Marina Bay Garden Diary

(January 2011) I hate to trim my garden. I can handle tip pinching, but the wholesale mayhem of cutting plants almost to the ground – no way. I work months to get my plants to grow big and strong, then Winter comes and, like some possessed ax murderer, I’m supposed to cut them all back to pathetic stumps, so I can start all over again in the Spring. What sense is there in that?

Then there is the even harder act of taking a plant that you have slaved over for months and forcing yourself to admit that it is a helpless cause. The plant has to go.

Tough love. Maybe it’s easy for professional gardeners to hack away, but me – I have a hard time bringing out the garden shears, much less the shovel. I grow things, not kill things.


Fuschia Nettala


Enough whining. Winter is winding down and it’s time.

We’ll start with the Fuchsia Nettala. It’s become a fantastic center piece of the garden, sending out deep red flowers for six months. But it’s now January and it’s lost most of its leaves and only a few, forlorn flowers remain. It’s time to cut. Or is it? I spent hours on the Web looking for advice as to when and how much to cut – with no luck. In desperation I went to Annie’s Annuals (where I had bought the Nettala almost a year ago) and asked for help. Janine and Annie couldn’t have been more helpful. The instructions were simple – cut them to knee length and do it now.

Marching orders in hand, out came the shears and I cut away.

Trimmed Fuschia

Now comes the uncomfortable period of waiting. Was I too ruthless? It will be months before I know.

Man, I hope this works. I’ll keep the diary for the Netalla updated on the progress.

Next project – the Salvia Dorisiana. No doubt, it is a fascinating plant, especially the citrus/pineapple smell given off by the leaves. When you cut a branch and disturb the leaves, the whole garden is consumed with a striking aroma.

The problem – it flowers only intermittently and it’s large – spreading to 5′ tall by 4′ wide. It just doesn’t fit within a small cottage garden. I hate to do it, but it needs to go.

Now, what do I put in it’s place?


(September, 2010) My original intent with the garden was to only grow flowers. I figured that I just didn’t have the space for fruits or vegetables. That changed when I dropped by Annie’s Annuals in the Spring and saw an assortment of various tomatoes that were adapted for the colder summers we have close to the Coast. On a whim I bought an semi-determinate tomato called ‘Spike’ partly because of its interesting color – black with green stripes.

I’ve not been completely successful caring for ‘Spike’ during the past few months and I really did not have any high expectations based on the difficult growing climate for heat loving tomatoes. But after 5 months in the container ‘Spike’ is producing like gangbusters and reminding yet again of the surprises you can find with gardening.

Tomato 'Spike' (9/8/10)

(August, 2010) I’m usually a very forgiving gardener. If a plant does not do well, I’m quick to blame myself and give the plant a second, third, fourth … chance. I’ve kept sickly plants around for years trying to find a way to coax a flower or two from them. I also spend an inordinate amount of time moving plants from one place to the other to find a location where they will thrive. I will do anything to keep from having to rip out plants.

What I did not realize is that my new garden does not promote patience or forgiveness. With a limited amount of space and most of the plants sitting right outside my windows, there are limited opportunities to hide my mistakes. It is as if every plant is in the spotlight. While in the past I would have easily lived with a plant that produced only a few inconspicuous flowers or tried to tolerate an aggressive spreading shrub that did not play well with others, I find that I no longer can be so forgiving. Either the plant performs spectacularly or out it goes.

A good example is the Salvia dorisiana that I planted against the garden fence. I had had some success with Salvia coccinea in my Florida butterfly garden, and I thought I could repeat the experience here in Richmond with another Salvia. I was also intrigued by the lemon/pineapple scent given off by the leaves of this Salvia. I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in giving garden tours to friends and telling them to tear off a leaf, crush it in their fingers and then smell their hand. I love to see the surprise on their faces.

The problem is that the this variety of Salvia is far too large for the garden. I had expected that it would be a subtle backdrop along the fence that would highlight  the smaller, more colorful flowers that I planted in front. Instead, it has overpowered all of its neighbors and disrupted the perspective. I tried tip pinching to control its height, but with little success.

Salvia dorisiana

Salvia dorisiana

I’ll likely rip this plant out at the end of the season. It has seized a significant portion of the garden without producing many flowers or providing any significant visual effect. It would likely do well in a larger garden, especially beside a path where people could easily pick off a leaf. However, I don’t have the luxury of enough space to accommodate it. I will have to stifle my belief that all plants should be given every chance to survive and rip it out like a cold executioner.

I also planted another Salvia – the Salvia vanhouttei with similar results. It now stands 4 – 5′ tall and blocks out part of the view from the dining room. With only a few flowers and an open, spindly growth, it takes up far too much room for such a sparse producer. It will also disappear this Fall.

Salvia vanhouttei

Salvia vanhouttei

Finally, there is the Campanula primulifolia. I have no complaints about the flowers. It has sent out enormous stalks with beautiful purple flowers. But as with several of the larger plants in my garden, it is a constant battle to keep the long stems upright in the constant wind that flows through this area in the Summer. I’ve tried staking and yards of  garden tape with only moderate success. In a larger garden with tamer winds this plant would do exceptionally well, but in my garden its days are numbered.

Campanula primulifolia

Campanula primulifolia

(July, 2010) One of the hard lessons I’ve learned this year is that I’m not good with subtle. BOLD – yes. Subtle – no. I just can’t deal well with soft pastel colors like peach or pink. I just don’t have the eye to combine them properly and most of them get lost in the chatter of primary colors that dominate the garden.


Verbascum hybrid ‘Southern Charm’

Verbascum hybrid ‘Southern Charm’

Take the verbascum hybrid ‘Southern Charm’. It has beautiful, subtle pink blooms on 2′ to 3′ stalks. What did I do with it? I planted it against a white picket fence and surrounded it with deep blue and red flowers, such as the delphinium belladonna ‘Bellamosum’.

The result was a hodgepodge of colors with the verbascum fading into the background.

Granted, there is not a lot of continuity or symmetry in my garden right now as I experiment with all the endless possibilities. But it is becoming clearer that I’m more comfortable with deep reds and blues along with stark whites and bright yellows. So the delphinium will definitely be back next year in greater numbers, but the verbascum will likely be thrown out.

Delphinium belladonna ‘Bellamosum'

Delphinium belladonna ‘Bellamosum' (5/20/2010)

Then there are the “weird” colors, the ones that just stand out too much. The begonia boliviensis to the left has a profusion of startlingly bright orange blooms that invite you to pick up the pot and see the flowers up close. There is no way I can put this flower in an arrangement with other plants. First, I have no idea what plants would complement this begonia and, even if I did have the color sense, I’m sure the plant would completely overwhelm anything near it.

In this case I’m happy to put the begonia on a pedestal and show it off as a specimen flower to be admired on its own.

Begonia boliviensis

Begonia boliviensis (July 13, 2010)

(July, 2010) Yesterday morning I dropped off some letters in the mailbox and then walked back to my home. I stopped for a moment at the garden gate to admire the fuchsia I planted beside the fence (see “Wow” below). I casually put my hand on top of a fence post and just stood quietly looking at the flowers.  After awhile I noticed a small green hummingbird feeding on the fuchsia blooms a few feet away.  To my amazement the bird slowly made its way towards me until it was happily feeding on some flowers right in front of me. For about fifteen seconds the hummingbird was flying inches from my hand, so close I could feel the wind from its wings.

And again I am reminded that there is far more to gardening than just pretty flowers or fresh vegetables.

Fuchsia 'Nettala'

Fuchsia 'Nettala'

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