Progress in the garden: divide and conquer

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Sunday, April 3, was a magnificent day in Des Moines. The temperature soared to 87 degrees, and although a bit breezy, the warm temperature was more than welcome. Another great day to work outdoors.

Beth and I decided to forge ahead and clean a couple more flower beds. These beds are low in our priority list, and don’t always get their spring cleaning. The first was on the south side of the front yard. The refuse mostly was sticks, lily stocks, and trash. The second bed was on the south side of the house. It is quite wild in nature, and someday, we’ll totally revamp it, and replace the railroad ties on the south side of this bed. Cleaning this flower bed was uneventful as well. It was simply more of the same–hosta, phlox, and a few cone flowers. We marveled at the quick growth of the licoris (naked ladies, magic lilies, hardy amaryllis–you name it) and it was wonderful to see such rapid and lush spring growth.

A couple of years ago, our neighbor Allen cut down several trees on the southeast corner of my property, or the northeast corner of his–take your pick. Since that time, this area has been a waste land, and since Nature abhors a vacuum, a number of weeds have taken over. As a result, last spring I cleared it off, and planted gourds in that space. They did great. Of course, now they are gone as well. Last June, I transplanted some mertensia Virginica (Virginia bluebell) roots to that location, as they were taking over one of Beth’s flower beds. I was pleased to see that they are doing well in this area. But, there is still much vacant space to fill.

When I was clearing out the old perennial bed in my garden on Saturday, I noticed a lot of new hesparis (Dame’s rocket, or sweet rocket.) They spread by both seeds and roots, and were all over the garden. I can tell them by their long, flat and fuzzy leaves. They are invasive in the garden, but perfect for the waste area. If they grow, wonderful; if not, I’ll dig up some more.

Speaking of the waste area, when I planted them Beth was along, and noticed something growing in the waste area already besides the bluebells. Was it creeping Charley, or sweet rockets that may have spread there by seed? It is too early to tell, but it won’t be long until I know. The creeping Charley will vine, have stinky leaves, and they will be much smaller than the sweet rocket leaves. If it is creeping Charley, they will be ruthlessly weeded; if it is sweet rockets, happy growing! I’ll know in less than two weeks.

It was also a great day to rake up leaves that were in the garden that had not totally composted from last year. It is time to make sure the garden can dry out as quickly as possible so it can be tilled at the earliest opportunity. I noticed that the very topsoil is dry and ready for the tiller; however, a few inches down the soil is wet and sticks together in a ball. It is not ready yet. And since it rained an inch on the 7th, it’ll be a while. A very welcome rain for the lawn and perennial bed, but as Beth often tells me “you’re not fit to live with until that garden is tilled.” Unfortunately, that statement may be more truth than fiction.

For the past year, I’ve been promising a master gardener friend some Selladine poppies, and some sweet rockets. Tuesday night was beautiful, so I went out and dug her some starts. Due to the poppy’s location, and the sweet rocket’s leaf form, they were easy to find and dig. I am hoping they do well for her, as she picked them up during the day on Wednesday. That Thursday rain will be perfect for them as well.


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