Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Phase II of the Garden: Perennials and Other Good Junque

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: gardening, reclaimed materials, junque,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgI finished the hillside garden near the end of May. In my post, "Phase I of the Garden: The Bare Bones," I laid out the structure of the garden with shrubs – many of which can be considered groundcovers.

Groundcovers by definition can be as small as less than an inch in height, to about four feet tall. They can be herbaceous or woody, clumping or spreading. Once they are established, they require little maintenance in comparison to turf, prevent erosion, enrich the soil, and cool the air. They can be mixed, with attention given to their growth habits. Pairing plants with incompatible growth rates will result in the more aggressive spreader taking over slower growing plants.

With the shrubs planted, the garden is ready for the other groundcovers: the perennials. Perennials can be purchased in different sizes – everything from tiny plugs up to 3 gallon pots. They can be planted at any time, with the exception of plugs, which shouldn’t be planted in late fall. The roots of these small plants won’t have time to establish themselves in the soil, and the freeze and thaw cycles of winter can actually heave them from the ground. Because the garden is a large vista, I chose quarts, and 1 to 3 gallon-sized plants – anything smaller would have got lost in the expanse, and left the garden looking naked.

A common mistake when landscaping is choosing plants too small for the landscape in order to save money. Smaller plants will fill in, of course ... eventually. But until they do – especially in foundation plantings around a house – the garden will look out of proportion. When the scale is large, it’s best to budget for one or two larger plants and a few of the smaller sizes, rather than a bunch of little plants.

I mentioned in “Phase I,” that the garden is comprised of poor soils and will receive infrequent watering once the plants are established. As I did with the shrubs, I had to choose perennials that will survive these conditions. There are many plants that will tolerate dry shade and are low maintenance.

I used a mix of native and non-native perennials. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when gardening with native plants. Remember that just because a plant grows in the wild in your area, doesn’t mean it’ll grow in your garden. Soil and moisture conditions must be taken into account. Always purchase your plants from reputable sources. Digging a plant from its native habitat can disturb the ecosystem, and in many cases, these plants are protected; taking them from the area can result in fines. The natives I included are wild ginger, false Solomon’s seal, Christmas fern, and mayapple. The mayapple is an experiment; I know it normally likes a more humus-rich soil, but I wanted it for nostalgic reasons; it reminds me of walks in the woods with my Dad who showed us how to lift the umbrella-like leaves to find the flowers, and “apples” hiding beneath. For this, I broke my rule of not using soil amendments, and added compost and worm castings to enrich the soil.

Shade and drought tolerant non-natives I chose are sweet woodruff, some of the more durable hosta varieties, Chinese astilbe, crested iris, barren strawberry, lily of the valley, lady’s mantle, and corydalis lutea. Corydalis lutea is a good choice for low maintenance gardens, and can be used in a variety of conditions. Its delicate leaves and tiny flowers are deceiving; it’s extremely tough, flowering from spring to frost in both dry shade and moist, sunny areas. It reseeds freely, but is easily kept under control.

Corydalis lutea

Another low maintenance choice is the ever-versatile daylily. Is there a more forgiving perennial? They require little attention, growing vigorously in most soil types, in full sun to part shade, with excellent tolerance to hot, dry weather, and come in nearly every color but blue. I’ve put a lot of varieties in this garden, some divided from other areas of the yard, and some purchased. ‘Ice Carnival,’ a heavy flowering fragrant white, is a variety I purchased for a number of reasons. First, the four pots were full enough to divide, leaving me with eight good sized plants. White is also a good choice for shade; white and yellow stand out and brighten dark areas, when the deeper reds and purples blend in and get lost.

The last reason is continuity. Whether a garden is large or small, continuity is an important element. White splashes throughout a garden pulls a large landscape such as this together, and gives the eye somewhere to rest in a smaller, busy garden.

Daylilies, hosta and astilbe

To pull things together further, I planted the same variety of Chinese astilbe, and divided hosta that I have in the shady birch garden kitty-corner from this garden. Most perennials benefit from being divided in spring or fall every few years; daylilies and hosta division can be done at anytime during the year.

The sunny area of the garden received drought tolerant plants such as sedums, asters, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, ‘Biokovia’ perennial geranium, lamb’s ears, goldenrod, yarrow and, of course, more daylilies.

The final planting consisted of planting three good-sized American Spice Bush. The change in grade of the slope resulted in a small swale in an already low spot of the ravine. Rain water collected here, turned stagnant, and the soil became anaerobic – it stank to high-heaven. Even a trench I dug from this area to the creek didn’t alleviate the problem. The swamp-loving spice bush did the trick.

Though the planting was done, the garden was not yet complete. It wouldn’t be one of my gardens without some Good Junque in it. The heavy spring rains resulted in a swift moving current in the ravine’s creek. The rush of water unearthed an old discarded clay drainage pipe that had been buried by silt for who-knows-how-long. I dragged it out of the muck, and topped it with a similar colored birdbath top.


I’ve been eyeing a much larger discarded drainage pipe on the banks of the nursery’s pond for years, wondering how I could use it. The answer came when Keith built a new fire pit; one of his spring projects. (When he reads this, he’ll be pleased I’m mentioning it’s the “Mother of all firepits”; he’s as proud of it as I am of the garden.) The rusted lid of the old metal firepit with drainage holes drilled into it, tops the larger pipe, and became a planter.


Both the birdbath and planter sit at the two path entrances to the garden. Old bricks gathered from construction sites line the path. Stacked in a pile on the side of the garage for years, I knew I’d someday find a use for them.

Path lined with old bricks

The steps I started with a foundation of concrete cinderblocks in “Springtime Days with the Family” is done, completed with nearly all salvaged materials. Five pieces of flagstone and the gray concrete patio pavers that cap the concrete blocks are the only purchased products. Broken pavers, brick, and rocks I collected from the beach make up the rest of the stairs. In between some of the crevices, I planted creeping sedum, which I’m hoping will drape over the edges once it grows. That, and other perennials planted near the base of the blocks should soften the hard look of the concrete when they fill in.

Stairs from reclaimed blocks

I like the finished look. The stairs were built without plans except the vision I had in my head, and without measurements except eyeballing. Though nothing is plumb or square, it doesn’t matter to me – I was going for rustic, and that’s what I got. I tackled the garden the same way; I knew what plants would grow in the conditions I had, but there were no plans other than placing them where I thought they’d look good. I wanted a natural-looking landscape, and that’s what I got. It’s a process that would make professional contractors and landscape designers cringe, but it works for me. For folks who are methodical and prefer organization, having a plan on paper is a good idea whether it’s done by a professional landscaper or as a do-it-yourself project. A landscape plan gives a visual impression of what the garden will look like before installation begins.

Choose the method of planning works best for you; it’s your garden and should reflect your personality. The result should be something that looks aesthetically pleasing to your eye, is within your budget, and fits the amount of work you’re willing to put into it. After the soil was brought in, I did every bit of work myself; it was my project, and I’m pleased with the results. I started out with an ugly, broken down, concrete retaining wall ...  

The garden before

…and ended up with this.

The completed garden

There’s still a lot of work to be done – there’s all that bare ground just begging to be filled with plants. It’ll have to wait though; I’ve already spent as much time and money as I can afford this season. Perennials currently used in some of my planters and divisions from other gardens will be added in fall, but I’m finished for now. Except ... look at the gorgeous wine color of this yarrow we just got in at the nursery the other day. Paired with sunny yellow ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies, how could I resist?

Pomegranate yarrow and Happy Returns daylilies




cindy murphy
7/27/2009 6:34:47 PM

ARGH! Just to finish what I started.... Big step for me is using grub control - I have a thing for fireflies; summer is just not summer without them, and yes, they start out as grubs. So I've decided to just spot-treat with Sevin the lawn for chafer grubs. I know which areas they're in - it's easy enough to tell - and hope I don't get the firefly grubs in the process. The latest batch of chafer grubs should start hatching in August; wish me luck.

cindy murphy
7/27/2009 6:32:55 PM

I'm sorry about your peppers, Dave. But being smothered by over-zealous tomatoes...that doesn't sound like such a bad way to go, unless we're talking really bad B-horror flick material here. And yes, European chafers look like June bugs - mini June bugs; they're about a third of the size. They're so gross, Dave, I'm having a hard time with this one. I don't use pesticides except on three things: the grape vine, the purple-leafed sandcherry, and the roses next to it. All three are Japanese beetle magnets; none are in flower when the beetles come out of the ground except the roses. Kind of an interesting thing - when they hybridized the heck out of roses, they bred the scent right out of them, and the need for them to be pollinated. Bees and butterflies will not visit a flower without a scent. I don't use pesticides because I don't want to harm the bees and butterflies. As bad as the Japanese beetles are, (I don't think you have them out there? A nursery customer from Oklahoma vacationing in this area once asked me what all the pretty little bugs were), they are nothing compared to the European chafers. They swarm at night; not only are they devouring my plants, we can't even sit on the front porch without getting pelted. Ting, ting, ting - they hit the siding of the house, making it sound like someone is throwing pebbles at it. I sweep piles of them off the porch in the morning. Yuck! I tolerate the Japanese beetles to an extent. I've lived with the moles, (although there was that one time I attacked the big one I call Mozilla with a tripod sprinkler, stabbing it into the ground when he had the audacity to tunnel in my flower bed right in front of my eyes. I missed.). I can't live any longer with the chafers and not to something about it. I sprayed the non-flowering plants they're attacking, and will sacrifice the flowering ones. Big step for me is using grub control - I have a thi

nebraska dave
7/26/2009 6:28:57 PM

Cindy, it really does sound like the war is on in your yard. Bugs and critters can be relentless. I am always amazed at how they can harvest a plant in a single night and most times right at the time when the plants look their best. My earth bound garden has had issues as well this year. The green pepper plants are a total loss. My mother-in-law has started to harvest her peppers so I receive some of that bounty. Mine have either been smothered by the zealous tomato plants or have been munched to the ground by either bugs, critters, or both. The night time marauders have not bothered much in my yard this year. It may be due to Zoe and Wriggly, the dogs next door that stand guard over all the territory that they can see. If critters are in my yard I have given permission for the neighbors to “let out the dogs” in my yard as it drives them crazy to see the critters in my yard and not be able to chase them. As a result there hasn’t been a large amount of rabbits or squirrels in my yard this year. Yea!! You made me laugh with your description of sleuthing about for the European chafers. You really should have had Mission Impossible music playing in the background. I looked up an article about these little buggers. They look like what in Nebraska we would call a June-bug which starts life by being a grub in the lawn just like the chafer. It could be the same thing. Moles think these little guys are quite tasty, but the mole cure is worse than the problem cause in addition to grubs the moles kinda like plants bulbs too. I went hard core and Grubx-ed the whole yard a couple times which killed the grubs and ruined the buffet for the moles. They traveled over to the neighbor’s yard. Some days you’re the bug and some days you’re the windshield. ~ Unknown Tis better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise ~ Mark Twain

cindy murphy
7/24/2009 10:59:58 PM

Dave, I'm so glad your garden is doing so well this year. My gardens have had their ups and down. It's all looked good until the last week or so. Everything in the hillside garden is doing well, despite our lack of rain for the past month. I've only lost one plant - a Meehan's mint, (wonderful little groundcover, and not in the mint family despite its name). And the passing of the poor thing was not even my fault. Grrrrr. And the begonias in my flower boxes! I skipped all the fancies this year and went straight for the begonias....because nothing bothers begonias, right? Or at least they've never been bothered in the past in my yard. This year though, without all the juicier flowers available, the next best choice for the nighttime invaders are the begonias. The last three years my boxes have been destroyed come mid-July. Lush and pretty in the evening, then I wake up, and poof! All that lushness disappeared. After a few nights, not a leaf or flower was left - only bare stems remained. I had my suspicions, but everything I read was to the contrary. But tonight I confirmed it! Flashlight in hand, (night vision googles would have been more fun and spy-like, but I seem to be fresh out), I scoured the plants receiving the most damage. HA! Just as I thought; the plants were crawling with European chafers. Everything I've ever read about them claims the adult beetles mate at night, but don't feed - all the damage is done in the grub stage to the roots of lawns. I feel like alerting the authorities, calling a press conference...or at least the National Guard. There's a war about to be fought! And oooo, I can just imagine taste that first tomato from the garden....but I'm afraid it'll only be in my imagination for quite a while. They're there - I can see them. But it's been a lot cooler than normal this summer - we're experiencing the coldest July on record. Nobody's got ripe tomatoes y

cindy murphy
7/24/2009 10:45:58 PM

Hi, Michelle. Shhhh...Michelle, about the awesomeness of The Mother of All Firepits; if Keith catches wind, there'll be no hearing the end of it!

michelle house
7/24/2009 7:14:36 PM

Cindy, Wonderful writing as usual. The transformation is just beautiful, you did a wonderful job, and I am sure Keiths "Mother of all Firepits" is just awesome as well. lol Michelle :)

nebraska dave
7/23/2009 11:48:56 PM

Cindy, you know how long it took me to find the meaning of “Good Junque”? I tried searching Dave’s Garden website thinking it was a plant of some kind. I tried to find the meaning of the word. Finally, I did a google search and up popped an article by you from October 9th, 2008. That article was about foraging for good stuff that others had set beside the road for the trash man. Good one. I like the concept though. I’ve even been thinking about such things when I take my friend to the thrift stores. Since I’ve been working with flowers this year my creative side has really come alive. I’ve hung out at Border’s and read enough garden magazines to realize anything can end up being a planter. The poor man’s living patio is still alive and doing wonderfully well. It’s actually thriving. The just for fun tomato plant that I stuck in a too small 6 quart pot is now growing out the top of the 8 foot 2x2 cage I built for it and is still climbing. I’ve eaten many cherry size tomatoes from the clusters hanging down from the vine. They absolutely burst with flavor when I munch on them. After a long winter and spring, I have forgotten the taste of fresh tomato. I had almost started believing that tomato was supposed to crunch in one’s salad and smell like …. nothing. I really am having a difficult time waiting for my earth bound garden tomatoes to start ripening. Oh what a wonderful day that will be. The begonias are …. Ah well …. I think I needed a bigger pot. They have exploded way beyond my expectations. Neighbors have actually commented on how good it looks. Boy is that a real turn around. I owe it all mostly to Grit blogs that kept my level of encouragement up and of course the automatic watering system. When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden ~ Minne Aumonier