The Evolving Garden

By Marilyn Loser
2014 July 16

I’ve been gardening at the same address for a long time. Early on I interspersed annuals among perennials and shrubs.  There was plenty of room as the plants were small. As the garden filled in over the years I planted fewer annuals in the beds and found they weren’t faring as well as they did early on.

At first, I was puzzled.  Why were strategically placed wave petunias not spreading luxuriantly as they once had? The plants around them were doing fine. Finally, it occurred to me that the established perennials and shrubs required a different watering regimen than annuals with a small root system.

Most of our beds are watered using drip irrigation or low pressure sprinklers regulated by a garden timer. The fragile annuals weren’t getting frequent enough sips of water. Running around hand watering a flower here and a flower there isn’t my idea of fun filled gardening.

So, this year the majority of our annuals are in hanging baskets or large pots. I use good potting soil and “plant diapers” -- hydro-mats that absorb water, then release it slowly to the plants.  I buy it by the yard. Some of the larger pots are on the drip system and I hand water the rest, but much less frequently than in the past. 

I am very happy with this arrangement. There is still plenty of color in the flower beds with a steady stream of perennials and shrubs blooming during the season and a lot of happy self-sowing annuals.

Poppies are well-suited in an Alamosa garden. They don’t mind some cold weather early in the season and benefit from spring precipitation. Icelandic Poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are the first to bloom, followed by California Poppies (Escscholzia californica) and Shirley Poppies (Papaver rhoeas). The earliest bloomers are usually in a warm, sheltered niche in a rock garden. Purple Larkspur (Consolida reglais) regularly appears near my Peking Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacutifolius) and has been blooming for two months this year. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, self-sowing flowers are great in a casual garden like mine, but would probably drive more meticulous gardeners crazy.

I love flowering shrubs. Most Coloradoans are familiar with Cinquefoil (Potentilla), especially the bright yellow ones that bloom for a long period and are a state native. I have two shrubs with feathery white blooms.  Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) is just ending and Ash-leaf or False Spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia) is just starting. Goat’s beard is native to Alaska and requires more water than most of my plants. We saw a lot when we were in Juneau -- compare our 5-6 inches of annual precipitation to Juneau’s 62 inches. I have it planted next to a white Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’) which also requires a lot of water and is just starting to bloom. I don’t have many plants that require a lot of water. Those that do are planted in one bed.

During dry summers like this one, I find some shrubs need extra water.  I watch for drooping and/or browning leaves in the morning (many plants droop under the hot afternoon sun so it’s not a good time to observe). On the other hand, I’ve found I’m losing less water to evaporation as the soil is better shaded by larger shrubs.

Yesterday, I redid a flower bed that in the past had only low plants. Over the years taller plants such as Columbines (Aquilegia species), Poppies, and Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) began popping up.  As beautiful as they are, they interfered with the watering system and saved the Poppy seeds and transplanted or gave the others away.  I refurbished the soil with compost and top soil added short Firewitch Dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and Creeping Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila repens ‘alba’) from around the yard.  I added Ice Plant (Delosperma nubiqenum) and Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineum’) from a local nursery. The bed looks a bit sparse now, but I think it will be great next year!

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"With landscaping, you never seem to reach a point when you feel the job is complete." Unknown