Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Oops! in the Garden 2022

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What a lollapalooza of a year for garden challenges…frequent and strong winds, torrential downpours (rather than soft showers), a constant brigade of bunnies, and a new blight on the horizon that could have a devastating impact on our Newport landscapes. This annual blog is always a bit of a tell-all confessional but even I am overwhelmed by the big “events” this year.

Where to start?… Last November, our 175 year old female Gingko (seen to the right in the above feature image), branches laden with 1″ seed pods, went down in the Woodland Garden during a wind storm (fortunately, in the opposite direction of the Orangerie, below).

It took with it a multitude of plantings — a large cherry tree, old rhododendrons, clusters of hostas, and smaller specimens trees, leaving gaping holes which we are still trying to fill in a summer short on some horticultural selections.

Not celebrating yet…Having suffered through a number of years where coyotes were becoming a presence even on Bellevue Avenue, we found ourselves without them this summer (where they went, nobody knows). But it has taught us a lesson on the topic of the food chain. Suddenly, a whole raft of critters have no predator, starting with deer, and ending with voles and bunnies…who are now sunbathing on our lawn between flower foraging.

They munch the top off our spring tulips and pull out plantings at will. And the deer (despite all our measures) work on the larger plant areas, leaving us few options except to keep the everchanging garden neat and tidy.

We’ve resorted to an attractive temporary “fix”…replacing the empty spots with large pots of complimentary plant material.

Caught in the act…Just a few hours after planting our young specimen Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ in this prominent site along the driveway, I sighted a deer about to munch away on this beauty’s lower branches. I quickly gathered the team and threw up a temporary deer net around her.

We’ve formalized it to look a bit like a “pavilion,” in which it will probably be encased for years to come.

The “gift” that keeps on giving… While I adore that we inherited such stately old trees when we bought this property in 1994, one has proven to be quite the headache — the English little-leafed linden. It secretes a sticky sap that covers and discolors anything under it — from cars to hostas, which in my novice days I planted throughout the woodland area. This is especially annoying in the summer when I love using hosta leaves as alternates to floral arrangements.

Speaking of hostas…some animal has carried in an almost undefinable disease that is rotting their roots, forcing us to dig out the 3′ wide plants peppering the woodland. And we can’t replant until we’ve thoroughly carried out a lengthy sterilization of the area.

A mere shadow of her former self…We tree lovers have a saying…if Newport were a tree it would be a beech. Just a month ago we all learned that the “Beech Leaf Disease” has invaded our town and there is currently no cure! It is an understatement to say that it could have a devastating impact on the landscapes we hold dear. This 30 year old copper beech was planted specifically in this location as a backdrop to our formal garden and to be seen so clearly from both floors of our home. Her deep copper color and majestic full canopy make/made such a statement, as well as being a perfect backdrop to the Parterre Bench. She’s clearly not well…

Ending on a high note…Despite what may be transpiring in my blogs, I always want to close with a positive thought. Our 23 year old ‘Hally Jolivette’ 4 cherries struggled with scale for years (despite all the efforts of our professional landscape service)! My wonderful gardener, Kat Cotta, took matters into her own hands and spent two weeks cutting out dead and infected branches, thinning the canopy to allow for sun and air circulation. Hallelujah! They have greened up and, fingers crossed, we can enjoy their shell pink blooms for another 23 years.

Hope your garden “oopsies” haven’t been too sobering this summer…

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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".

16 thoughts on “Oops! in the Garden 2022

  1. Oh, Bettie, this is distressing to read on so many levels. Your valiant efforts will hopefully be rewarded with a successful rescue of your beautiful landscapes. I, as I believe all others, are cheering you on.

  2. Dear Bettie, your columns are the highlight of the day when reading, your gardens are simply fabulous! I hope one day to visit your beautiful Rhode Island & see the stunning views!

  3. JUST NOW, THIS VERY MOMENT…I AM CHASING DEER…AGAIN!!! Eight of them eating my hydrangea…more of my hydrangea…I spray ‘n spray, Miracle Gro…I’ve been using “bubble wrap poppers” to chase them…they “look at me.” Gardening…”was” my tranquil time…nevrmore said the raven, nevermore. franki

  4. Deer, bears, bunnies, and boxwood blight-UGH-have been my personal battle in the garden. I do believe the Plant Kingdom is having its own Pandemic. Bettie, the Garden Gods are not being very kind to garden lovers this year. It seems as though your exquisite Parterre is being enjoyed by the Animal Kingdom in all aspects. I know you are fighting a garden war. You are our Garden General and I know you will fight the good fight and through your intense research and “armaments,” will keep your troops informed as to how you fight your battles. I shall mourn the loss of that magnificent Ginkgo tree with you and pray you can save the beech tree. Hallelujah on the cherry tree win and soldier on!

  5. Not the beeches! What a marvel they are. Hope there is some remediation available. The trees are one of the highlights of our annual trip to Newport. There’s some stunners at The Elms.

  6. Thank you so much for being so transparent. I was beginning to think it was just me lol my plants just don’t look like their beautiful selves this year and I honestly have no clue why. I also have rodents digging tunnels everywhere and Nothing stops them. Thankfully so far I haven’t lost a plant? That I know of. But they do look rough. More than likely most people would just pull them out. I can’t afford that. Anyway, I’m praying next year will be better.
    My condolences on the loss of the tree and all the “oopsies” 🙃 thanks for soldiering on. Your gardens are magnificent 😍

  7. Utterly devastating to any gardener lovers heart! That is such a shame, all of it. It’s like a dismemberment of a beloved part of yourself, one wrench after the other.
    Losing that 175 year old magnificent ginkgo would have made me cry. Then critters enjoying your garden as a buffet; a disease for which there is no cure. augggggggh.
    Will your city codes allow you to put up a 6’6″ high pretty fence or stacked stone wall of some kind all the way around your property? That will prevent the deer from entering your garden if your driveway gate is also tall.
    Sturdy gopher cages for any new plants should keep the gophers from eating their roots. Not sure if it also prevents the voles.
    Are the deer leaving the roses alone?
    Glad that Kay was able to save the cherries!

  8. Bette,
    As an introduction I’m a dear friend of Ruthie Watts and read your blog religiously. It’s wonderful and brings so much happiness. Thank you for every posting. I wanted to tell you. Though I have gardened here
    in Brookhaven for 50 years I have never had deer in my garden until 2021. They shared off all the tops of my just budding out Annabel hydrangeas, moved on to sever the tops off of my beloved phlox and started in on some hostas. All in one night!! It was critical immediately find a solution or they would be back the next day. Happening on a product called Liquid Fence was great luck. It worked miracles! The deer never came back! This year I started early before things started to bloom with great success……no damage. I use the liquid concentrated form mixed up in a gallon plastic pump spray can.
    You need to make 2 maybe 3 applications the first round and then maybe one more several weeks later for safety sake. The good news is that it’s rain proof so you don’t have to keep spraying and spraying all summer. You will find it very effective.
    On another note I feel your all
    your oops!! We gardeners here in Atlanta have had to battle the heartbreaking boxwood blight that’s been raging for several years. Some of my 63 boxwoods had been affected. It’s taken diligent attention but hopefully it seems to be under control now.
    Good luck with all your latest oopsses. Gardening is not for sissy’s!😅 That’s for sure! Your efforts are not in vain and your inspirational and gorgeous blog is such a joy to your readers.
    Thank you! 😊Martha Stobbs

  9. Scale – I have a 5 year old lemon tree in a pot that was always bothered by scale. I read that ants carry it, and to prevent it put Vaseline at the bottom 2 inches of the trunk. Not having Vaseline, I used Vics vapour rub. It worked!
    Vancouver, BC

  10. I’m so sorry you lost your 175 year old Gingko. Over Christmas of 2021 I lost a gorgeous old oak. It just gave up the ghost and fell over. We’ve lost many old trees here due to years of drought in California. I am not expert, but I believe the trees kind of dry out inside, then when we have a rainstorm, that dry interior becomes soggy and they just keel over.

    After many futile attempts to fight off the deer, I finally fenced my property. They used to congregate and bring their babies onto my back hill, and I loved seeing them, but did not love the destruction they did to my garden. I felt rather sad and selfish, as I have a natural creek that separates my back yard from my forested hillside, and it was a perfect little sanctuary for them. I do feel somewhat envious that you have rabbits, Bettie. I love all animals and wildlife, but I’ve yet to see a rabbit in my yard.

  11. Hello Betti, Hills & Dales Estate, known for its boxwood mottos, GOD IS LOVE and ST CALLAWAY just two of many, has not escaped all the above mentioned travesties this year, the worst being boxwood blight! Everything known to man, which is very little, was done to prevent the disease from entering our gates but to no avail. It made its way and settled in the Church Garden, of all places! That area continues to be roped off to visitors for treatment, once again very little known to man. BUT, the silent killer has been contained. Another significant loss for the garden and staff is our horticultural manager of 28 years, Jo Phillips. Jo came to work in the garden at H&DE under Alice Callaway’s tutelage and became manager when Mrs. Callaway departed this world in 1998. Each of the four caregivers of this garden has been a women of deep spiritual character and an enduring love for this place; we are counting on another such person to make her entrance soon.
    Come visit us when you come again down to Georgia. Suellen

  12. Reading this article and the comments has convinced me that the malaise I have been experiencing this summer has been shared by others. This was to have been the third blooming season for an extensive drift of the Siloam Double Classic daylilies surrounding an Annabelle hydrangea that had finally overcome a too dry shaded area by the removal of an overhanging pine. All the plants were profusely budded and I was very excitedly anticipating the effect of all of those melon-colored blossoms. EVERY stem was stripped bare overnight and the hydrangea was reduced to a bundle of sticks. I know, I know, it does little good to indulge in anger, disappointment, sadness, or self pity; however, somehow, it fills some void to commiserate with fellow gardeners who understand precisely this mixture of emotions!!!!

  13. I hate to hear about losing trees, shrubs, or plants. Gardening is never ending work because of critters and disease. I’ve had my “oops” over the years. You have to truly love a beautiful garden!!

  14. Dearest Bettie,
    I am so upset over your beautiful gardens! You have always taken such special care of the lovely property and this has to be a big disappointment in your life. I wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you and knowing you, you will be back at work with real gusto!
    I thought the tour you gave of your lovely home was marvelous. I was so happy to see the bedroom I have stayed in and enjoyed so much. I didn’t know you stored the party tables and chairs in those closets, a grand idea.
    Please know that
    Many people have mentioned to me how upset they are about what has happened, but knowing you, you are hard at work already planning and replanting.
    It was wonderful to read Ruthie’s comment.
    Please take good care,

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