Susan's Blog

Sunday, September 20, 2020

How to Just Bee

If I had to come back as an insect, I’d want to be a bee. Imagine having your nose stuck deep inside flowers all day and then coming home and making honey. On summer days I’m a human bee. I’m working in my garden as much as I possibly can — despite a little arthritis, the threat of ticks, and poison ivy.

Most people love my garden when they pass by walking with their masks and their dogs. Most of them also say that they couldn’t do it — they cite reasons like black thumb or too much work — but I wish they’d rethink that. Gardens are good for the soul and good for the planet. If people would put work and money into a garden the way they do their lawns, we’d have more color and scent in the world, and we’d be creating whole worlds for other creatures. Gardens don’t take that much water if you plant wisely and according to your region. Grass on the other hand takes tons of water and lots of killing equipment like so-called fertilizer or weed poison or gasoline-powered lawn mowers. Grass looks great, though, like a beautiful outdoor carpet, and you can play on it, and sit on it, and if that’s your thing, go for it. Creating a garden, on the other hand, is building a paradise.

Let there be light. You need light to have a gorgeous perennial garden. Sure, you can build beauty with shade but it’s the full sun guys that hold my heart. I try to figure out my exposure and observe when the sun arrives and when it departs. You need at least 6 hours of baking, unfiltered sunlight. Some people say 8 but you can cheat a little with 6.

Play in the dirt. To have a great garden, you must consign yourself to a day or two a week of being really sweaty and dirty. Apply sunscreen, Off, hat, and gloves, and then get in there and dig up whatever grass or weeds you have. You can get this tool: You jam it in and then slide it under the grass like a tough piece of pie and you pull out the layer of sod. There’s going to be a lot of sod so think of a way to dispose of it, or a place to use it. I throw it far under shrubs and forget about it.

Imagine you’re a plant. You live the best kind of life, with your face in the sun and the world at your feet. What kind of home would you need? Lots of tasty soil. So if you notice your soil is tight and crumbly, think about how to make it soft and frothy. Imagine your toes are roots, stretching out into a soft bed. (There’s a reason they’re called flower beds.) Once you have a roughed up patch of dirt you can add in shovels of fertilizer. Oddly enough it is shit that one animal doesn’t need that creates the feed for other life. I like Coast of Maine with the lobster in it but you can use any combination of manure and decomposed matter. Not mulch. Manure, please. Then churn it all together like brownie mix.

Play in the nursery. I go to a small urban nursery that designs its layout like gardens, complete with three-foot-long windchimes that sound like symphonies, and old tree stumps and carved urns and flowing fountains. I wander the full sun aisles and just look and smell and touch. And read. Read those labels, consider all the information like required sun, height, color, and bloomtime. Here is my cheat sheet that tells you about the last three.

Your perspective is everything. I mean, literally, your point of view. How will you be seeing your garden most often, where do you sit and look at it? From what angle will you appreciate it? The thing is, no matter how much we want to see all of it from anywhere, we will only be able to see all of it from one place. But that’s the magic of a garden: most of the time you can’t see it all, so you want to enter it and see the rest. So it is your viewing spot that determines the layout. You want the tallest to be farthest away. Or do you? If your favorite flowers are the tallest, put them in the center! Just know that whatever is behind them will not be visible if they bloom at the same time. So find a way to see them all. Maybe it’s just a flash of orange echinacea peeking out to the side of your bold blue delphinium. Make every color and every spot in the garden count.

The March of the Flowers

Here is the sacred order of the flowers. Use this list as a way of putting your garden together. I’ve listed bloom times, colors, and most of the heights. Your work here is to figure out how much sun you have because these are mostly full sun. Every now and then a supposedly sun-loving plant will survive (gasping and leggy) in partial sun but it’s no fun for either of you.

Now go forth and garden.


1) crocus 2) snowcaps (white) 3) scylla sibirica (blue, low-growing, spreads beautifully) 4) hyacinth 5) forsythia 6) heath (piney flowering low shrub that spreads)


1) Bulbs like daffodils, and tulips 2) Vinca (low-growing ground cover with purple flowers) 3) Flowering trees like cherry, dogwood and apple, rhodadendron, azalea 4) Lily of the Valley


1) Peonies 2-3′ 2) Poppies 2-3′ 3) Primrose 1’4) Iris 2′ 5) Clematis, wisteria -vines. Be careful with wisteria, it is really invasive 6) Herbs – generally low, good for edging 7) Scented geranium – 6 inches to 1’ These are not the annual geraniums you see everywhere in pots – purple and pink 8) Scotch Broom – big shrub, red or yellow 9) Thrift (pink, marble-size, low-growing) 10) Cerastium, aka Snow-in-summer, white on silvery green stems, covers my stone wall by my driveway, spreads like crazy) 11) Lupine, 1-2’ purple 12) Columbine (1-2’ pink, yellow, blue, tolerates a little shade)


1) All sorts of roses 2) Delphinium (2-5’ tall, stunning blues to mauve to white) 3) Pinks, carnation ( 6” to 1’, pinks, purples, fuchsia) 4) Coreopsis (1’, yellow) 5) Scabiosa (6” – 1’, periwinkle blue) 6) Lillies (Asiatic, tall, 2-4’ all colors, smell great) 7) Lavender 1-2’) 8) Catmint (1-2’) blue-lavender 9) Rose campion (1-2’, magenta on silvery stems with soft fuzzy leaves) 10) Foxglove, (tall, white, pale yellow and especially purple-pink, is finicky but magnificent) 11) Penstemmon (6”-1’ orangey red) 12) Daylillies (1’-2’, yellow, orange, red) 13) Hydrangea shrub grows big, mostly in blues 14) Sage 1’-2’ usually pale blue or purple 15)Baptisia, 2-3’ blue or dark dark purple 16) Honeysuckle


1) Butterfly bush (large silvery green 2) Echinacea – (1-2’, orange, pink) 3) Black-eyed Susans (1-2’) 4) Monarda aka Bee Balm, (2-3’ red or purple) 5) Hydrangea shrubby tree, goes white-to-pink 6) Hyssop ( 3’ blue-purple) 7) Hollyhock (3-5’ lots of colors)


1) Asters (Tall, purple or fuschia) 2) Daisies (2-3’) 3) Butterfly weed (orange) , 6″ 4) Tall phlox


1) mums, ugh 2) Bridal Bower Clematis (white) 3) Annuals (cheating but what can you do, it’s fall) 4) Shasta Daisies (tall, white, thick and green for the whole summer) Also, they smell kinda bad 5) Perennial verbena 6) Heliopsis (yellow sunflower types)