Playing in the dirt is almost as therapeutic to me as running in
the woods. Not quite, but almost. When I can no longer run, I'll
still be able to indulge in my passion for gardening.
I'm grateful that I was born to parents who loved to
garden. It's in my blood. The only time in my life when I haven't had some sort of
garden to tend was when I was in college. A few months after
graduation I was able to buy my first house -- and begin tending
my very own gardens full of flowers and shrubs (and occasional
vegetables). Despite my grousing about battling
weeds, I miss "playing in the dirt" when we are traveling.
"The love of gardening is a seed once sown that
never dies." ~ Gertrude Jekyll
Jim and I "inherited" some large perennial beds from
the former owners when we bought our
Roanoke property in the spring of 2004. Some plants have died
from drought and I've added a few others, but the beds look much the same as
they did when we moved in -- or at least they do when we're here
to keep them looking nice! They're a mess after we're gone for
two or three months in the summer.
Creeping phlox in one of the front beds in
We've had a vegetable garden only two of the five summers we've
lived here. I'll talk more about our edible gardens and fruit
trees in the next entry.
I've stayed very busy since spring with our perennial beds. With
almost-daily watering and weeding this summer, and occasional
pruning, dead-heading, and dividing plants, I spend ten to
fifteen hours a week keeping the beds looking nice. That's
almost as much time as I spend running and cross-training! We've been
rewarded with lots of beautiful blooms, compliments from
appreciative neighbors, and happy butterflies, bees, hummingbirds,
and other wildlife
the past few months.
I love to take pictures of the beds and flowers. This entry will
be primarily a photographic essay showcasing some of our
flowers that have bloomed since spring. There are simply too
many different kinds and colors to show in this one entry. As it
is, I've included 48 photos here. I apologize to any of our
readers with older computers and/or dial-up connections that may
have problems with so many pictures. Just start reading the text
while they upload . . .
This is the first time we've seen a few of these plants in
bloom since that first summer because we were gone from May or
June to September the last three years. Add them to my list of
EARLY SPRING BLOOMS: MARCH - APRIL
Pink dogwood tree (we also have several
wild white dogwoods in the woods)
Azaleas and bearded iris
One of about ten varieties of azaleas we
"When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a
weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out
of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant."
For me, there's more truth than humor in that statement!
the problems of "inheriting" a garden that someone else planted
is not knowing exactly what you have. Oh, sure, I can identify
most any plant when it is in bloom, but just which little
green sprouts that come up in April will turn into pretty
bee balm flowers in July, and which are weeds that aren't welcome
in my garden??
I've probably pulled a few expensive perennials out of our beds
over the years, simply in ignorance. If I'm not certain it's a
weed I'm pulling, I usually wait until questionable young plants
get bigger to see if I recognize them as keepers. And yes, the
desirable plants usually do come out of the ground much easier
than the weeds!
Tulips are easy to identify when they come
up, so I'll never mistake them for weeds!
In our beds, weeding is most time-consuming in the spring when
unwanted plants appear overnight after a good rain and seem to
grow two inches a day. Gotta get 'em when they're young, before
they multiply too rapidly. But even when it becomes drier in the
summer, the weeds seem to thrive better in drought conditions than the coveted
perennials and they need constant eradication. So it's a
necessary task from about March to November in this climate.
A WEED IS NOT ALWAYS A WEED . . .
You know what the definition of a "weed" is, right?
It's very subjective. It goes beyond universal nuisances like
dandelions in your lawn and poison ivy in your flower border,
and it varies with each gardener. One man's weed is another
man's carefully tended treasure. Any plant can be a weed if it's
located somewhere you don't want it. For example, most folks
don't want dandelions in their lawn but some plant them
deliberately in a separate bed for their edible and/or medicinal
leaves and roots.
Violets and their pretty heart-shaped
A friend was visiting the first spring we moved into our house and I was proudly showing off
the flowerbeds. One was full of pretty violets (above),
creeping phlox, and vinca in bloom. My friend advised me that I
should remove all the violets soon or they would spread. She
looked surprised when I told her I hoped they did! I love
violets, and they're all over our perennial beds. It distresses
me when they shrivel up from lack of water -- they haven't
spread as much as I'd like!
To my friend, they are weeds. To me, they are an attractive
ground cover for nine months of the year.
Many fast-growing, invasive plants are considered weeds because they rob the
"desired" plants of water and nutrients and soon overtake them. Years ago I tried
to establish dozens of fern-like crown vetch plants (next photo) at some property I
owned near Atlanta for erosion control on the banks of a hilly,
newly-graded driveway. The idea was good but the timing was not.
There wasn't any water source nearby, and they died from
drought. Eventually, "weeds" took over and held the soil in
place, but they weren't nearly as pretty as the pinkish
purple-flowered crown vetch would have been.
Now I'm battling the crown vetch in our perennial beds in
Virginia, trying unsuccessfully to eradicate the deep-rooted,
tenacious plants. In this setting, I consider crown vetch an
obnoxious weed that's trying to usurp my colorful flowerbeds.
There's something to be said to letting it take over, however.
If that whole bed along the driveway was covered in crown vetch,
I wouldn't have to worry about it in the summer when we're gone!
But we and our neighbors would surely miss the lovely tulips,
daffodils, violets, irises, various types of lilies, spiderwort,
coneflowers, roses, peonies, bee balm, asters, mums, and other
beautiful flowers that occupy the bed from March to
So for now, I'm still pulling up the crown vetch. I'll gladly
share, if you want some!
LATE SPRING BLOOMS: APRIL - MAY
My favorite season of bloom in our yard is mid- to late spring
when the irises are blooming. The former owners planted a lovely
variety of types and colors. Like most
bulbs and rhizomes, they have multiplied over the years.
The next two photos show the largest flowerbed from the road (L) and
toward the road (R):
There are also irises in the beds surrounding the house
and in the back yard. It's our most spectacular show of flowers
when they are all in bloom!
Spidorwort is a whimsical-looking perennial that blooms at the same
time. It's in the foreground in the photo below left. The yellow
irises are the bearded variety if iris, which grow from rhizomes
(fleshy stems that lie almost on top of the soil). The blue
irises in the back that perfectly match the spidorwort are Dutch
irises, which grow from bulbs. The photo on the right is a close
up of a Dutch iris:
One of my chores right now is dividing the iris rhizomes and bulbs so they
are less crowded and will bloom even better next year. Or that
is the intended result, at least! I hope I don't mess them up.
I have to dig carefully so I don't damage them. I'm adding compost
to the soil where it's compacted, spreading
out the good bulbs and roots, planting them shallowly like
they're supposed to be, and tossing away the old, mushy ones
that might harbor disease.
It's all worth it for these gorgeous blooms! The next photos
show some of the colors of bearded iris we have:
"Earth laughs in flowers."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I appreciate them even more since I saw several growers at
the Roanoke Farmers' Market selling bearded iris rhizomes for $5
EACH this spring! Now you know why I'm keeping them watered all
summer -- we have hundreds of them and it would cost a fortune
to even begin to replace them.
The former owners also planted three varieties of
double-flowering pink peony bushes in the large bed along the
driveway. They bloom in early- to mid-May with the irises. I
love the delicate, intricate flower heads of "Bowl of Beauty"
Peonies were one of my Mom's favorite flowers. These are the
first I've had of my own, and I think of her every time I look
"We can complain because rose bushes
or rejoice because thorn bushes
have roses."-- Abraham Lincoln
Mom also loved roses. I enjoy roses, too, but not the varieties
that are labor intensive. The first spring in this house,
I planted several low-maintenance red "Flower Carpet" and pink
"Nearly Wild Floribunda Rose" bushes and they've done well,
although they aren't flowering nearly as profusely this very dry
Until this year we've had lots of bright yellow coreopsis AKA
tickseed flowers blooming in the flowerbeds across the front of
the house in May and June, but not very many bloomed this year. They may
have died in last summer's extreme heat while we were gone and
they didn't get watered.
Coreopsis (above and below) in the summer of
2004; there are fewer now.
EARLY- TO MID-SUMMER BLOOMS: MAY - JULY
Although the roses and spidorworts usually continue blooming throughout the
summer and into fall, the main show in June is produced by all the daylilies and tiger lilies the former
owners planted. They weren't as showy this year as we've seen them before, and
they sure didn't last as long because of the drought, but all the plants
bloomed at least a couple of weeks. I don't know if they'll re-bloom this year
if we get a drenching rain anytime soon.
Here are some of the colors of daylilies we have:
Daylilies are easy to maintain, they get bigger every year, and they continue putting out blooms for several
weeks during June and July in our climate when the weather cooperates.
We have three other types of lilies in our yard: the standard tiger lily (below left), a very delicate, tall
kind of lily that blooms in July
(below right), and a slender cream-colored trumpet lily that isn't shown.
"Gardening requires lots of water -
most of it in the form
of perspiration." - Lou Erickson
Gardening does take a lot of time, energy, and sweat but
the process and end results are well worth the effort for most
In a normal spring, I spend more time dealing with weeds than
watering. Mother Nature usually provides adequate moisture at
that time of the year. This summer has
been very dry since the middle of June, however, so more of my
time has been required to water the beds than weed them.
A splash of sunshine in the early summer garden
Real rain is much better, of course. Unfortunately, it's been in
real short supply at our place this summer. Our area is 8-12"
low on rain this year, mostly from the last three months. Our front lawn is
brown, even crunchy, and some of our ornamental and natural
forest trees are looking wilted and losing leaves prematurely.
At least I'm keeping the flowering shrubs and perennials alive
by watering them deeply once or twice a week.
Close-up of a coneflower's cone
(another photo at end of
When I look at our photos from the summer of 2004 I realize our
perennials aren't blooming nearly as long this year. Some things
that were flowering in September (e.g., coneflowers), October
(hydrangeas), and even November (those roses, above) appear to
be done flowering now, in mid-August. I've begun watering the
pink dogwood and peach trees so they don't die. None of this
gets done when we're gone all summer, and we've lost several
types of plants to drought when we've been gone.
Hydrangeas are blue in acidic soil, pink or
purple in alkaline,
and cream-colored in
The wild critters with whom we share space (deer,
turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, hummingbirds and other bird species, butterflies, bees,
insects, moles, snakes, turtles, etc.) appreciate the wet dirt, leaves, fruit,
and flowers because their natural water sources
-- puddles, water on leaves, our two little creeks -- are all
dry. I'll have more about the
gardening challenges wildlife creates in another entry.
Some other flowers we have that begin blooming in late spring or
early summer and last until fall are lantana (an attractive
purple groundcover shown below),
delicate wild geraniums (pinkish lavender), blue balloon flowers,
ice plant (low-growing succulent with bright purple flowers --
see photo in the critter entry).
LATE SUMMER / EARLY FALL BLOOMS: JULY -
"I have never had so many good ideas day after
day as when I worked in the garden."
That's one of several gardening quotes I found that also apply
to running. Actually, this one is more true for me
regarding running than gardening. I don't usually do enough
sustained aerobic exercise in the yard to produce endorphins
like I do when I'm running or hiking, but playing in the dirt
can certainly be relaxing and refreshing -- very therapeutic, in
fact. I need endorphins for most of my creative ideas and
solutions, however, and those come with walking hard or running.
Purple spreading lantana (back left), two
varieties of lavender pansies (middle),
and fuchsia spikes of salvia
(foreground), which have turned blue now
Right now in mid-August many of our flowers have stopped
blooming as profusely as they did in June and July. The
sustained drought and average daytime temperatures in the upper
80s have taken their toll on the garden. Friends who've lived
here all their lives tell me not to worry. They see this almost
every summer. They assure me that if we get some good soaking
rains in August and September (usually hurricane remnants), the
grass will turn green again overnight and many of the flowers
will come back.
I have my fingers crossed real hard for some good soaking rains . . .
Here are more examples of summer/fall flowers in our yard:
Tiger lilies and purple bee balm in late
One of the types of Rudbeckia (coneflowers
are also in this genus)
Gaillardia (left) and a type of moonflower
Autumn Joy grows taller than most other
sedums; it turns a darker
brownish pink in the fall. Those are mums in background.
We have almost as many colors of mums as daylilies, including
white, cream, yellow, gold, salmon, orange, brick red, lavender,
and purple. Two colors are shown below. Some of our mums and
asters, which are in the same family, started blooming in early
August. If we get some good rain, they should last
through most of November in our climate. There were some mums
here when we moved in, and I've added more over the years.
The former owners planted lots of blue/purple and yellow/gold
flowers that bloom in the summer in the large bed across the front of the house.
Complementary colors like this (i.e., directly across from each other on
the color wheel) are a pleasing combination and contrast nicely
with the dark brown siding on the house.
The two main types of asters that we have are pictured below.
The tall, fringy variety (second photo) is more predominant in
our beds -- it multiples easily.
The show continues through autumn and into early winter with
some of the flowers above, as well as two shrubs, Encore azalea
and camellia, that begin to bloom in October or November. If I
can remember, I'll show them in an entry later on when they
"Let no one think that real
gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an
insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man
gives his heart." ~ Karel Capek
Absolutely. There's another quote that can apply to running just as easily
as gardening. I guess I just have an addictive personality, because there are
lots of positive things I am passionate about, including running and gardening. Most
of my interests involve physical activity,
nature, or art. That's a good thing, because they keep me out of trouble with
Next entry: our small but bountiful edible garden and
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil