Good Garden Karma


At the grey end of winter I made a list of plants for our art farm.

I opened my copy of “Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” – the authoritative tome on matters of shrubs and trees – and cross referenced against available nursery stock.

I have nursery wholesale accounts and looked forward to buying at discount.  My wish list grew rapidly.  Our bank balance had not.

The obvious approach was to disregard planning and go the “free and found” route.

There is no turning back.  Nor need there be.  We have to date spent $43 on all the plantings.

Estate gardens overplant.   Where two Rhododendron should go, seven are planted. Trees arrive with trunks thick, the leafy canopy high and wide, accompanied by heavy equipment and work crews.

But it takes one year per inch of trunk diameter for the tree to settle into new terrain. Trees slowly overcome the transplant shock and you are better off buying a smaller tree and letting it grow into the landscape.

I know of one estate that solves this problem by handling trees like annuals.  The arborist actually told me that he sometimes leaves the metal cage on the root ball to make it easier to remove and change out the trees later.  Instant gratification. Ever-changing.

At the big house I manage, the planting phase was completed before my tenure.  My job, my challenge is about editing.   This season we attacked several problem areas.


From a thicket of lilacs, dogwoods, spirea, and one still-unidentified shrub – truly the ugliest hedge anyone had seen, and no one could solve – I partially removed shrubs along a 20-foot section.  Transplanted to our house this became the backdrop for our entire foundation beds, plus a privacy hedge along the street where our chicken coop will go.

Our plantings are scrawny, laughable like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but with a quick pruning, generous serving of compost and space to grow they have leafed out and are ready to flower.  We have good soil.


Bayberry, which is salt tolerant, expands by sending out runners to start new plants.  While cleaning up the estate beds I harvested a handful of small – one gallon – shoots.  Planted here along the street, and given time, they will form a dense fragrant semi-evergreen hedge protecting the shade garden at our front porch.

It will take some time.

If the estate gave us a solid start, bio-mass abundance came from our neighbor Gina. We were renters last summer, and prohibited, by our landlord, from gardening at that house.  So when I had leftovers from the big house I passed them to Gina.

The return has been extraordinary; I delivered last summer a few one-gallon pots and this week hauled home car loads of 15 gallon pots: Rudbeckia, Monardia, Shasta Daisies, Pulmonaria, Lilies – common orange and Stella D’ora yellow, Astilbe, Iris, Lupine, Geraniums, Sedum.  She has more to offer.  I need time to make more beds.


“Welcome to the neighborhood,” indeed!  Pete, across the street, dropped off two highbush blueberry plants.  Other friends delivered eleven blackberry canes.  An orchardist gave us some grape stock, cuttings from the big house that he potted up a few years back.  The roots are as long as the shoots so these are ready to grow.

We also purchased from him a Red Haven Peach tree. For the bees and butterflies I also planted Nepeta, Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), and Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush).


The pace of arrival began to cause a backlog on planting.  I found a solution to that problem.

Somewhere in search of “free & found,” most likely in either our untamed back yard, or the woods where I went to gather ferns, I brushed up against a poisonous plant.  My skin is highly sensitive to the oils in poison ivy, and I have learned to be patient as it runs its course.  But this season the rash took hold and spread like wildfire; think poison ivy on steroids.

In fact, my doctor said it was not poison ivy but did prescribe steroids as rexall.  His diagnosis was “Type 4 hyper sensitivity reaction; immune system is on overdrive; caused by some plant material or pollen.  Could be in roots or soil. Most likely from a wild uncultivated place.”  Ah, toxins that protect plants, and aim to keep us away.

The steroids have worked wonders and my energy level is absurd.  After a ten-hour workday at the big house, I was outside in our garden at 11pm.  In a gentle rain, with spring peepers chanting in the distance, I planted, dare I say, more ferns.  This time from the big house, not the woods.  And this time fueled with performance enhancing steroids.


We have no budget for assistance so this has been solo work.  Perennials and shrubs that arrive measured in gallon pot size are no problem.  Trees with balled & burlapped roots are different by an order of magnitude.

We were given a multi-stem Acer ginnala (Amur maple). The tree was a gift from my Mother.  She said that she wanted to give something long lasting, to have an enduring presence on the property.  We have named it the “Family Flame” maple.

Well formed, at 7 feet tall by 6 feet wide, it will grow to about 15 feet tall and wide; we gain privacy from the street while the passing cars will enjoy its scarlet flame leaves in autumn.

This gift arrived with an estate sized root ball.  In the back of my pick-up truck, it became an immovable object.


Until a neighbor drove by, shouted an offer of assistance and then recruited some young friends.  Within minutes the tree was proudly in place.  Our daughter ran around the yard shouting, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”  It was comic.  And perfect.


And so has gone our first spring at this property and place of our own.  Our art farm, transitioning from virtual to actual, has been about setting roots and feeding forward the good karma.

Our daughter, again, said it best, “Our tree is all about joy!  Because you planted it.”

3 Comments on “Good Garden Karma”

  1. Oma says:

    Thank you for the tour of your garden,it was a wonderful walk thru,and
    wonderful explanations of your choices.I could even smell the lilacs..

  2. bam says:

    gorgeous AND amazing. all about joy. amen to that.

  3. Becca, there is nothing like the first plantings in a new home, love it.

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