Gulp and garden bed
Last weekend, I tucked dozens of moss rose seedlings (Portulaca grandiflora) into the warm earth on my hillside, hoping that the colorful annuals will clothe the bare-naked ground around a new planting of more permanent, but just as small, perennials.This spring, I impulsively bought a Panchito manzanita. The varietal name “Panchito” was endearing, although the rest of name not so much: Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis. The shrub wasn’t just bigger than I can easily excavate a hole for (a No. 1 container), but it was unfamiliar to me, and I had no clue where I might plant it. The label said it is a drought tolerant native evergreen of low mounding habit, 2-3 feet high and spreading 3-5 feet, with pink to white flowers in April to May and exfoliating bark.Sounds good. I wandered around our property for weeks until I hit on the perfect place for it, unfortunately already occupied by a big healthy clump of the yarrow Achillea filipendulina “Gold plate.”Below the mass of tough, sun-loving plants in my south-facing garden, not exactly xeric but not thirsty, either, is a smaller bed in the crook of the redstone steps and a little stone wall devoted to plants that really like it hot, dry, and well-drained. The western native shrub Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume), the woody perennial Artemisia abrotanum “tangerine” (Southernwood) and Baptisia australis, the wild blue indigo, form the backdrop to a collection of drought-tolerant perennials and narcissus. These plants grow slowly, and the yarrow, a fast growing volunteer, had been a good-looking filler for more than five years. Now, I was going to reward its stalwart performance by discarding it? I find it hard to get rid of even struggling plants, but a thriving one? I quailed at the thought – and asked Gerry to do it for me. He extricated it from the rocky dirt with pick and shovel, balancing precariously so as not to crush any existing plants. There were chunks of root as thick as my arm.I planted the Arctostaphylos centered well below the Artemisia and the Baptisia. It looks unbalanced now, but I picture it becoming the centerpiece of the planting in time, like the prostrate cotoneaster draping the hillside above the steps. I’ve surrounded it with a mix of creeping, spilling and weaving low-water perennials that will keep the bed looking complete and settled until it does. Meantime, there is too much exposed soil for my taste: What will fill in the bare spots while the fillers fill out?Enter the Portulacas that I started from seed at the end of April, not expecting much. Native to Brazil, they are the rather old-fashioned annuals called moss rose I remembered from my mother’s garden, gaily edging borders, when I came across them in the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog. The enthusiastic catalog description of “Sundial Mix” concluded, “Ouch, big bucks for this one from a prominent California grower.” They cost $1.95, plus shipping, for 100 seeds. To my chagrin, almost every seed germinated. This low-growing heat and sun lover can take poor, dry soil. The fleshy stems and leaves remind me of some sedums and the flowers, which, like crocuses, open only for the sun, have the same satiny, tissue-paper texture that I so love in Oriental poppies. I had the answer to my problem.After the long slow rain we had Tuesday, a perfect rain really, “Panchito” and its coterie of perennials look fresh and happy, and the chances of getting them well established before winter have increased exponentially. Nothing beats the real thing from the sky at this critical stage of growth. I checked this morning, and every little Portulaca looks perky, too. They might even bloom before frost, and if they’re anything like I remember them, no one will miss the stately yarrow. My eye insists on looking for it, though, like a tongue probing a sore tooth, even though I feel more confident since the rain that this composition of plants will turn out as I imagine it. Ask me in a couple of years if I regret digging up a perfectly good familiar plant for an upstart newcomer.Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry. She’d love to hear about your garden. Send comments to email@example.com
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