Written by Elaine Mills, Certified Master Gardener
Photos by Elaine Mills and Liz Pittleman
With the support of their team of Master Gardener volunteers and interns, coordinators Kate Donohue and Joe Kelly have undertaken a second year of renovations in the Sunny Garden. The Sunny Garden is located at Bon Air Park, Wilson Blvd. at North Lexington Street between Ballston and Seven Corners. The garden is at the far end of the parking lot.
Updating the design of Bed 1, one of the large central beds, was assigned to interns Anne Brooks and Debbie Siegel from the Class of 2013. They researched plant combinations with an eye toward using already existing plants as well as some new species. After developing design ideas individually, they met with Kate to decide on and then implement a final plan.
False blue indigo, which was previously the focal point of the herb bed, has been divided and successfully transplanted as an anchor in several places in this bed. Early in the season, Carolina lupine, Arkansas bluestar, and -iris ‘Jesse’s Song’ provided lovely yellow, blue and purple color, respectively. Low daylilies ‘Stella de Oro’ and ‘Happy Returns’ and sedums ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Brilliant’ will bloom in shades of yellow and pink through the summer and fall.
There are plans to add asiatic and oriental lilies, hollyhocks and foxgloves to provide color and strong vertical lines in the middle of the bed without blocking the view to the beds behind. This fall, bulbs will be planted to provide interest early next spring.
Renovation of Bed 4, the herb bed, was also assigned to several interns as their student project. Gabriel Eberhardt took on the early work of cleaning the bed and identifying existing plants. Christine Corcoran, with support from Master Gardener Liz Pittleman, completed the planning and planting.
Although it appeared to have survived the harsh winter, a large, established rosemary plant had to be removed, as it had developed a bacterial infection. It has been replaced by a barbeque rosemary with such strong, straight stems that they can actually be used as skewers for the grill. Other additions to the herb bed include tarragon, sage, oregano, basil, verbena, coriander, chervil, lovage and several kinds of lavender and thyme, which Christine purchased from DeBaggio’s Herb Farm.
Joe Kelly oversaw the renewal of Bed 5, one of the large beds toward the back of the garden. Due to increasing shade from the overhanging white oak tree, he removed a significant number of Tartarian asters, which require full sun. In their place, he transplanted shade-loving hellebores and bleeding hearts from Bed 6. A path dividing this bed from Bed 3 now provides easier access to the compost pile and the newly sited mulch pile, which is no longer an eyesore beside the public path.
The west end of Bed 7, designed by Kate Donohue, focuses on plants such as swamp milkweed to attract butterflies. Golden asters are now flourishing there after having been moved from a shady spot. Tall sunflowers, Joe Pye, and ironweed are located in the center of the bed. A decision will need to be made about using bricks and tough plants at the edge where dogs come by.
The middle of the Bed 7, designed by Master Gardener Alex Dickman last year, is holding its own. The American wisteria, which is training on the fence, draws considerable attention from visitors who are interested in learning about this alternative to invasive oriental wisteria.
Master Gardener Celia Denton, a former garden coordinator, this spring designed and replanted Bed 8, another bed toward the front of the garden. She is retaining a large hibiscus and some grasses, but otherwise has chosen a new mix of native and non-native plants to create a colorful succession of blooms. The native species and cultivars include agastache, boltonia, eupatorium, gayfeather, goldenrod, penstemon, phlox, stokesia and tickseed. The design is completed with dahlias, dianthus, daisies, salvias, scabiosa, valerian, yarrow, and several types of sedum.
Master Gardeners Mary Frase and Elaine Mills, who began renovation on the garden’s “hellstrips” as their intern project in Spring 2013, have continued to carry out their long-range plans. They planted bulbs last fall, including snowdrops, grape hyacinths, and winter aconite, as well as pansies, which put on an early show this spring. Daffodils, which had spread prolifically, have been removed to the east border of the garden.
In April and May they added new drought-tolerant native plants: gayfeather, lyre-leaf sage, yellow wild indigo, muhly grass, and trumpet honeysuckle. The sundrops, threadleaf coreopsis, coneflowers, dwarf goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, hyssop-leaved eupatorium and little bluestem, which they repositioned or added last year, continue to do well.
Some plants growing at the front of the beds suffered considerable damage from salt and gritty snow and ice, which were piled on the beds after each winter storm. The verbena and ice plant are completely gone, and the thyme was also decimated. These have now been replaced with several kinds of sedum. Some of the low-growing geraniums have also been repositioned toward the front.
Another improvement came at the hands of Master Gardener Scott Ford who designed and crafted long-lasting bed markers from easily obtained materials at Home Depot for less than $5 per sign. His design features pressure-treated, rounded landscape timbers trimmed to 18″ with the top cut at an angle with a table saw. He drilled holes into these posts, and inserted foot-long threaded zinc rods to hold them in place. The number plates are powder-coated aluminum.
Renovations to the Sunny Garden will continue next year with replanting in Beds 2 and 3. The coordinators are also considering plantings behind the bench in Bed 6 in what is now a nursery holding bed and as well as around the perimeter of the garden.