As a child I followed my grandmother around her yard learning different flowers and shrubs. But Ma had few different kinds of plants. In fact, she grew only all the plants that her mother-in-law had planted at the old family homestead. It was not her fault and I am sure that if she could have, she would have planted many different plants. They just were not available to her back then.
After I married and had my own home, I had a field day, so to speak. I planted many different perennials, both flowers and shrubs. Also I bought many bulbs. I made a study of all the perennials that would grow and prosper in my area of Western Kentucky.
I also learned that many plants which I wanted to grow were not as hardy in Kentucky as farther south. A plant in question was the beautiful buddlea, or butterfly bush, which is actually grown in Kentucky but often doesn’t make it through the first two winters. So it is not really very hardy. The ones that do survive and thrive are ones that lived long enough to get a deep root system.
Conversely, some plants thrive in Kentucky but do not do well in the Southern states where the climate is too warm for them. Peonies are much prettier in the colder areas such as Kentucky and farther North. I was just sure that lilacs would be great shrubs in warmer climates but that is not the case. The farther North you go, the bigger and fuller the blooms.
For those people who move from other climates to Kentucky, it is frustrating, to say the least, to try to garden in Kentucky.
I moved from Kentucky to Illinois and then, after a few years, on to Indiana. Both areas had about the same climate though much different from Kentucky so I had to adjust somewhat. That was just the beginning of my adjusting. To make matters worse, the soil in Bloomington was unbelievably poor, just red clay. It was richer in Indiana but rocky.
How I longed for my “Old Kentucky Home”.
When my husband accepted a job in Minnesota, somewhat without my permission or agreement, I thought, “here I go again”. I dug up and moved many rose bushes just hoping that they would grow in St. Joseph, Minnesota. I also tried to take my rock collection. I packed them in boxes, taped them securely, and marked those boxes,
“Kitchen Supplies”. Smart, I thought. The movers asked my husband what was in the boxes and he said, “It says Kitchen stuff” and one mover said, “I would swear this was rocks”. My smart husband immediately realized I was trying to sneak rocks onto the moving van. He told me that they were as heavy as a piano and no rocks were going to Minnesota!
Our first house was a new house on a lake and the yard was mostly subsoil, very poor clay and a little sand and humus. Not very good for flowers but I persevered and grew roses and a few other plants. I planted some young shrubs which would have grown if the neighborhood teenagers and some grown-ups had not run over them with snow mobiles. It seemed that people on snowmobiles felt that your property was open to them and they ran over everything until my young, teenage son threatened to knock a neighbor off his mobile. That stopped the people from running through my yard but the gardening was not much fun. I did put the word out that all the throw-away fish could be brought to me to put under my roses and that helped.
The next big move was to Northern Minnesota where the lattitude is the same as International Falls, the coldest spot in the nation. What a rude shock. We bought a housewhich was designed by a real gardener and the house and yard were just a dream come true. It was only a few feet from the Red River which was a real delight, even in winter when the ice melted up in Canada and came rushing down just feet from our back yard.
When spring came and the plants began to come up, I thought surely I had died and gone to heaven. Peonies ran the full width of the yard. The colors started with the deepest dark wine and ran to pure white. There were probably fifty peonies. Then a rose garden was in the back of the house in front of windows which ran the length of the house. She had every new and most of the old roses, all in perfect condition. I failed to mention that the previous owner had died recently and her old husband was moving West. I had to learn to garden in very, very cold weather and very deep snow and long winters with much wind.
The Red River Valley soil is the richest in the world except for the Nile Valley. You can’t imagine soil so rich and black. More on this great gardening soil for later.
Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with questions or suggestions for columns.