Weekend Gardener Project: Perennial Border 
Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 12:06PM
Raven Nightshado

This weekend, we decided to do something about the craptastic border on the perennial bed, “before”southwest side of the house. There has always been a bed there, bordered with a low rock wall. However, since I’ve lived in The Dalles—going on 20 years—this bed has held nothing except weeds and cat poo. Here is how we changed that. To see full-sized pictures, just click the small picture.

Prep Work

The bed size is about 3’ x 15’. Here it is yesterday morning, with friendly, happy weeds living out their fruitless lives. The bed has some shade in the morning, and comes into full sun from 10:00 am to around 3:00 pm. I consider this a “full sun” bed, because even though it does get morning and evening shade, it sits in full sun during the hottest hours of the day. Nothing will do here except plants that are drought-tolerant and thrive in full sun. The plants also need to be able to tolerate our schizophrenic climate. We’re zone 7a on the USDA Hardiness Map, which means we get about a total of 15” of rain per year, which all falls from November to March—when it’s not snowing, snow in winter—when it’s not raining, baking hot sun in summer, and wind that rips the shingles off roofs all year round. Sensitive plants do not do well over here on the wrong side of the mountain.

The first step was to clear the bed. We pulled some stuff by hand, but this soil hadn’t been touched by anything but wild animals, dandelions, and household pets for decades. We were going to need some soil improvement and a lot of digging.

We decided to use our little Mantis tiller to churn up the bed. The area was way too small for the full sized rototiller, and I’m too lazy practical for hand-digging. The Mantis started right up! WOW! Now I’m working with heavy machinery. Look out world. Or at least, soil.


“closed” end“open” end

Mantis mini tiller

I made a couple of shallow passes, just to take the top layers off and break up the weeds. I raked those off, along with a lovely pile of rocks that we will be using in next weekend’s garden project.





One thing we seem to grow well over here is rocks. Wa kept saying “This soil is all sand. Why are there so many rocks in it?” I told him it’s because we’re Irish. “Where Irishmen go, rocks will grow.” That’s an ancient Irish proverb I just made up.

After a few shallow passes, I spread two bags of steer manure/compost mix over the bed and made my deep passes with the Mantis, tilling down to about 10” and mixing the manure and compost in as I went. When I made my final passes, I started at the “closed” end, near the fence, and put the Mantis down to its full depth and dragged it backwards like a plow. Three passes like that churned up the full bed, and I raked everything flat.

after tilling

Plant Choices

I decided to do the bed in yellows and purples. I find that if you’re trying to fill a small space, using complementary colors works well, because they pop so much. Yellow-blue, purple-orange, and red-green are all the major complementary color schemes, but if you want to branch out from that, or just have a little more variety, you can do split-complementary. That would be yellow, red-violet, blue violet; orange, blue-violet, blue green; and red, blue-green, yellow-green. The color wheel is your friend!


ROYGBIV and friends

The plants I chose that fit my color scheme, zone, and drought tolerance/soil needs were:

Coreopsis grandiflora “sunfire”
Achillea (yarrow) “moonshine”
Echinacea purpurea “little magnus”

Salvia nemorosa “ostfriesland”
Veronica (speedwell) “inspire blue”
Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)


basic placementWe chose our spots for plants and started digging holes. Thanks to Wa for help digging! He hates it, but he’s super good at it. Way better than me. By this time, it was 10 am, and we were in the sun. It decided to be 90 degrees yesterday, with 30-40 mph winds, so it was nice and cool out in the front yard, but in the side yard where we were blocked from the wind, it was extra hot.
Go home, coreopsis, you’re drunk!
The cats were of no help whatsoever, per usual. They mostly just sat around supervising our actions. I tried to get them to at least dig some holes, but they were having none of it, and laid around in the neighbor’s grass, peering at Wa and I through the fence instead. Lazy buggers!

After watering in, we were too hot and tired to complete the project right then, so we went in for lunch. I should have come out to finish in the afternoon, but I was too lazy busy to do so. Instead, we went on to other, indoor activities that wouldn’t keep us out in 90 degree heat, and got up early the next morning to finish.

 Finishing Touches

We went out on Sunday morning to get another yarrow and two more veronica to fill areas that were sparse. A coat of topdressing in the form of brown mulch completed the project. Total time: 4 hours. Total cost $200. Well spent, I think.

~before~And done!

I hosed off the brick walkway. We’ve ordered bricks to complete it, and I’ll be working on the other end of this bed next weekend, when I’m going to complete the rock wall, extend the bed on the other side of the concrete slab, and try some container gardening on the concrete slab between.



Article originally appeared on thedeadpoets.org - official site of the U.S. band, and the endeavors of its members,Wa Conner and Jessica Griffin-Conner (http://www.thedeadpoets.org/).
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