Garden Muse

My garden never stops changing, and I change right along with it. When I planted 'English Elegance' rose, a David Austin English introduction with peach-colored twisted petals, I was in love with roses and wanted one of every kind. Just this month I dug it up and gave it to a younger friend who'd admired it last summer.

I still love 'English Elegance,' but I'm not the same person who planted it. The rose is not the same rose either - now it's shaded by 'Grace' smoke tree. 'Grace' too has changed. Once a small shrub, now it's become the most beautiful tree in the garden.

The woman I was in 1990 was new to roses. I was so eager to learn more about them, I traveled to New Zealand for a Heritage Rose Conference, complete with three weeks of tours! Every garden was a froth of roses, climbing the house walls, scrambling up trees, blooming in borders.

Back home I wanted them, I ordered them, I planted them. For many summers to come, my garden too was a froth of roses. Did I mention that my body was twenty years younger? That my wrists, back, shoulders and arms were tireless?

As time passed, maintaining more than 100 roses - pruning, deadheading, watering, mulching - became daunting. Worn out, I took a hard look at which roses I couldn't live without. Little by little I'm removing those that don't bloom long enough, get black spot and mildew, or just plain don't thrill me.

Sturdy and Beautiful

In this continuously evolving life - both mine and the garden's - I've come to appreciate the sturdy plants. I'm falling in love again, this time with small evergreen shrublets that grow to a reasonable size without a lot of fussing.

Wintercreeper euonymus (Euonymus fortunei) has been around for a long time, especially 'Emerald Gaiety,' with cream and pink variegations, and 'Emerald 'N Gold' with gold and orange tints. These have soft stems, and tend to sprawl. Somewhere between a vine and a ground cover, they fill in gaps between bigger shrubs very nicely, trailing below and even weaving into the lower branches of the shrubs.

Lately I've found some new varieties to add to the palette - 'Blondy' with splashes of gold, and mostly golden 'Lemon Drop.' These are shaped more like small shrubs, with woodier branches. I'll plant them to replace perennials that don't bloom for long, or that need frequent dividing and staking.

Easy Yet Satisfying

I've come to appreciate epimediums for their forgiving nature, adapting to dry or damp shade, even sun as long it's not a hot afternoon blast. I love their heart-shaped leaves and sprays of tiny flowers over the tops of the foliage.

Many newer cultivars with extraordinary pink, lavender, and orange flowers have been introduced, and naturally I haven't been able to resist their intriguing beauty. But I count more on two older yellow-flowering varieties that grow more vigorously in my garden: Epimedium x versicolor and Epimedium 'Frohnleiten.' Both are unfailingly reliable, in full or partial shade.

Ferns too are a recent love, for their lacy fronds which last so long. They're a perfect contrast to hellebores, epimediums and hostas with bolder leaves. Disease free, they grow more beautiful each year with little care. Because it was so common, for years I overlooked the beauty of our native sword fern. But they found my garden, sowing down into gaps in shady places, quietly adding their green skirts below hydrangeas, between viburnums. Recently I transplanted five 'volunteers' to a damp shady place where Siberian irises once bloomed. Without missing a beat, they settled right in, looking like they've been there for years.

A long time ago, I bought the soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) at a garden center, drawn to its feathery texture. It was labelled 'Alaska fish fern,' and maybe it's still sold by that name. All I ever do is cut back the old fronds in late winter, taking a moment to admire the fuzzy croziers nestled at the heart of the fern. Unfurling slowly each spring, it stands quietly beside a showier bleeding heart, holding the picture long after the prima donna declines.

These days, I want the garden to remain a beloved place, not a burden. As I look out on the panorama, I'm comforted by seeing fewer fusspots and more easygoing friends. I look forward to tending my garden in the same way that I'm reshaping my life, with a more relaxed vision, with more appreciation for what grows easily.

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