In the summer of 2019, we replaced 10 large, but very sick, red tip shrubs that we had been trying to save for 2-3 years. They were planted in a bed on the north-facing side of our house that is flanked by two teenage live oak trees which keep the bed mostly shaded. The challenge of the situation was not getting rid of sick red tips, but what do you plant in their place? We had them dug out in the fall, and I had all winter to do research on what would work best. This area was truly going to be a Project!
Something you should know before you read on is that my thumbs are NOT green! I come from a farming family (well, okay, “gardening” more than farming), but that gene didn’t make it to my DNA. Any success I have in gardening comes from a lot of research, asking loads of questions, and prayer! 😊
I befriended an expert (Ted) from a local nursery who was extremely helpful. Together we decided on a collection of plants that should a) handle the summer heat, b) not require tons of water (since we spend most of our summers under water usage restrictions), c) thrive in shade, d) handle freezing temps in the winter, and e) look good. We planted in the spring, said lots of prayers, and watered, fertilized and watched them like babies. That first summer they looked really good. I did it! I had a landscape bed that I had helped design, prep and plant, and it looked good! I had muhly grass, foxtail ferns, nandina, duranta, Japanese yew, and dwarf blue plumbagoes. I was a proud plant-m
Feb 15, 2021…”Snowgedden” swept across the South. Our yard became a winter wonderland. We had covered our plants in advance and hoped they would be okay. We lost most of our large foundational shrubs and several smaller ones in some of our beds, but the Project bed with its new plants actually fared well! We lost one shrub – the duranta. March and April were spent, yet again, doing more research for our main front beds. Thankfully, by this time Ted had started his own landscaping business, so I hired him to help, and it was wonderful being able to kick around ideas. We planted in April, and all looked good!
Summer was rewarding as we watched the babies grow. The muhly grass bloomed in splendid pink; the foxtail ferns were as lovely as their name implies; the nandinas were thick green with bright red berries; the yew had small grayish-blue berries…I loved the colors in our Project bed! Most amazing were the plumbagoes…they were full of gorgeous nickel-size blue flowers against dark green leaves that lasted all summer and into the fall!
Winter 2022. This past winter we had not one, but several hard freezes – very unusual for our area. We covered plants. We uncovered them. Then we covered them again. (One morning I went outside to check everything and two of the plant covers had blown off and away. I sent out an APB email to the neighborhood and they were found…a quarter of a mile away and not in a straight line…they flew around a curve and hooked a left into a cul-de-sac…it was amazing!) When we thought the freezing was over, we began cutting plants back so the spring could bring new growth. In the Project bed, everything but the nandinas, foxtails and yew were cut back to the ground.
March brought warmer days, but the nights and mornings were delightfully cool. It was awesome! Limbs began to bud with leaves and the grass began to get green. Roots of lantana, indigo spire, esperanza and others began to grow new stems. Even our prickly pear cactus was sprouting new leaves! The life cycle was in full swing!
One day in April, I walked out to check all our beds and noticed a LOT of small plants growing all over our Project bed. I didn’t recognize the leaf shape, but there were several clumps near where I thought the dwarf plumbagoes had been planted. Yet there were stragglers of the same leaves spreading out across the bed, and they pulled out easily by the root just like clover and other weeds do. I saw one with a yellow flower (obviously not a plumbago). I took a picture and compared the leaves to pictures of dwarf plumbago online. They were different enough to make me question what they were. I sent the picture to Ted for identification. He came back and said he thought they were weeds. I thought, “Great. Now I not only have to pull all these weeds, but they’re growing where the plumbagoes were, so it looks like they aren’t coming back. Now I have to figure out what I should get to replace them!” (I was not happy.)
We were scheduled to go on a trip in a couple of days, so to make the bed look less taken over by weeds and buy myself some time, I pulled out everything that was outside the clumped areas. Even if they were weeds, at least I could shape them, so they’d look like we weren’t just letting the bed go wild. (I probably should mention that we live in a gated community where most houses have nice yards. We like that, so we do our part to keep ours looking nice.) I thought it looked pretty good and went out of town grateful that I did not have to think about it for a few days.
When we got back, the UGO’s (unidentified growing objects) were looking pretty good (for weeds). Then I noticed that the yellow flower I had seen before was coming from a totally different type of plant. And there were flower buds on a couple of the mystery stems. Could it be? I snapped another picture and decided to get a second opinion from a neighbor who is a master gardener. “Do you know what this is? Could it be dwarf blue plumbago?” Her answer was “I don’t know. But I think it’s a weed.” (Drat! ☹)
But those two small buds rekindled the hope I had early on that these (twice announced) weeds were, in fact, re-growth of our plumbagoes. I checked the plants daily. New buds appeared. Some plants had several, others only 1 or 2 (difference due to the amount of light each gets). Then it happened…color! The green-wrapped bud began to stretch and a line of plumbago blue made its debut. My hope grew!
A day later, we had two (2!) flowers in the “weeds”. Today we have several and on several plants. It’s so exciting! There will still be some fresh shoots that pop up in the periphery, and they will be pulled to keep the bed looking nice (not manicured…just simple elegance and natural beauty). Soon there will be beautiful blue flowers everywhere just like last year! But at this moment, it feels so good that I was right about those plants being what was planted there originally! Yay! I was right in not giving up and not yanking them out of the ground because I thought they were weeds – because two experts thought they were weeds! The heart of each plant is wholly what the seed it came from was meant to grow. And the mystery is solved. Plumbagoes!!!
I could have given up and yanked them all out of the ground, but I was hoping that they were the 2nd generation of what I had planted, even if they didn’t look like it. It was faith in God’s design for nature – that plants grow, can be frozen (more than once), cut back to the ground, and left alone to do their thing in the spring which gave me that hope. Even when two experts (and they really are experts that I trust) said they looked like weeds, I just couldn’t buy into that. They were where I thought plumbagoes had been planted. They just needed some sunlight and water on a regular basis for life to appear again, and again, and again…year after year. And regardless of how many people say they are weeds, or another type of plant, they are what the Creator designed them to be. And part of that design is that new growth leaves are lighter green at first and darken during the summer.
Who do you believe you were created to be? I believe that you are a flower – a creation of God totally unique and special – created to be in relationship with and loved by your Creator. Designed to be loved, cared for, pruned when necessary, watered regularly, held in the loving hands of the One who made you. You may not be able to accept that, because others have told you that you aren’t good, that you are a weed, that your blossoms aren’t pretty enough, strong enough, or talented enough. But the true Master Gardener knows who you are and wants your beauty to shine. He wants you believe that He created you to be His and wants you to live through eternity in His presence.
If you are having a hard time believing this proclamation that your design is inherently good because others have told you differently or your life doesn’t reflect that, I encourage you to go to Who Am I on Vimeo and watch this 3 part series from City Church SA. It’s good stuff…so much better than my plumbagoes. 😊