Tough Love - You Can't Coddle Everything
The Garden Club of Old Greenwich planted a garden in a miserable spot. It’s in a huge, newly built parking lot near our train station. The space was designed by a tri-state transportation commission, and let’s just say aesthetics weren’t their primary concern. This area is very central, is seen by hundreds of commuters, drivers, and pedestrians every day - so we decided we had to do something to make it less grim.
This is a miserable spot.
It’s narrow. It’s a triangle shape and it is about 25 feet long and 10’ at its widest point.
It’s surrounded by asphalt. It was installed over old asphalt and compressed soil. The “topsoil” is grayish orange clay.
It’s near a south facing dark color wall.
There is no shade at all.
This could easily be the hottest site in Connecticut, and in July and August, it is regularly 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding area.
Also, it is impossible to water: there is no nearby water source. In our area, plants need about an inch of water a week, which is about 2 ½ quarts per square foot. That means that this garden would need about 80 gallons a week, which would weigh over 600 pounds. There is no way that we are going to haul around 600+ pounds of water in the blistering heat just because it hasn’t rained in a week. There is no point in spot watering because it would still take a lot of water and the plants would become water junkies that need constant, consistent care.
So I have christened this the “Tough Love Border.” We chose the plants very carefully and plant them in mid May so the plants would have a chance to establish themselves while it was cool and rainy. We planted smaller divisions because they survive better, especially when they cannot be coddled. I think the problem with larger plants is that they were grown in perfect conditions, so they put on more top growth than their root systems can support in tough situations. The plants we used were smaller versions of our “Member’s Own” plants that garden club members divide for the Plant Sale.
Annuals are great to flesh out a new gardens, but there is no way we were going to put thirsty annuals in this garden, so it looks a little bare. It is still a lot better than the sad, unwatered grass that the town would put in.
So far the plants are doing quite well. The sedum are a little yellow, but they will bloom soon and the native asters are getting ready to bloom as well. We decided to hedge our bets by putting in a short bearded iris (likes it dry) and Siberian iris (likes it moist), and both seem to be doing well. The variegated yucca is clearly loving it there. We are really proud of this border - most people would have considered it hopeless, but it is well on the way to becoming an attractive asset. It’s helped that it has been a wet summer, but I think careful plant choice and benign neglect has set it up for success.