My garden year in review

2020 was a buzzy year in my garden with many new projects

1. The peony borders

My love for peonies grew a lot more this Summer!

Peony ‘Krinkled White’

In the Fall of 2019 I designed a new, larger peony/mixed border to complement the border dating from 2018. In early Summer, I finished enlarging this newer border. Because the peonies and perennials were still small in size, I sowed annuals in plugs _ zinnias, calendulas and cosmos _ and planted them in the empty spaces.

This past Fall, I worked on a third border (which will hopefully not be the last). I filled it with my new acquisitions from the Summer and Fall, dividing some perennials from the backyard islands, and transplanting a few peonies that were in less sunny spots in my gardens, while trying to harmonize eventual sizes, colors and shapes. If needed, the perennials will eventually be removed leaving more space for the peonies. These ladies do not like to be moved!

Finally, to protect the less hardy tree peonies, I installed winter protection consisting of styrofoam rose cones.

2. The secret garden

A large shallow space on the lawn of the entrance gardens, passed the peony borders and hidden by the dapple willows, had been carved by a long-gone chicken coop. For years I had been filling it with the sod removed from my borders’ expansion. In the Spring I topped it off with decomposed home-made leaf compost … 20 wheelbarrows of it!

The result: a secret garden room dedicated to zinnias and other annuals started from seeds. It became the Eden of many tree frogs and monarchs and provided wonderful arrangements.

3. The crazy garden became the shrub garden

On the Northwest side of the property, my daughter and I have battled squirrels, blue jays and chipmunks in order to sow 150 sunflowers every Summer. To the point that this year I sowed the sunflowers in plugs, including new varieties, and transplanted them when they showed 3 sets of leaves.

In late Fall I decided to frame this border in front of the lilacs with more shrubs, a diverse selection of hydrangeas and other ornamental flowering varieties. More digging, weeding, compost moving and planting! It will take a few years for the shrubs to fill in but it will be worth the wait.

4. A boxwood edge along the terrace

I was not that keen when hubby insisted on planting a low hedge of dwarf boxwood (Buxus ‘Green Gem’) along the backyard terrace. But he was right: the result is the perfect classical finishing touch.

5. Dirt delivered by the tons … really?

Hubby had a little project on his list: level some shallow areas of the entrance garden, probably the consequence of soil sagging by long gone trees or farm sheds. One day, an 18 wheels truck made it to a few hundred feet on the driveway (while damaging a few trees too close and one hosta border) and dumped 30 tons of the best-ever soil, too beautiful to only use for lawn! A real horticultural manna! You may guess how the new little trailer attached to our lawnmower tractor came in quite handy.

When you have dirt, you dig for more borders… My third peony border was filled faster than I had expected! After negotiating, I was also able to use more of this golden (black) treasure to design two long borders along the middle forest, including rhododendrons and hydrangeas plus a load of self-sown foxgloves, better completing the main mixed border of azaleas.

6. Renovating the lawn in front of the house

What started as a basic lawn repair after excavation for the septic tank in front of the house became a 5-day project to replace the whole strip of lawn with sod, scalping the soil and removing all the white grubs, a bad sign that the Japanese beetles will come back in force this year.

7. And the best for the end… Let’s not forget the dahlias borders

Ah the dahlias! If the peonies are the Spring princesses, the dahlias are the queens of late Summer and Fall.

Tubers carried over from 2019 as well as newly bought ones found their way to the two large borders dedicated to these blooms. 241 of them, a record! After giving some to friends, I still had 30 leftovers set out in sunny locations elsewhere in the garden.

Despite an impromptu visit by an hungry groundhog and the worst season ever for Japanese beetle invasion, the dahlias bloomed well until a single frost night of mid-October cut short their season. Plenty enough though to craft wonderful arrangements shared on Instagram.

The dahlia borders create a lovely niche to host bees, wasps and butterflies. And a sought after visiting scene to friends and neighbors practicing social distancing in this more than strange Summer of 2020.

For the moment, the dahlias are sleeping in vermiculite in the bonsai studio, the garden is silent under the deep snow and all are hoping as much as I am for a very early Spring. May I add I’m dreaming about the next dahlia arrangement that won’t come soon enough?

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