After completing the 11 week Master Gardener course in March 2010, my fellow classmate and new friend Connie and I were excited to volunteer at the Linn County Demo Garden. We were ready to get our hands dirty and use our new found knowledge. Without realizing what we were getting ourselves into, we volunteered to adopt one of the raised beds. How hard could designing a 8' x 4' space be? Since it was only March and planting time wasn't until May we had lots of time to throw out ideas and come up with what we envisioned as our "Masterpiece." This should be a breeze, right?
But first let me digress. Connie and I are on opposite spectrums of gardening styles. It's like comparing the clothes closet of Carmen Miranda and Sophia Loren, they probably don't have a lot of duplicates.
Living in deer country Corvallis, her garden is a smorgasbord open 24 hours a day for hungry deer trampling anything and everything in their path. Connie has been patiently working her way through various deer resistant plants, trees, and shrubs, pulling the whole setting together. The boxwood knot garden and hedges greeting you in the front yard set the stage for order. In the backyard, a large canopy tree and mature growth add to her style. It is a peaceful, private environment beckoning you to take time out, sit on the deck with a glass of wine, and reflect as you listen to water fall from the fountain. Actually, if I didn’t know better, I would think she secretly hires a gardener who stops by each day to keep every limb and blade of grass in their place. Yes my friends, I realized and am embarrassed to admit I am at the opposite end of the “orderliness scale.
As for my gardening style, I go to a nursery, I see a plant I think is pretty and I buy it with the intention of figuring out where it will fit when I get home. That is my gardening style. I have no plan other than to make sure the tall plants are in back and the short plants are in front. My garden has flowers and plants with every color under the rainbow, the more bold, bright and gaudy it is the better. I also have a penchant for "garden art" to the point that I keep hoping the sun will finally come out so that my plants will grow to catch up with the new "art" pieces and it will look like a garden again instead of a salvage yard. As a friend exclaimed in a nice way, "Wow, your yard is really busy." Eeek! It made me think twice when I was about to set a new found bird cage with a container plant inside into the flower bed. I realized I had gone over the edge with my "garden art" and maybe I should take some ideas from Connie and get a little order to my garden. So, I went out and bought a car full of boxwoods. Yes, she has rubbed off on me.
With that background knowledge I move back to the topic of our Demo Garden raised bed. How were we to combine our two gardening styles into the 8' x 4' space? First, after much discussion, we decided to use ornamental plants and flowers to create a bright spot in the Demo Garden. Using graph paper we sketched a design of circles and squares creating a pattern of contrasting colors. The dividing lines bring order to the pandemonium of the bright colors.
We then decided to have the center circle be three tiered, I just happen to have in my spare junk pile, eh… I mean “art pile,” a 24” round metal piece of old ventilator fan. I had planned to paint it purple and use it as a raised bed in my own garden. I was happy to donate it to the demo garden; and I'm sure my neighbors will be thrilled to know they missed that bullet. We decided that a subdued black paint would be a better choice than purple. Yes, Connie was very tactful to rein in my inner child who wants to paint her bedroom a bright color. We were lucky to find a slew of used edging at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. And there you go; we had our straight lines that we could use to make triangles. This was the easy part.
The next step was picking the plants that we wanted to use. This is when Connie and I realized we have something in common--we both have a terrible time making a decision when all the choices are so beautiful. We looked at web site after web sites of luscious, colorful plants and had to decide which would be the right ones to use. It was worse than going to a restaurant and seeing pictures of all kinds of incredible feasts and having to decide as though it was the last meal you would ever eat. They all looked so great, how were we supposed to make a choice.
Making the right selection was crucial for the design to work, but they were all so pretty. An important element was the amount of maintenance the flowers were going to need. Narrowing it down to the low maintenance category would help prevent spending every day of the summer at the demo garden. After a month or more of negotiations that rivaled the plans drawn up for NAFTA, we had our final plant picks.
For the center three tiered raised bed portion, we chose the mother of all center pieces, the Tropicana Canna. With it's large variegated colorful leaves and striking orange flowers we couldn't go wrong. We knew the Canna could hold its own like a queen reigning over the commoners. Yes, she is a beauty. We recently added two Amaranth "Love Lies Bleeding" to stand on either side of her hoping the long rope like blooms will add to the effect.
On the second level we made an impulse buy. I think the actual words were "Hey this is cool, let's put this in!" That is how we ended up with "Curly Wurly Corkscrew Rush." The chaotic out of order stems add some interest and display a plant that is not often seen in a typical garden. We paired a sun loving lime green coleus with the Curly Wurly but it has proven to be more "slug loving" than "sun loving" so it will most likely be replaced after we are certain of its demise, and giving a few more attempts at resuscitation.
The next level bordering each side of the circle we planted a mix of orange and red Mimulus along with Celosia in yellow, orange and red. They are proving to be quite striking, especially the Mimulus which is a new experience for me. I loved them so much I had to go out and buy a few for my own garden since it seems to be quite resilient.
Outside these center circles the garden bed is divided into triangle portions with half triangles along the sides. The triangle portions are where we planted the "commoners." We used orange Marigolds that are as sturdy as a turn-of-the century brick house and came out unscathed in the torrential downpour we had in May. They are a real champ. In contrast of color and sturdiness, we planted blue/purple Petunias. These are not quite as tolerant of the heavy rains and may need to be escorted to the compost bin if they don't start holding their own once the sun comes out. I'm confident that with some counseling, encouragement and a bit of fertilizer they will step up to the plate and make a comeback. There is nothing like Petunias for summer long blooms.
In the half triangles we planted another common staple to trail over the sides, pink Verbena, and so far she is doing a good job. Last but not least, a yellow/green Angelina Sedum, which is an easy, "just leave me alone and I will do my thing plant." So far she is doing just that.
Finally, we chose a day in May to finish our "Masterpiece." It turned out to be hot and sunny. Remember that day? There was only one, right? It felt like the hottest day of the year. The usual wind tunnel of the demo garden was completely still that day. I felt like I was going to die under the beating sun but I had to get the drip system installed to save the new plants after Connie had planted them in such a nice and orderly way. One big giant blister later and lots of thoughts of swearing off gardening forever, it was done! Water was dripping at the base of each precious plant.
A few days later, in the rain, we were able to step back and view our handy work. With some imagination of what it would look like when it was filled in with blooms and not so soggy, we saw the project that was previously just on paper come to life.
We had successfully combined our two gardening styles and named it a "Flower Fiesta", a bold combination of colorful annual and perennial plants in a 3 tiered decorative design with blooms to last all summer.
Even though we have planted our raised bed, we are not done at the Demo Garden. We will keep an eye on our project throughout the summer feeding and replacing as necessary, as well as lending a hand to the other volunteers. It has been wonderful getting to know the other Master Gardeners at the Demo Garden who have been a great source of encouragement, support, knowledge and friendship. Especially my mentor Vickie, who along with her husband Mel, went out of their way to put the new wood walls in for our raised bed so we could have a fresh start.
Our raised bed in the Demo Garden is a blend of styles, though no one but Connie and I would have known this until now. I love my new boxwoods that were inspired by Connie. And I think I may have rubbed off on her as well. She mentioned a few weeks ago she went out, purchased a screen door, painted it red, and is using it as the highlight in one area in her yard. Yes, “garden junk,” we all need a little.
By Annie Kendrick with contributions from Connie
Master Gardeners 2010