The day after a garden install can be similar to a hangover for me. Headache, exhaustion, soreness in places where I’m not sure why I’m sore in that spot, and a seemingly unquenchable thirst. Yesterday was National Plant Something Day and I planted a lot of somethings. A whole new butterfly and bee buffet garden, in fact.
For the last few years, the ditch in the front of my property has been filling up with dirt between the sandbags and growing weeds, ferns, and most recently, mimosa trees. Yes, trees growing out of the ditch cracks. Any time I’d contact the city to clean it, they would come out and take a weed whacker to it, effectively making the weeds grow back stronger and more robust. Finally, after gobs of emails, they called to set up a time to meet with me about the issue. Once they came out and saw what was going on, the dude agreed it needed to be totally dug out and re-cemented. Part of fixing it meant that I would have to move some of the garden I had planted between the ditch and the road by my driveway. Thankfully, they were very cool about it, since it is technically city property, and gave me a three week head start to move some of the plants out of their way. They could have just come in and plowed over the whole thing, so I was grateful he appreciated the work I had put in the existing garden bed.
I ended up removing perennials, herbs, and bulbs from an area of about two feet on either side of the ditch and transplanted them into the back garden. My first thought was to just set them aside in pots and keep them watered until I could replant them out front. Then I saw the destruction and the collapse of the sides. Of course, they dug it out right before three days of rain, but you know…yeah. So I decided it might be time to just redo the garden altogether.
Recently, a neighbor a few houses up put in a big, butterfly garden out by the road and I thought, why not do that too and try to make our street into one huge butterfly buffet? I set to work doing one of my favorite creative activities: garden design.
I’ve loved designing since I was a kid. Started with dream house designs that I would draw the floor plans for each room and actually build the houses. Drove me mad if my mom, dad, or brother would come into my room without warning and the draft from the door opening would blow over my paper houses. Grrrrrrrrr. I still enjoy drawing ideas for the house I will build one day when I find the perfect property. Garden design didn’t start until I went to work at a local nursery. Once I started learning about plants, I couldn’t stop. It was an addiction…might still be. After five years at the nursery and having been formerly married to a landscaper, I learned quite a few tricks about design and installation. Unfortunately, I found myself without adequate drawing materials, so I was left with a piece of notebook paper and Crayola colored pencils–need to fix that.
My new garden added about 36 square feet of extra space. I spend most Saturdays this time of year at my favorite local nursery, which focuses on native plants. After looking at all my options for butterfly attractors and larval foods, I added a few of those natives into the mix. As I said, plants are an addiction of mine and I’m a big ol’ sucker for one I haven’t tried before. I just can’t help myself. Since most of the same flowers that attract butterflies also bring in the bees, the garden will be beneficial to both and beneficial to me as well with those bees hopefully heading out back to my vegetable blooms.
There was was one weekend between the city finishing the concrete work and laying the sod. I used those days to dig out the new section of garden, transplant the existing sod from that area, and put in the edging. The following Monday, I came home to all new grass around the bed and they had even cut and fit in the last piece of edging that I had left flopping in the ditch out of pure exhaustion and none fox to give at that point.
Finally, yesterday, I was able to get soil amendments, fertilizer, and mulch and get to work installing my pretties. First step was digging out a trench at the edge of the ditch, which is lower than the existing dirt, and moving the railroad ties back into place. I moved those bastards all on my own. RAWR! Next I mixed compost into the soil and leveled off the bed. Then it was time to place and plant the flowers. I like to set them out according to my drawings, but inevitably end up moving things around once I see it all right in front of me.
My planting process is: dig hole, set root ball in, add fertilizer, fill hole with water, and then press in the dirt around it being careful not to add soil above the existing root ball top. That is the easiest way to kill a plant…suffocate it. I generally keep the dirt below that level to account for the mulch. Once all the potted plants were in, I added three seed areas for parsley and tall zinnias. Then it was time to mulch. I really like the look of pine bark mulch. Not the nuggets. It has a clean look and each bag covers a large space, so not only aesthetically, but economically, it makes sense. Depending on the size of the potted plants, I will sometimes mulch before planting. Since a lot of these were gallon-sized or larger, I was okay doing it after. When dealing with a lot of small starters or 4″ pots, do it first, so as not to have to take all that time being careful to not cover the plants after.
Boom! The transformation is complete and now I can sit back and watch it all fill in. I can’t wait to see all the butterflies, bees, native pollinators, and other wildlife this roadside garden brings to the neighborhood. Hopefully it will also make the people slow down for a moment to appreciate the simple happiness of flowers and living things.
Here are some before and after pics with a list of plants I used afterwards:
Plants used for the butterfly and bee buffet garden:
Buddleia, purple, ‘Attraction’
Pentas, pink, ‘Jessica’ and ‘Starburst’
Zinnias, low growing coral
Zinnias, tall mix colors
Gallardia ‘Mesa Yellow’
Echinacea purpurea (native)
Lantana, ‘White Gold’
Salvia, ‘Victoria Blue’
Rudbeckia, ‘Irish Eyes’
Zizia aureas, ‘Golden Alexander’ (native)
Passion vine, purple (native)
You can add any of these to your gardens, including vegetable gardens. It’s always a great idea to mix flowers into the veggie garden to attract pollinators.