Learning to plan

After my second night in a row with a migraine, I slept in today and drove to work at 10:15. On the bridge, to my left over North Seattle the fog was burning off and the sky was a rich, soft blue, like a summer morning. To the east and south was a chilly white fog, and pretty soon I had to turn on my headlights. It was nice to get a glimpse of that summery-looking sky and it felt like a promise of warmth and blooming flowers.

Every winter I forget how colorful summer is. I recently ran across some snapshots of our back yard from last June and couldn't believe how pretty and colorful some parts of it looked. The towering "California lilac" (can't remember its real name) was covered with blue flowers and was humming with bees. The pansies and geraniums I'd planted for instant gratification looked cheerful. The huge laburnum was all lit up with its hanging yellow flowers like strings of beads. And the grass was green! If only it didn't turn brown in summer. But there's no way to water it without sucking dry all of Seattle, it seems.

In general, in spite of all our work, most of the yard still looks like the gardener doesn't really know what she's doing, which is true. I'm only now, after five summers in the house, learning to plan what to put together in an area bigger than four square feet. It's hard to learn about plants from scratch and simultaneously keep in mind which ones would go together in a specific area. So I started five years ago by planting one of whatever caught my eye. I learned how to amend the soil and provide for various plants' needs, which was important. But because I wanted it to be a fun experiment, I didn't try to develop a bigger plan on paper. So now after several years I still have a hodge-podge of things that are too small to fill some of the big spaces I have, and too timid to choke out some of the weeds.

That changed a bit last year when I put in my first raised flowerbed. We'll see how those plants do this year. I think they'll go well together except that the hydrangea might possibly turn out to be too big. It is supposedly amenable to drastic fall or spring cutbacks, if I remember right, so maybe I can keep it from overshadowing its neighbors too much. Or I can move it.

And now I have a plan for a big part of the unruly back slope. I'll put my Japanese coral-bark maple where I planned except I'll place it closer to the bottom of the slope than to the top, thanks to the advice of the Miller Library horticulturalist. Apparently the tree can take a lot of sun in a cool climate like ours, but it likes to be a bit sheltered from the warm breezes. I'll have it near some other trees, a fence, and of course the slope itself, so (fingers crossed) it should be happy. The barberry and dogwood shrubs can go up by the fence. I may not get any beautyberry (Callicarpa) after all. I haven't been able to find it and it's occurred to me that I have two tiny quinces in pots that are going to need a home next spring. They will be big messy things that flower in January, so they'll work fine on that slope with the other shrubs I'm putting in. At least until they get too big and we have to call the bulldozer.