Design, In the Garden


Oops! in the Garden

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This annual post has proven to be as much a confessional as it is a reality check, always prompting me to remember that without these learning experiences there couldn’t be a garden. I’m sure you’ve all had those “if I’d only known then what I know now…” moments. But again, it’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of watching every little detail of each plant’s cycle of life.

I’ve so enjoyed the practical and understated elegance of pruned globes of evergreens clustered in groupings (in the same containers). A somewhat new trend in the design world, even at a side entrance they add a touch of “attention to details.”

Oops #1: Of course, boxwood was our choice (as shown below). But now faced with the horrid blight, we gardeners are all looking for substitutions for this favorite evergreen that lends itself so well to shaping. We’re trying out Holly ‘Beehive’ and have been very satisfied with it so far!

My favorite flowers of all — peonies, on which I had planned a blog — were looking so sad I had no current images to use!

Oops #2: No, Bettie, you cannot keep adding peonies to the already jammed beds and expect them to stay healthy. Solution? Move the beds from the cutting garden to new, larger beds on the back courtyard lawn (one of the first cautions regarding peonies is not to put a new plant in a former peony spot).

A tree lover (and beeches especially), I was thrilled that one of the key features of our first garden plans was an extravagant crescent hedge of copper beeches. So Newport! (Though I should have wondered why no one else had one…)

Oops #3: There were hiccoughs from the start…an unusually high percent of them came from the nursery with girdled roots and succumbed within 3 to 5 years; the others grew so fast we hardly noticed that they were getting awfully tall; the leaves are too large to provide a neat cut and therefore, never looked tended and tidy. Finally, the expense of pruning and shaping an 18′ tall hedge of beeches became astronomical. It was removed this past spring.

My future is looking very rosy as I threw caution to the winds and planted 13 (my lucky number) rose bushes in the freed up space in the cutting garden; heretofore, I only had a few positioned around the property as design elements (i.e. gracing the metal arch at the wall posts).

Oops #4: Why was I agonizing over the maintenance headaches with roses and denying myself their breathtaking beauty and aroma throughout the house all these years?? I’m a girl in love! Especially when it comes to the romantic English cabbage rose style…the higher the petal count, the better.

Hydrangeas are a “must-have” on any Newport property, and we honored this by giving them the perfect spot dressing up the guest parking area.

Oops #5: Though blue is not a color I normally use when decorating I kept giving them another chance to behave…but they were AWOL when it came to blooming, especially these past few years with wonky weather conditions. I’m taking out the Nikkos and installing ‘Endless Summer’ instead. They’re not called ‘Endless” for nothing, showing off the progress in hybridizationt of new and improved cultivars.

Photo Credit: Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport

I’m renewing an earlier affection with salvias and the other August/September annuals that are so enthusiastically colorful in my cutting garden. Looking forward to using the cutting garden as such, not a catchall.

Oops #6: For the first twenty years of the garden’s life I dutifully used the cutting garden for trialing so many plants…not honoring my own advice about every plant being able to “sing for its supper” as a flower for arranging.

And speaking of “singing for its supper…” the 60-foot ‘Limelight’ hydrangea hedge separating the Winter Garden from the Orangerie parterres is a long-anticipated early fall bloomer. Dare I say she’s downright sexy when the wind is blowing and she’s swaying and dancing in an almost provocative fashion (watch her perform on my Instagram page @PrivateNewport).

Oops #7: This specific spot has received a lot of attention (and maybe more thought and dollars than deserved), but such is the plight of one besotted with this “child.” While the ‘Limelight’ stays white much longer than an earlier hydrangea we had tried, it is impossible as a cut flower. Can you imagine the frustration of looking at these blousy beauties? And, finding that they don’t last longer in a vase than 18 hours…try as hard as I might!

I close with probably one of the signature plantings of our garden, the two matched pairs of cherries ‘Hally Jolivette’ in front of the Orangerie. I try to organize my travel schedule just to be here when they burst out in mid-April.

Oops #8: The fact that they are standards (with trunks that grow in width every time they’re pruned…who knew?) is part of their specimen candidacy. But it also means that they are more delicate and fragile. For the last five years they have been struggling with a fungus disease. It was touch and go for awhile, trying to maintain them while honoring our commitment to organic practices. But we can now safely give them a good interior thinning out, which will facilitate healing air moving through them. Fingers crossed for the next 20 years!

As we close the garden for the season, I’d like to give a well deserved shout out to the garden’s major domo, Kathleen Cotta. For eleven years she has been planting, pruning, digging and moving, nursing plants along without a greenhouse, pulling off the unthinkable, and all in all, finessing the Ooops! I wouldn’t have these beautiful images without all her hard work and dedication! Thank you, dear Kat Kat.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

14 thoughts on “Oops! in the Garden

  1. I too, am a hydrangea lover and am especially fond of Limelights. When I cut mine, I immerse the WHOLE flower, head first, into room temperature water. They can stay for minutes, hours and sometimes, I’ve left them over night. Remove from water, shake well and let dry before arranging. And that’s it…I do nothing to the stems and my flowers last until they dry on their own.

    This works here in Virginia and I hope it works for you too! Just make sure the flower cut is a mature bloom. Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Anna, for your kind suggestion. I think I”ve tried that hydrangea conditioning method also, but in appreciation for your comment, I will give it another. They are truly so gorgeous and the cool weather is keeping them white. FIngers crossed!! Happy Gardening, xB

  2. Thank you for sharing the fact the balance of planting often gets interrupted in the world of horticulture! I am dealing with a much smaller piece of property but have still run into a # of “oops” along the way. Your garden is still electrifying despite some of the issues you have encountered. I am especially relieved that you “hung in there” with those two beautiful cherry trees in front of your Orangerie. Kudos to your dedication and cheers to the loyalty of your knowledgable and skillful gardener Kathleen Cotta!

    1. Thank you, Evelyn, for taking the time to chat with me. Your comment has reminded me of a garden visitor, who said to me as I started the “If you’d only been here last week” aria, “”I only see what is, only you see what isn’t.” It put gardening, and sharing the garden, in a very different perspective for me. And yes, there was only one way to go with my beloved 4 matched cherries…hanging in there. I will happily pass your kind words along to Kat! Happy Gardening, xB

  3. An ode to a garden and gardener- how delicious. Your garden always seems so perfect, I never knew the “duck paddling” that had been done prior to my arrivals.

    Cheers to YOU, Bettie, and Kathleen, as you bring such joy to the world.🌳🌿🍀

    1. Oh, many mercis, dear Ruthie from both of us. You are so kind not to have commented on my “duck paddling” state of sanity when coming for a stay.
      So looking forward to our trip. I shall call you AFTER the 11th. Bon Appetit!! xB

  4. As the proud but somewhat overwhelmed owner of 58 Virginia acres, your blog is heartening. My ground has steep hills and lots of rock but I plant what I can where I can. This was the lace cap year, last year was the mountain laurel year and the year before that were the apple trees. Next I’m planing on espalier pears in front of a rock wall. So for there are no “ops”. But i am braced for the inevitable. Please know that your garden is simply beautiful. Ann

    1. Hi Ann, oh my, 58 acres…You are stalwart! May the oops be far off, or at the least, manageable. I have found them to come in all sizes and degrees of resolution.
      Onward and upward. Happy Gardening, xB

  5. I gave up on Endless Summer Hydrangeas because every year we’d get hit with last frosts in the spring and it would kill of their early blooms. I was left with the 2nd blooming but it didn’t amount to much. I am curious why you said not to plant another plant in a spot where peonies had been? I moved three this fall and was planning on putting something where they had been.
    Your gardens are lovely even with the “oops”!

    1. Hi Liz, lovely to be sharing comments with you…and learning something along the way. As for the peonies, it is another peony that shouldn’t be planted where another had been. Planting other plants is not a problem.Google peonies and planting notes for a more detailed explanation. Happy gardening! xB

    1. Yes, those struggles “sometimes” deserve to be disclosed. They are a part of the whole experience of gardening and I well know how reassuring it is to know the unvarnished truth!
      We do not struggle alone…Happy Fall, xB

  6. Bettie-

    Ok – time to confess – what are those MAGNIFICENT blue flowers under the rose urns in oops #3? Can they survive a New England winter? And ditto for the salvia in #5. I’ve never seen a variety that tall nor saturated in tone.

    As for the limelights, my trick is to cut, change the water and give a fresh feed every 3rd day. Spritzing the blooms with plain water each day is a must. They last a week. It is a picture of autumn with diablo ninebark and zebra grass.

    1. Hello Lauren, If you mean the roses on the arch (Ooops #3) those are ‘Betty Corning’ clematis, a perennial. The salvia ‘Indigo Spires’, is a long blooming annual.
      Thanks for the tips on my Limelights! Cheers, xB

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