The Casual Midtown Garden

By on 29 April, 2013 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

One of our overgrown beds

When we moved to Montgomery almost six years ago, our back yard pretty much put the “wild” in Cloverdale-Idlewild.

It was clear that several generations of homeowners had been content to let the beds around the perimeter become overrun with highly invasive plants, massive thistles and a canopy of vines. We’ve been working for years to change this situation. We identified the invasive plants. Then we tried to take them out, joking that our gardening strategy was similar to the American “clear, hold, build” strategy in Iraq.

We tried tomatoes one summer, and when they were overrun by pests and blight we regrouped and got our soil tested. Then we amended like crazy for a year, raiding our bountiful compost pile and turning the soil over until many of the vines (which would have made awesome ropes if we were stuck on the island in Lost) were finally hacked out by the root — and it almost seemed like something might grow.

So last spring with the help of a visiting relative who was unafraid to dig, we tried again. We picked out some perennials – a few butterfly bushes, a couple of hydrangeas, some coneflowers, a geranium, some salvia, and two heritage roses. All these went into the ground. To try and prevent the vines from coming back (and because nobody in our house is a huge fan of weeding), we put down a bunch of mulch. (Note: We did not use cypress mulch, which should never be purchased by anyone). Then we went out and bought a soaker hose and a timer, hooked the whole thing up and hoped it would work.

After clearing, ready for plants!

We’re so proud to report that not only did the plants survive last summer’s stultifying heat, but they’re back this year! We didn’t think some of them were going to make it. Sure, the nice folks at Harwell’s said the hibiscus was perennial, but up until a week or so ago, it still looked like a sad bundle of sticks. Now it’s coming back and we’re already looking forward to its spectacular white flowers. The hydrangeas are already bigger than they were last year and you can see their first flowers forming. We’ve even got a rosebud on the red rose bush and the white one that we were pretty sure died last year is making a comeback. I’m no rose expert, but my mother always said it was hard to kill a rose because they are basically weeds – I’m starting to think she was right.

The coneflowers coming up

One of the nice things about gardening here is that some plants in Midtown Montgomery end up being perennial that wouldn’t last elsewhere. I’ve had the same sage and oregano plants in pots since we moved in; they seem to thrive no matter what, as long as they get some water. This year we’ve added a dwarf lime tree to the household, figuring it can stay in a pot and come in during the winter – plus, limes!

Our new friend

This week, we found out that our yard is still a little wild. At the frontier of what’s left of the jungle we inherited, we saw this little guy moving around in the trees. Is he a new tenant? Has he been there the whole time? What kind of snake is he exactly? Is he a native Alabamian or an import? Maybe an escaped pet? Whatever his origins, I hope that he eats mosquitoes, because even though this sure is a nice time of year to be gardening, those horrible creatures are fixing to come back in force. At least we know our plants are going to make it. We might even put some more in, and we’re trying again with one small tomato plant.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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