Friday, June 23, 2006

My Unfavorite Spot, June 23

Today, I’d like to write about my UNfavorite spot, the sunset bed. I named it so because it receives the late afternoon to sunset light and because the flowers are in shades of red, orange, and yellow. I planted it with goblin gaillardia, cardinal flower, red daylilies, and assorted true lilies last spring. Then, I waited for it to fill in.

The plants haven’t done so well. The first problem is the aspect. The wall faces north-west, so the plants crane their necks for sun most of the day and are then blasted with heat and light in the late afternoon. Only the daylilies flourish in such extremes. The afternoon sun is too harsh for even a drought tolerant plant like gaillardia; it was burned into oblivion. I mercifully moved the cardinal flowers. The true lilies tolerate the conditions, but are leaning dreadfully.

The second problem is our ever-present clay soil. Although this is a “real” flowerbed, with a poured concrete curb, the ground does not appear to have been cultivated. It is thick, sticky, orange clay. One corner appears to have been the dumping place for ash from the old coal furnance. I’ve amended the soil, but even so, the clay is gluey when wet and rock-hard when dry. The lilies appear to be suffering from the lack of drainage.

The final problem is the house gutters. The drainpipe on the northwest corner of the house is often overwhelmed (despite Mike’s best dredging efforts) and the water spills out of the gutters and into the flowerbed, further compounding the clay’s poor drainage.

I’m having a terrible time getting anything to grow here, but this is a spot that needs vegetation to soften the stark cement foundation and white siding. For the current season, I have planted a few annuals (nasturtium, California poppies, and sunflowers) to fill in the blank spots, but they are not flourishing. This fall, I’m considering a total overhaul by planting shrubs (Ribes sanguineum and yellow butterfly bush) and ornamental grass (zebra). I am hoping that they will provide me with the height and hardiness that the perennials I have used so far lack.

Presently, the sunset bed is the wart on my landscape. I try not to look at it when I'm in the back yard. I only enjoy it from the other side of the pictured window, when the late afternoon light casts a pink glow into our guest room.


Blogger Jenn said...

Coal ash is bad for plants. Wood ash in smallish quanties can be beneficial, but coal and charcoal - not so much.

Sounds like the bed could use some heavy prep work - the traditional dig and amend the soil work. With clay, of course, this is a back breaking chore...

But I'm not sure shrubs will do well there either.

At bare minimun, I'd try to dig out the majority of the ash trace and fill that area with better dirt...

8:31 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Love the guest room photo. You've got such a great and balanced style sense.


8:32 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

"The second problem is our ever-present clay soil."

I second that! I've been fighting Cincinnati clay for a little longer than you have (we moved into our house in late 2001) and every time I fight with it I miss the soil in Northwest Ohio just that much more. It's also why I have almost all raised beds.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

We have the same problem with the deep shade-then-blazing-sun. I have the worst time with plants in the front beds and porch.

1:32 PM  
Blogger snappy said...

I struggle with a clay soil too.I think i will try some digging this winter.The problem for me is the lack of water retention, and the hot days totally dry out the top soil killing plants off.However just loo at whats growing well, then think how to improve the bad area's!

4:56 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

Why not do a really awesome grouping of heat tolerant plants in pretty pots? When all else fails
Or you could have a succulent garden or whatever your heart desires.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

Kerri says Evening primrose grow anywhere. They are so colorful-like you! Check out her blog:

9:48 AM  
Anonymous ehlikeyif said...

hello from Istanbul Turkey.. I have a garden.. clay soil.. and a garden blog in turkish.. love reading other gardeners blogs.. and I enjoyed your's very much.. I started to read from your earlier posts.. as this is my first visit.. and last post is about..clay soil and afternoon sun.. that's my front garden..
bears's breeches.. snowballs..pittosporum.. erica ..and pyrrachantha are doing well..
enjoy your garden

7:59 AM  
Anonymous kingstreetfarm said...

Hi you, I have heavy clay soil, and I did the digging work for a lot of my beds. It IS back breaking work, but you really don't have a choice if you want stuff to grow and flourish.
Alternately, a raised bed made with just a few 2x4s and some purchased soil is an option. It's a lot more expensive than just digging the clay, though. If you do decide to dig, do it in fall before the first freezes because otherwise there's basically no hope.
Good luck!

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Concrete Statue said...

Heavy clay soil is a big problem... unfortunately, I haven't found a solution for it yes

3:15 PM  

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