One of the first areas we added to the garden at Glen Villa was the Cascade. It came about almost by accident, as we were modifying the entry to the house. Doing this meant lowering the driveway by eight feet; as we did, we uncovered a stream hidden underground.
And so the Cascade was born.
Unfortunately I have no photos of the original plantings. Only a few of them remain, one or two hawthorn trees, the spruce that were tiny when planted about 15 years ago, the bridalwreath spirea that drips with blossoms every spring and the staghorn sumac that initially provided wonderful autumn colouring.
The Cascade was handsome at first. But over the years, the area has proved problematic. The hawthorn trees I loved went from good…
to not very…
to downright disappointing.
Other plants performed in a similar fashion, starting off well and declining from one year to the next. We enriched the soil, we added drainage, we closed our eyes and held our breath. Despite this, plants refused to thrive. A dogwood (Cornus stolonifera ‘Kelsey’s dwarf’) succumbed to the cold; a ninebark (Physocarpus oplifolia ‘Summer Wine’) fell victim to the deer. The dwarf highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’) became bug infested and had to be removed. The Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford simply stopped trying.
In desperation I chose plants that were said to be invasive, like blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius.) I read the warnings and rejoiced — a bit of unruly invasiveness would be just fine.
I planted the lyme grass in 2008 and at first it looked wonderful, blue-toned spikes providing a contrast to the fine leaves of spirea and the broad leaves of Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford.’ When the lady’s mantle bloomed, it was even better.
But gradually, instead of invading, the lyme grass became sparser.
Not so with the lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and another invasive plant I decided to try, gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides). They grew and grew, determined to overwhelm the space, if not the world.
Last summer the plants were full but, to my eye, the area looked messy and lacked structure.
So last fall, we pulled out everything except the spirea, the sumac and the spruce trees. We improved the drainage — again — and added new topsoil and rich compost.
And finally, last week I began to replant. Yet again I’ve chosen plants that should do well. I’ve planted in bands that stretch across the central cascade, drawing the eye along the hillside and echoing the long line of the gabion wall that went in last summer.
I chose Weigela ‘Wine and Roses,’ a shrub that has done well elsewhere in the garden, and one that the deer leave alone. I’ve added more of a plant I tried last summer, a small, spreading fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’) whose leaves are marked with a shade of purple that repeats the colour of the Weigela leaves. I re-organized the darmera peltata whose large, clear green leaves add freshness and light, divided the yellow flag iris into several large clumps.
No photo taken when the plants are small can show what an area will look like after a year or two. For that, you need to use your imagination. Will this selection of plants thrive? Who knows. I’ve set up the right conditions, but I’ve done that before.
So just to be sure, I added one final plant, a perennial geranium called ‘Hocus Pocus.’ If planning doesn’t work, maybe magic will.
Are there area in your garden that continue to cause problems? What have you done to correct them? And is it working?