Friday, March 30, 2012


Last weekend when I really wanted to be out gardening, it was a bit rainy, cool and muddy.  So I decided to get to work on "ex-terra" weeding of my Ginger Lilies (Hedychium coronarium).  I figured the damp muddiness would help cut down on the shock to the plants, and I would probably warm up quickly doing such a mucky labor-intensive job (I did).
I borrowed the fantastic descriptive phrase "ex-terra weeding" from this post by Carol on May Dreams Gardens.  And here is another excellent post on renovating an entire garden bed to get rid of a weed that spreads by runners, by Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening.  Good, so I don't have to go into a lot of painful details about the effort this took.  I really would prefer not to remember in too much detail.  I was so exhausted at the end of this that I wasn't even going to take photos.  The effort of walking a whole 20 steps to get into the house to get the camera was just too much.  Fortunately, my wonderful husband who came out to help me in the end took a couple of photos.  This one counts as sort of a before (in the distance) and after (closer to the camera) all in one, since I only did half the bed. I had developed tunnel vision and just wanted to get done so I didn't bother to stop pitching finished compost on the bed as he snapped the photo.
But the long and short of it is that I was putting up a fight for the Hedychium coronarium and some other good guys in this bed, but I had to severely inconvenience them for a bit to be able to get at their enemies, primarily Bermuda grass and English Ivy, and really give them the heave-ho.  The good guys are shown below.  Hopefully they aren't too embarrassed to be shown bare-root.  From top to bottom, they are Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), Four O'Clock (Mirabilis jalapa), Ginger Lilies (Hedychium coronarium), and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum).  They are all a bit thuggish in their own way, but these are definitely the good guys.

I'm not completely sure this was the best time of year to do this.  I was afraid to do it over the winter because I am never convinced that the Hedychium is quite hardy.  Some of the bulbs often seem to go mushy.  However, when I dug them up, I found them all very muscular.  They were growing under, over, and through each other and really made the job pretty difficult.  It was digging up the Hedychium that made this job hard, not the Bermuda grass or ivy.  In fact, the weeds really never seemed to bother the Ginger Lilies, just the gardener, since the bed looks so awful in the winter time and is impossible to weed in the summer.  I waited until I started seeing a few shoots growing before starting this project, thinking that this is generally a good time to dig and divide.  However, the growing shoots are very brittle and I snapped off more than a few of them.  I was pretty annoyed with myself each time.  Even some of the ones that I managed to carefully work around in the excavation stage ended up snapping when I put them back in the ground.  I think it will be OK anyway, though.  The amount of plant mass in the rhizomes is so much that I can't imagine them not finding a way to put out new growth.
The Ginger lilies were here when I moved to this house.  I think they probably came from a division from the house next door (or perhaps vice versa).  My next-door neighbors had a huge row of them all the way along the side of their garage, but last year, before they even bloomed, took them all out.  I do not understand why.  That clump also had an infestation of Bermuda grass, so maybe the prospect of trying to get rid of it was too overwhelming, but I think getting rid of the Ginger Lilies was a mistake.  Now the neighbor's bed has basically nothing but the Bermuda grass.  How sad.  If they change their minds, I'll be happy to share some of mine back with them.  That's the best part of sharing plant divisions and cuttings.  If ever by some disaster out of your control (or in this case, seemingly in your control) you lose your plant, there is insurance out there: you can get some back from whomever you shared with.
In my opinion, the labor-intensive renovation was definitely worth the trouble.  Ginger lilies are a truly awesome plant if they are happy in your garden.  They grow to about four feet tall and have thick strappy pointed leaves all up the stalk.  They like moisture and tend to curl up temporarily if it gets too dry, but when they are happy the foliage is a beautiful contrast to all the small-leaved plants I have.  The fragrant flowers begin blooming in August and continue usually until frost.  Each flower lasts only a day or two, but there is a seemingly infinite supply in each fat flower cluster.  The frost was so late this year that I did actually see the end of the blooms and the start of some crazy-looking seed pods, but I had a few blooms even in December.  I had blooms on the Ginger lilies and paperwhites on the same day for the first time ever in my garden.  The flowers bloom in the evening, attracting sphinx moths, but last throughout the day too.  They are extremely fragrant.  When frost threatens, I cut off some of the stems and put them in water and the flower buds continue to open for several more days indoors.

As I labored, my mind wandered (it tends to do that) and it occurred to me that perhaps I have graduated from being a beginning gardener to an intermediate gardener.  That is, if this theory of mine is correct.  Perhaps a beginning gardener can be thought of as a person who grows bunches of plants pretty much indiscriminately because they are still learning about the plants and what will do well in the garden.  Meanwhile, some things are doing too well and some things are going wrong and a beginning gardener is not necessarily aware of it.  That is why the intermediate gardener, years later, ends up spending so much time renovating entire neglected-looking garden beds.  The beginner wasn't even necessarily neglecting them, but until they have become "intermediate", they aren't particularly effective at dealing with it.  Or maybe all this renovation is just a sign that I am still a beginner.  Maybe my commencement as intermediate is still to come.  I am very much looking forward to the time, in another 20 years or whatever it takes, when I will be "advanced" and all my garden beds will be lovely all the time.  Don't burst my bubble about that fantasy, please! but intermediate and advanced gardeners out there, what marked the turning point for you?  Beginners, what do you think the next stage will bring?