I made a garden!

Shade garden after 1

My new shade garden, featuring hostas and impatiens, after two sweltering days of hard, hard work. I hope it survives!

Did you know that gardening can be a contact sport? No? Well, then you’ve never tried to create a garden north of 7, where fertile soil meets Canadian Shield and the latter generally wins.

A little over a week ago I plunged into a garden project I’d been wanting to tackle for a long time, to wit: turning the southwest corner of the Manse’s fairly expansive yard into a shade garden. (It has to be a shade garden because it’s under two very large evergreen trees that, I am embarrassed to admit, I have yet to identify. Tamaracks? I’ll figure it out one of these days.) This particular plot of land was, when Raymond and I bought the Manse, a repository of some years of compostable junk; the raking involved in my first yard cleanup turned up hundreds and hundreds of evergreen cones, along with assorted other things. Having cleaned out that stuff, I enjoyed seeing what subsequently happened in the shady patch, notably a rhubarb plant emerging.

But this past spring and summer, the shady corner plot turned up less (translation: zero) rhubarb and instead a ton of high-growing weeds. Which I was itching to get at and replace with shade plants, a project I finally got to once my rather demanding year of being a college instructor ended. Here is what that plot looked like just a couple of weeks ago:

Shade garden before 1

My shade garden when it was not a shade garden but a large patch of weeds.

In theory, my gardening project was easy: transplant several of the more-than-enough hosta plants that populate the perennial gardens in front of the Manse; and add in some bargain-priced (because it was late in the plant-selling season) impatiens, everybody’s favourite colourful shade bloom.

In practice: not so much.

What I found when I started digging that corner of land was roots, roots, roots and more roots. That’s pretty much what I find whenever I start digging anywhere around the Manse: this land is old, and the trees on it are too – and thus rooty; and the soil is thin and rocky. It is good for roots. And weeds. And rocks. And maybe rhubarb. Or blueberries. And not much else.

Creating my small shade garden turned out to be a very intensive two-day project, on both days of which I got dirtier and sweatier (the temperature was above 30C throughout, and it was humid) than you can probably imagine. In retrospect, I really wish I’d taken a selfie when I finally came in on one or the other of those days to collapse into the shower; the combination of sweat and soil on my face (not to mention the rest of me) would have done an early settler of our corner of central Hastings County proud. Plus it would have shocked Raymond! (Who wasn’t there at the moment, and is fond of neatness, tidiness, and cleanliness. He would have been horrified.)

What I did manage to do, however, is get a photo that sort of captures the contact-sport thing I was mentioning at the start of this post. Raymond was back by the time I’d showered the second evening, but while the grime and sweat were gone, the marks from the roots and thorns kind of going after me were still quite evident. I am rather proud of my gardening scars, and here are a few of them:

Gardening is a contact sport

You don’t spend two days wrestling with the old roots of Hastings County and come out unscarred. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

After pulling all the weeds and pulling and/or cutting (with my trusty Fiskars) all the roots that I could find on the surface of my garden-to-be on Day 1, and feeling like I might have got the better of the rootiness, I proceeded on Day 2 to try to dig small holes in which to plant the hostas and impatiens. At which point I learned that there are more old roots in a small patch of north-of-7 land than you or I have ever dreamed of.

And you know, you can’t do everything. At least, not all at once. So as I tried to plant my wee plants and found little but roots as I dug, I made the executive decision to take my chances with planting the impatiens and the hostas among the roots. I mean, there is some soil there; and, given that the weeds had been absolutely flourishing a short time before, maybe the roots would also cut my new shade plants some slack and let them do their thing too.

We shall see. I have since decided that I may need to look into mulch, something I know nothing about but that I understand may help suppress weeds and encourage the plants I am trying to grow. (I hope veteran gardeners will not be laughing at me. Remember, I am new at this.)

Regardless, I am proud of my efforts. Proud enough to show them off to all of you. Here once again are some before-and-after shots.

Before: weediness!

Shade garden before 2

After: a garden! (Rudimentary, but still – a garden.)

Shade garden after 2

Time will tell whether the victor in this project will be the roots, or me and my shade garden. But I am a determined person, and I’ve already put a lot of sweat equity into this project. I’m betting on me. And the hostas.

14 thoughts on “I made a garden!

  1. Katherine
    Very pretty!! And yes, mulch is a great help. Black mulch makes everything look glorious, if “very thickly spread” …isn’t that about marmalade?… and keeps the weeds smothered.(for the most part). And remember Biofor…a great soil enricher, if you need one.

    Good luck with that and future pretty gardens.
    Johannah and Tracy

    • I am always so appreciative of your garden wisdom – thank you! I think Raymond and I need to take his red truck to a mulch place, load it up, and dump all the contents on my new shade garden. (And then maybe repeat the process.) I did not know about Biofor, so thank you again for that piece of garden wisdom!

  2. Hi Katherine, This will be lovely when it starts to fill in. I’ll be interested in seeing how your impatiens do. I haven’t planted those since they announced that downy mildew bit. I’ve had to switch to the New Guinea impatiens, because I never see the other variety these days. Your hard work will pay off, I’m sure!

    • Sash, I was worried about the impatiens because of the mildew thing, but the options for a shade garden are so few that I decided to give it a whirl, hoping that the plants on sale this year might not be affected by mildew. I guess we shall see. Fortunately I did not pay very much for the plants, so if it’s a disaster I’ll try to figure out a Plan B (probably involving a lot of mulch, per JohNnah’s earlier comment) for next year, or even Round 2 of this year. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

  3. Very nice job. Reminded me I still have a couple “weed” trees to pull/kill at my Mom’s because they don’t belong where they planted themselves. Apparently she kept cutting them off instead of yanking them.

    I do not know if it is still made but I recommend The Original Garden Claw (not the garden weasel version which is smaller and has less prongs) for hard compacted, rooty and even clay ground. I grew up with mostly sandy soil but my Grandma had clay that once had pine trees in the flower beds. The Garden Claw came out in the late 1980s I think and it looked weird but boy did it work on loosening that rooty clay so I could at least get the plants in the ground and some of the roots out. I still take it to cemeteries when we plant flowers.

    Here’s a commercial for the later adjustable version. It does take more effort than the lady in the commercial is using on the prop dirt but it is so much easier than using a shovel and bashing the dirt clumps apart. Insert, twist, remove, shift over a little and repeat. Once the top 5 inches are done you can push the claw down further and do the next five inches deep if needed.
    And it’s Canadian made!

    • Lisa, I cannot thank you enough for this amazing information! Having just returned from vacation, I finally had a chance to watch that video, and it plus your comments make me think the Garden Claw is exactly what I need. And I am very happy to report that it still exists – at least, according to the Canadian Tire website. The only thing I wonder (when looking at the photo on that site) is whether those “claws” could really bust up the deep and strong roots that run through my shade garden. But at $26.99 it’s not a bank-breaking investment, so I will definitely give it a try. And judging by that funky retro ad (and how weird is it that ads from the 1990s are now “retro”?), it could be helpful for lots of other gardening work too. Thank you again!

  4. I think that you did a beautiful job! Here in New England, as Raymond has probably attested to, we have lots and lots of rocks. The Glaciers picked up all of the rocks from up there and deposited them down here. After we ripped out our overgrown foundation plantings (by “We”, I mean the “Landscaping Company Truck”), we needed to put new ones in, and I am an unwitting participant in a rock festival. My shovel just kind of bounces off of the ground.

    Strong work! It looks lovely 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Niki! Only someone who has tried to make a garden in rocky and/or rooty soil appreciates how hard the work is. I regret to inform you, however, that any part of New England would have to work hard to beat our North of 7 neck of the woods for the title of rockiest soil ever. Just a little north of us, in Haliburton County where I was born and where my family still has a farm, picking rocks from the fields each spring is an important part of each farming year. Those fields grow a new crop annually!

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