I’ve always thought that optimism was a good thing. But perhaps you will agree that it can sometimes be misplaced.

Ever wondered what happens in the garden when optimism goes unleavened by reality? My aim in this post is to paint that very picture for you so that you can avoid the mistake I made.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The story begins when we first moved into our house. You see, our front yard was much more bare than I was used to, just a patch of lawn and a ribbon of shrubs tucked up against the house. To be honest, I felt a bit like I was living in a goldfish bowl. And I did not enjoy that feeling.

In contrast, I grew up in a house that was set back further from the road and had some woods left intact in front of it. My parents thinned out the underbrush in one area and planted rhododendrons and azaleas below the canopy of oaks. Elsewhere, they left the existing understory of sassafras and black huckleberry as they found it. Pink lady slipper orchids popped up here and there throughout.

It was a nice place to grow up and I wanted our yard to have a similar feel.

I took this photo when I was a teenager. These lady’s slippers were growing under pine trees in the woods behind my parents’ house.

The Vision

Obviously, I couldn’t do anything about the distance between our house and the street. But I envisioned a living screen between the two, something that would give a hint of privacy without being unfriendly.

With this goal in mind, I found a plan I liked for an island bed in a gardening book and convinced my husband that this garden addition was a good idea. There remained only the happy task of plunking down the credit card and mail-ordering the plants.

Among other things, the book’s plan called for a Japanese maple, some leatherleaf mahonia, a small-leaf rhododendron, and a Japanese andromeda. I replaced the Japanese maple with a crabapple and ordered ‘Windbeam’ rhododendrons in place of the other plants.

Danger Lurks

Now, I knew perfectly well that all of the shrubs I just mentioned are best adapted to a location with evenly moist soil, where they’re getting dappled light or direct sunlight for only a few hours in the morning.

And I recognized that these were not the growing conditions I was dealing with.

You see, to bring my vision of enhanced privacy to life, I needed to site the new plants on the south side of the house. The south side. About the sunniest sun you can get – with only a little slip of a young crabapple tree to provide any shelter.

What’s more, our house is situated on a large deposit of sand and gravel left behind by glaciers. In fact, there is a sand and gravel company located out of sight on the other side of the hill.

Unless it’s in a low-lying area, a soil with a lot of sand in it generally has good drainage, meaning that water percolates right through rather than pooling on top. And I garden on a hillside.

Tragedy Strikes

So we’re looking at shrubs that grow best in a moist, semi-shaded location being asked to live with:

If you’re connecting all these dots to foresee death by dehydration and overexposure to sunlight, you’re doing more than I did at the time. And that, my friends, is multiple counts of excess optimism in action.

The Moral of the Story

The takeaway? It’s not enough to have knowledge. You actually have to apply it. All the optimism and good will in the world can’t make up for willfully-ignored reality.

So, to (hopefully) help you avoid making the mistake I made, I’ll publish a list of tips about matching plant to place in a future post.

But meanwhile, I really want to hear from you!

I’ve shared things that I loved about the surroundings I grew up in.

Is there a garden in your past that inspires you? What did you love about it?

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