Special-needs garden rambling

Okay. I am renting a house. It looks like the term of my renter-ship will be two years, from July 05 to July 07. So, this is my only full summer in the house. I am having a grand old time growing plants in containers, but I’d really, really like to get something growing in the bare, dusty, rocky beds around the house.

The problem is that the roof has an extremely deep overhang on all four sides–something like three feet. This stops the beds around the house from getting any rain at all, and very much limits the sunshine on two sides.

Well, one of the beds does get a little bit of residual moisture. Last summer I tried putting in phlox and hardy mums, but they both died. I also planted some hosta roots, and lo and behold, those have come up. The hostas are tiny and sickly, but I’m still thrilled to death. I also had some flower bulbs there, which came up, but didn’t flower. Just not enough light.

The bed on the other side of the house is one that gets plenty of sunshine, direct and unimpeded from sunrise till late afternoon. It’s also by far the dryest of the beds. I did some hosta roots and flower bulbs there too, and just nothing even came up. It was really depressing. Also, the pack of neighborhood cats started using it as a litter box, which irritated me a bit. If you’re gonna shit in my garden, you oughta at least let me scratch your ears afterwards, but are they friendly? Noooooooo.

Yesterday, I snapped. I unscrewed the sprayer head from my garden hose (because it was only getting in my way) and let water pour into that bed until it stood an inch deep. I did it again in the evening. I did it again just now. I am going to get that bed wet, goddammit it.

Question is: is there any chance of saving my flower bulbs and hosta roots? Will the water wake them up? Maybe the roots have shriveled, but surely the bulbs are just sleeping.

Also, is there any chance that the cat droppings are good fertilizer? And why the heck am I spending good money gardening an impossible house that isn’t even mine?

Have you considered soaker hoses or drip irrigation? You can’t just rely on the rain to water a garden unless you live somewhere where it’s really predictable. The light is another issue, but there’s plenty of shade loving plants you can put there if they can get some water.

Also, I take it from what you said that you haven’t amended your soil. A nice bag of cow poop from your nearest big box hardware store can work miracles.

Because it’s a disease, hon. Just understand that you’re afflicted with the dreaded Gardener’s Disease and there is only one cure…to continue to plant, water, tend, weed, curse, and sing songs of joy when something works. :wink:

The advice from Zsofia is good. Even shade loving plants need water. I have an inexpensive drip irrigation system in my beds that I was able to install myself and it is wonderful. Just look at your local hardware for the pieces and parts and you’ll be set in no time.

Soil amendment is critical. If this house has been a rental, it’s likely that no one has bothered to improve the soil conditions. I use a combination of the bagged topsoil, compost, and manure.

Plant choice is the key to success. There are some fantastic hostas and ferns that would likely be good choices.

A couple of great resources…

Your local nurseries: Usually, the staff will be more than helpful in selecting flowers and shrubs that will tolerate the conditions that you have.

Your local university’s: If you live in an agricultural area, most universities have Master Gardeners who would also be more than happy to help.

Google: Just be aware of your USDA Zone. Something that tolerates shade in Florida may not do so well in New Hampshire.

Seed/Flower catalogs: The wealth of knowledge I’ve gotten from the catalogs is astounding. Plus, you get to look at all the pretty flower pictures…:slight_smile:

Last but not least, enjoy. The Gardener’s Disease is a blessing and truly a labor of love. There are no such things as failures, just successes in disguise.

Where is “close to home”, precisely? Maybe we can help you select some plants for your climate.

Also, your local agricultural extension probably does soil testing. (Here it’s $6 for one sample - very reasonable.) That will tell you if you need to do any special amending or anything. What kind of dirt is it? Sand, clay, loam? When you water it, how fast does the water sink in? These are all things you should consider when you select plants.

You didn’t mention mulch. Mulch is good. It keeps the weeds down, keeps moisture around, keeps the roots cooler, makes everything look more intentional, etc, etc, etc. Mulch is good.

In other words, if I had to tell you three things to buy to drastically improve your plant action, they’d be soaker hoses or drip irrigation kit (very easy!), cow manure, and mulch. After that, careful plant selection. I love Bluestone Perennials (www.bluestoneperennials.com) - they’re quite inexpensive, very friendly, and their plants have a rock solid garauntee. They come very small but are extremely healthy, and most of them come in sets of three, so you can follow everybody’s advice about planting in groups without breaking the bank. Also, if you send back the packaging material you get free shipping next time!

Y’all are very sweet. The soaker hose I had thought of, but not implemented. I’ll go for it tomorrow. I have emptied a bag or two of topsoil onto the slightly wet/ low light bed, but nothing yet onto the really dry one. Right now, I have emptied all of my extra seeds (both vegetables and flowers) into the beds, just to see if anything takes root–so I am squeamish about burying it all in mulch. But I do know that “real” gardens need it (it was the springtime curse at my parents’ house!)

Thanks for the nursery link. I have ordered my bulbs from Brecks and some tomato plants from Burpee. I just found Springhill’s website, too, and they have a lot of the “cottage” flowers that I really like.

The bulbs that did do well were grape hyacinth in back of the house, so I ordered more of those to fill in that whole bed, and some windflowers out front.

Oh: and home is Indiana, zone 5. I’d say that the soil in general is clay, but that dry bed is so dry that it’s just dust, even after three heavy waterings.

Just looked through the perennials website. Almost bought some lavender plants for that bed. Almost. Still thinking about it.

Clay needs orgainic matter. Mix milled spagnum moss into it for areation and water permiabilty. You then need to water when the new plants need it. Try plant with deep roots like poppies. Plant some black eyed susan, purple cone flower, coreopses, or other prarie type plants.

If you buy from them you also get coupons. Just sayin’. (Also there’s coupons in their print catalog. And you really need some more bathroom reading material, don’t you?) I swear, Bluestone is my Achilles heel. I got crazy in January and put in a huge spring order with them. Almost had a heart attack when it came and I unpacked it and saw all. those. plants.

If there are any beds you haven’t been messing with yet, have you considered lasagna gardening? You build up, so you don’t have to worry so much about your crappy soil, but it’s cheaper than hauling in good topsoil. You start with wet newspaper or cardboard to kill the weeds and then build up in layers - green stuff, brown stuff, green stuff, brown stufff. You get it, I dunno, say two feet high, because it’ll shrink eventually. There’s a book by that name (Lasagna Gardening) if it’s something you might be interested in. I have a few beds I’ve done that way and I’m very happy with them.

Hmm, are you sure it’s clay? Most of Indiana I’m familiar with is sandy soil, not clayey at all (sez the Illinois clay-plagued gardener.) I grew up 5 miles from the southernmost moraine left by the glaciers - a huge expanse of nothin’ but clay. It’s heavy, it’s yellow, it’s clayey, and it doesn’t turn to dust well - it dries out and forms cracks. It’s a pain in the arse to break up enough for roots to take hold. (Once when I was a little 'un, I persuaded my mom to let me try growing carrots. They were the sadded, stumpiest, twistiest things I’ve ever seen - too much clay, even after 15 years of rotortilling, lasagne-ing and mulching. They couldn’t push through and grow straight.)

Lavender does like crappy soil, but it likes sandy crappy soil. I haven’t had luck with it here in Chicago because all I have right now are containers, and I can’t buy soil crappy enough. It simply hates Miracle Grow. If you try lavender, be mean to it. It’s a bit masochistic.

The ground does crack when it dries out–ground that sometimes gets wet, that is.

I just read about the “roll a ball” test for soil type. It is raining right now, but tomorrow I will go outside and see if my soil really is clay. I think it is because it is so dense and sticky–quite hard to dig.