In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
September, 2008
Regional Report

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Nature colors outside the lines with plant delights that self-sow in paths and cracks.

Between the Cracks

Occasionally a "tidying" mood hits and I hustle through a garden pulling everything that looks out of place. Recently, some random pretties on a city garden tour gave me pause. Yellow-flowering, delicate-leafed Corydalis softened corners between stone steps and a schist wall. Orange, red, pink-flowered portulaca poked up between patio bricks. Ferns, feverfew, and geraniums brought color and texture to otherwise barren space between well-worn steps.

I've marveled at dianthus sprouting from sidewalk cracks, reemerging all summer long despite foot traffic. This summer, annual vinca plants popped up in several courtyard corners; they'd self-seeded from containers planted last summer. We leave them for whimsy if they'll be appreciated. Fragrant sweet alyssum is a delicate summer favorite whose white, pink, or rosy flowers often commingle with the garden path and along the sidewalk.

From spring and into summer, it's common to see forget-me-nots blooming far beyond their original garden homes. Finding a new small patch of demure blue-eyed grass (really an iris) between a rock and a hard place always makes me smile. As do purple or white violets. They and their mossy neighbors certainly thrive miraculously on shady clay brick walls and walkways.

"Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts," wrote Sigmund Freud. These between-the-cracks, self-sowers seem especially sweet, though, for their randomness, their survival in non-cultivated, even harsh spots. They remind us that plants strive to survive, often despite our best intentions.

Fall New Bed Prep
We're taking advantage of mild autumn weather to plan and prepare new garden beds. Working side-by-side with the garden owner, we shape the new space by laying garden hoses to form an island bed or to edge a one-sided bed against the house, garage, or driveway. It's easy to adjust the hose to curve this way or that, a few inches here or there. Or even start over if the shape doesn't suit. Leave the hose down for a day or two, if possible. It will soften in the sun, giving a more exact line to the bed edge. In the meantime, you'll have opportunity to rethink the design and reposition the hose BEFORE you start digging!

Some people (not me) like to highlight the edge by spray painting the grass and soil next to the hose. We dig a distinct edge on either side of the hose, then remove the hose. We lift the grass from the bed, patch the lawn with good grass pieces, or pile them discreetly until the grass dies and they're ready to compost. Then we dig a small bed by hand or rent a tiller for a large space.

To get a baseline, I take soil samples for a Penn State soil test. We always dig in slow-release mineral fertilizer, composted leaves or humus, and mushroom soil. And compost if it's readily available. To suppress weeds, I cover newly turned soil with cardboard or a thick layer of newspapers before mulching generously with heaps of leaves or shredded bark. We'll plant shrubs and perennials when I find them -- now or in the spring.


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