MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
GARDENING IN THE SHADE
I visited my brother Allen in St. Louis, for a graduation and a fortunate meeting place for Martin, Tammy, Josie, and Danielle. While we were at my brother's stately Victorian home, a box arrived on a Tuesday from Springhill Nurseries. It was a shade garden collection. "When are you going to plant it?" I asked my sister-in-law Kris. She sighed and said, "Saturday or Sunday." I thought I should either prepare a funeral mass or offer to put the plants in myself. The offer was accepted.
Kris Jackson inspired the story of the roses needing pruning, told in The Wormhaven Gardening Book and every sermon I give on John 15:1-10. Her old rose bushes were doing nothing, so I pruned them while she was shopping with my wife Chris. Kris burst into tears when she saw the bushes pruned back so severely. I said, "Don't worry. In two weeks, if you water and mulch, they will be covered with blooms. Read John 15:1-10. Whatever blooms must be pruned to bloom even more. The deadwood must be pruned and thrown away." In two weeks she phoned and cried again, saying how beautiful the bushes were. From that time on they pruned, mulched with grass, and watered.
Kris followed my advice so carefully that she became the neighborhood rose expert. The roses we planted were still doing well, six years later, not only at her house, but also at my old apartment down the block on Reber Place. (The address is found in Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant.) Her roses were six feet tall and full of blooms. She trimmed them back, 10 days before her daughter Ida's graduation from high school, the reason for our visit. My brother said, "What are you doing, cutting them now, before the graduation?" Kris explained, and sure enough, the Tropicana bush was bursting with perfect blooms on the weekend of graduation. I cut the rest of the blooms off and brought them inside, to motive the bush to produce again.)
The shade garden was an interesting idea. Like most old neighborhoods, my brother's is overwhelmed with mature trees casting too much shade in the wrong places. An ideal shade tree planting will cast a shadow on the home in the afternoon. If the trees are deciduous, the leaves will block sunlight in the summer but let it warm the home in the winter. All trees are good bird shelters and feeders. Pine trees make better shelters in the winter. In my opinion, the best tree is the neighbor's trees, because I want as much sunlight and as few tree roots as possible. Therefore, I consider my neighbor's trees part of my landscaping and birdscaping plans.
The shade garden grouping is a good idea. The nursery provides a chart for various plans in getting the plants in a pleasing arrangement. Kris said, "Was it hard to follow?" I had to confess that I forgot to follow it. But my plan was fairly close to theirs.
I got my brother's family involved in building a compost pile, so I had wheelbarrows of compost to add to the shade garden area. The soil was already filled with active earthworms, so I was confident that the compost would make the new section a great success. Some of the plants in the grouping were astilbe (very attractive and colorful), hosta (grown for its leaves rather than flowers), gladiolus, and some miniature roses tolerant of shade. Hostas are a great selection for the shade. They multiply and can be divided in time, just as cannas in the sun.
Shade does not mean basement darkness but dappled shade. I suggested trimming an overhanging tree back. A mulberry tree was also designated for removal. Some roses will tolerate more shade than others. Gruss im Aachen is one I grew in Midland. But, as one expert says, if they tolerate shade, they glory in the sun.
If you want to become educated in shade gardening, read the Wayside Gardening catalog. 1-800-845-1124. The paragraphs about each selection are more informative than most gardening books. People in Michigan used to say to me, "Would you like some snow-on-the-mountain?" I would reply, "Goutweed? No thanks." What they called snow-on-the-mountain was really goutweed or bishop's weed, guaranteed to fill in any shady area. Very unimaginative. There are many colorful alternatives, such as blue hosta or colorful astilbe.
I had a little pine area, which was perfect for a hammock, so I put in the hooks and bought one. Very little will grow in a shady pine area, and I did not want to put delicate plants where children were going to play. I covered the top layer of the clay soil with compost and dug in a few violets, which grow through the root system and also spit out seeds as far away as 9 feet. I think they have a third way of reproduction, but that escapes me. At any rate, the violets filled in the area and I had no regrets about walking on them. After a pleasant afternoon with kids playing in the hammock, the violets would be smashed down. Parents apologized, but I said, "Those are violets. They will be back in a few days."
One gardening writer said, "Every garden is unique, but few are original." I studied a book on design for rose gardens and discovered that the old orthodoxy was to isolate roses and let them stand alone as the queen of the garden. The big companies also tended to cultivate one style of hybrid tea, at the expense of many attributes. Showy blooms on long canes tended to breed out aroma or attractive bushes.
Many people are struck by the way so many plants in our garden are pushed together. One member said, "You should borrow The Square Foot Gardening Book." His wife said, "He is the one who gave it to my sister in the first place." I smiled benignly. I devour gardening books the way many devour the sports pages.
I have to admit that many plants are in a particular place because it was the easiest place to dig them in with a limited amount of time. Also, I have to learn now by trial and error. Many plants I have grown before need the shade of other plants to survive the Arizona desert sun. Others have needed more water than I expected.
Here are some basic concepts. My plans are shaped by a) people enjoying the birds while seated outside in our patio area; b) the safety and amusement of children from the church; c) afternoon shade for the pool, since the pine tree was removed.
1. In the bird-feeding area we want as many bird and butterfly plants as possible, for perching, sunning, and feeding. Hummingbird plants also tend to be butterfly plants, since they are nectar rich.
2. Roses are planted in the bird and butterfly area for color and later for perching. Butterflies also need to perch and sun themselves. Butterfly fanatics suggest getting rid of birds, but I will let God sort them out in the backyard. Food, water, and shelter will bring an abundance of life.
3. Some plants will favor the insect population and that helps the bird population. Queen Ann's Lace and dill are both considered insect friendly.
4. Try new plants where they will get regular attention. In the past I bought plants, stuck them in a corner, then forgot about them. Many need extra care, weeding, and watering to get established. So I will plant things where they will get the water and attention they need. I have been trying to keep a pigmy palm alive. It looks bad, but the tomatoes and roses near it are thriving from all the extra water and attention.
5. Buy seeds by the ounce and pound, not by the packet.
State of the Garden Report
My wife called our backyard an "Alice in Wonderland" garden.
Our sunflowers have become the talk of the neighborhood, looming over the high block walls and blooming with abandon. The original sunflower patch, shading the west side of the house, is now so huge that sidewalk traffic is blocked, even though I tied them back with 100 feet of nylon rope tightened between eye screws mounted on the house. If the rope breaks or the eye screws let go while someone is near the sunflowers, the hapless person could be catapulted into the far wall. Bees are so busy in the sunflowers that the few will want to venture there. I walk past the bees and bump into them all the time. They are so well fed they do not care.
The sunflower patch includes some borage, a prolific bloomer, and two tomato plants. Dill peeks out here and there.
The corn is filling out ears already. Beans are producing. Blue hubbard squash is aggressively filling in the low area of the corn garden. Blue hubbard leaves have a blue sheen when new. I think it is another case of the Creator showboating. "This is what I can do. Why do you doubt my power or goodness?" Tomatoes are in bloom, promising a bountiful harvest soon. Dill is going to seed, so I can harvest dill and eat sun-warmed tomatoes seasoned by dill. We have a few strawberries but our sheltie puppy is eager to dig around them, even when caught and disciplined for it.
The sunflower fort, built to shade and protect the jungle gym, is coming into bloom now. All the walls will be filled with yellow blooms on Sunday. Everyone is struck by how the sunflowers went from weak seedling to 10-foot tall plants in a short time. I will leave many of the sunflower poles and use them as supports for the winter pea planting. Peas are shallow rooted but need sweet soil. They will grow in lime graveled soil with abandon.
All of the roses are producing. The purple and white Harlequin rose has been a disappointment, but Perfume Delight has been a $6 surprise.
Some roses started to yellow from over-watering. That has a lot to do with getting watered whenever the hose was used, since one area tends to dam up the water near the house. The only solution was to cut back the canes severely. This seems to cause great pain for some people, but it is the best way to spur any bush to grow. John 15:1-10.
Someone asked about insect damage to their roses. Will systemic insecticides hurt earthworms? Yes. Before nuking the rose bush I would plant garlic or garlic chives around them. Secondly, I would hose them down with soapy water from time to time. A hose attachment for fertilizing the garden will also work well for soaping the plants and lawn. I did it and had a lot of fun.
Healthy plants do not attract insect damage or suffer from major attacks. Health will be bolstered by mulching, watering, and manure. Our tangelo tree was a little sickly looking, so I dumped a bucket of fermented goat manure on it. The smell was significant for 24 hours, but the tree greened up at once. "Luke 13:7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? 8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: 9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down."
So far I have used no insecticide in the garden this year. I have some semi-circles cut in the rose leaves, from carpenter bees. I forgive them. The sunflowers get chewed on, but they shake off most damage. If the kids knock down a few while playing, we have a few hundred left to flower and seed. Actually, when sunflowers start feeling their oats, it is usually necessary to cut a few down in their prime, to let other sunflowers have enough space. The sunflowers in the main patch keep putting their leaves in front of the tomato plants, like rude family members who hog the group picture. I pull the offending leaves off the sunflower plant and the amputee continues to grow, stretch, and flower. Someone said, "They seem to be on their tiptoes, reaching up for more sun." One grew massively across the sidewalk, horizontally, and then turned its flower up to the sun. Ambition is a trait of sunflowers.
Altogether, the backyard provides a constant parade of God's Creation. Hummingbirds scout the yard every 15 minutes. Our entitlement birds constantly feed, fuss, and splash in their pond. Insects hover around the plants. The puppy romps through the plants, growls at flowerpots, ignores birds, splashes in her mini-pool, hides in the sunflower fort, and begs food.