of it out.

I also transplanted the Hesperis matronalis (the sweet rocket that grows in the ditches of New York state.) I had it under the honeysuckles but they are too young and will be overwhelmed by these tall and strong growing biennials. Plus I wanted them just off the deck so we could enjoy their lovely fragrance.

Now is the time to be moving and dividing. If you have never divided a perennial before steel yourself. Sharpen your spade. Remove the whole clump of whatever it is. Drive your spade into the clump. Usually a clump will divide four ways. Voila! You have four new plants that you can spread around and make a real statement with! Lucky you!

This time last year I was soaking my peas and getting ready to plant the vegetable garden with everything that can be seeded in <> such as carrots, onions, spinach, lettuce, peas, beets. Not so this year.

Even with my raised beds, the soil is too wet.

If you take a handful of soil and ball it up in your fist and it remains in a wad it is too wet to work. If it falls apart when you open your hand you are good to go. Working wet soil will leave you with clumps all growing season.

It's best to wait.

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