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Mildred's New Garden

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on , 2001

Shortly after I met Mildred Bradley, I found myself eyeing a spot beside her garage that gets marvelous sun. No shade, a southern exposure, and a white wall to reflect the heat and light. I was envious: I don’t have much sun in my yard; I can’t grow those plants that are extreme sunlovers — or if I do, they grow spindly as they reach up looking for more light.

Mildred used to grow a huge garden, raising all her vegetables. She still has a row of old rambling roses covering the long fence at the front of her property. Now at eighty, she can’t bend down to garden. The window boxes along her porch are about all she can manage: she can tend them standing up. She used to have a bed of tulips in the sunny spot beside the garage, but they were killed by getting mowed down.

I talked her into letting me put a new flower bed into the sunny spot. I had three goals: a maintenance-free garden that would please Mildred while needing nothing from her, a bed that would be safe from the big riding mower, and a good home for some of my neglected sunlovers.

First I built a retaining wall of concrete blocks, half-sunk into the ground, but sticking up high enough that the mowing service would avoid it. Next the Garden Troopers and I dug up the soil, screened it, and added compost and ground rock fertilizers. Good soil is the best insurance of healthy plants.

The sunlovers I chose were Nepeta x mussini — Catmint (not Catnip, though related) — and Calamintha nepeta (which has no common name I know). The Nepeta has little blue flowers in every leaf axil, in July and August; the Calamintha has similar mauve ones, all August. They’re both tough, aggressive perennials that need no care — just right for Mildred.

In my garden both grow long, floppy flower stems. More sun should help them grow bushier and more upright. I also didn’t add nitrogen at Mildred’s; some plants don’t need much and that can produce lax growth. Still I’m counting on those two plants to arch over the concrete blocks enough to hide them.

For spring color, I planted long-lived Darwin tulips, ‘Big Chief’ variety — peach on the outside and deep orange inside. Also blue-and-purple grape hyacinth, for contrast. For early summer color, I’m going to add creamy pale yellow ‘Moonlight’ Nasturtiums; they’ll also last til frost. They’re annuals, but they self-sow enthusiastically for me, so I hope Mildred will get them coming back, too.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark