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Beginnings of a Cottage Garden: First Spring

When I planned to transform my small front lawn (20′ x 16′) into a cottage-style garden, I had grandiose visions of weeping clematis and rambling roses, a white-picket fence draped in morning glories, with peonies and foxglove and rows of lavender lining the walk. I designed a meticulous plan on graph paper that incorporated the size and scale of each full-grown plant, providing three seasons of flowers (chosen for their fragrance, and attractiveness to birds and butterflies), and evergreen shrubs sporting winter berries.

Front yard garden

Our budget, alas, was also quite small… and I had to curb my impulsiveness to buy everything on my list. Last fall, I spent over $50 in daffodil, crocus, and hyacinth bulbs ~ and tulips which didn’t get planted before winter arrived. (The tulips are growing in containers and I’ll transplant them soon!) After splurging on a few potted starter plants this spring, my husband pulled on my reins, reminding me that it was still March!
Those deceptively warm weeks (with temperatures in the 80s) had me itching to begin gardening in earnest… but then a frost swept in, threatening to destroy my work. Mean spring frosts. :P

I sulked for a few days, and satisfied my cravings by “window shopping” for flower seeds on eBay. I wound up ordering 3,980 seeds; including Coneflowers, Catmint, Bellflowers, English daisies, Asters, Thyme, Fleabane, and Dame’s Rocket. They are tucked away inside the kitchen drawer, because I’ve been told repeatedly NOT to plant them until the beginning of May. *sigh*

Bleeding Heart Bush and Daffodils

In the meantime, my spring bulbs have awakened… and the crocuses have already departed. My original additions to this garden ~ from our first year as renters ~ are doing well. So well, in fact, that the Bleeding Heart bush has grown 2.5 feet in 3 weeks!
I call it my “Bleeding Heart Monster”, because it grows so large that it swallows everything in its path. A sad fact that I learned after losing my creeping phlox under its dark cloud of foliage that first summer!

This time around, I planted early spring bloomers, like daffodils, to grow around the Bleeding Heart Monster… knowing that its penchant for devouring nearby plants will quickly hide their wilted remains. Although, as you can see from this image, I’ve needed to trim back the Beast to give my daffodils a bit more time in the sun.

Bleeding Heart bush swallowing Daffodils

My husband and I are very surprised at the Bleeding Heart’s rapid growth. I guess we never took notice before, but as I’ve been chronicling the growth of my garden in pictures, it has become apparent that this bush is a force to be reckoned with.

New spring growth on Bleeding Heart bush

I took this (above) picture on April 3rd, to show the new growth just beginning to emerge from the dead stalks that were cut back last fall. The little shoots were only a few inches high.

Over the last two weeks, as I’ve snapped pictures of my blooming hyacinths and daffodils, you can see the progress made by the Bleeding Heart (as highlighted) in the background!

Progression of Bleeding Heart growth

It started out hidden behind a painted bench… and in a matter of weeks, swelling into a bush that rivals the original shrubs left behind by the previous owner.

The bush as it looks today, on April 25th:
large Bleeding Heart bush

When it finally expires in late summer, it leaves behind a huge patch of bare earth (roughly 3.5′ in diameter), as nothing is able to grow underneath its shadow.

It left me with a challenge to find something to fill the gap in autumn. Last November, I purchased two Montauk Daisy shrubs, and planted one of them near the Bleeding Heart. The Daisies are supposed to grow 3′ wide at maturity, which will fill in the gap perfectly. I was worried, however, that my late timing had doomed the Montauks. I was very pleased to see the new growth appearing this spring!

Spring growth of Montauk Daisies

Fortunately, the Montauk Daisy appears to be a slow growing bush, as it began showing its signs of life along with the Bleeding Heart in early April. However, the Heart Monster has surpassed it and now towers behind the little shrub, its dark maw gaping hungrily. I will keep pruning them both and see how they fare together. I have no idea whether or not they will be compatible, but this garden is one big experiment for me. :)

My Knock-Out pink rose bush

My other original addition to the garden was this hearty rose bush, of the Knock-Out variety ~ “Double Pink”; essentially, a Rose Bush for Dummies (like me!). This is the first year that I’ve pruned it (I know! I’m lazy!), so it will be interesting to see if it develops a fuller habit.

Little Purple Gem Rhododendron

Joe rescued this tiny shrub from his workplace, where it had been tossed into a trashcan. There were no tags with it, but we eventually identified it as a Purple Gem Rhododendron. The adult plants grow 2’x3′, but we weren’t sure this baby would make it. It was seriously lacking in moisture, and after watering it for a couple of weeks, we finally planted it… and were happy to see the buds opening into blooms. I think it will survive! :)

Transplanted wild violets

Yes, these are wild violets. Yes, they are weeds. I transplanted them from my back yard to the front garden, near the birdbath, just because I liked them. Undoubtedly, the neighbors believe I am nuts for my gardening choices.

It’s difficult to share my progress with friends and neighbors, because at the moment, nearly 80% of my planned garden is still lying in the kitchen drawer, waiting for the official “Last Frost” deadline. The other 10% of my efforts are just beginning to show.

Like this fern, which will eventually be over 36″ tall, but it looks unimpressive right now. LOL I placed rocks beside my baby plants, as place markers, so my husband wouldn’t accidentally whack them with his weed trimmer.
Fern frond

We mowed the lawn for the first time without a lawn mower! He used the weed trimmer to cut our grass, and hopefully by this summer, not much grass will remain. ;)

This poor little daffodil was nearly cut down, because it wandered away from the flock. Last fall, my children helped to plant the 45 daffodil bulbs. Mia stole one bulb, and decided to plant it across the yard from where I intended them to be. I can recall seeing her digging at the earth, but didn’t realize at the time that she had a bulb. Until it grew! :)

Lonely Daffodil

We still have so much to do: planting seeds, installing a picket fence and an arbor, laying mulch and stepping stones, shopping for stone benches and accessories. And no matter how much I plan, our garden will always be a work in progress. Joe will come home with stray plants, or I’ll see something growing wild and decide I need some of it.
Operation: Grape Hyacinths! (Facebook joke, hehe)

The neighbors might never understand or approve of what I’m trying to achieve (one man told me: “If you don’t want grass, just turn your lawn into a paved patio!”)… but I’m not creating this garden for them. I want to enjoy my own space!
In the past, we opened our front door and our view immediately fell upon our neighbors’ lawns, vehicles, trashcans, children playing in the street. Our own yard was invisible. It was just grass and nothing more.

But I’ve been having so much fun this year, watching my plants grow and bloom, stepping outside to the welcoming scent of spring flowers.
I want a garden to greet me throughout the year, with an invitation to leave my door wide open.
I want an excuse to linger on my lawn.

And maybe, if I close my eyes, I can pretend we’re living in a real cottage, in the woods, surrounded by enchanted talking animals and fairies.
Anything is possible in a cottage garden. :)

Front lawn garden path

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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