If at First You Don’t Suc(seed)

In 2020, we shared with you the story of a client who wanted her grass lawn replaced with perennials. She is interested in native plants and sustainability. Transforming her space from grass to perennials was one of the first two projects of this kind for Art of Stone Gardening.

The Plan

The plan for the Baskin project was a beautiful one by Scott McLendon (our architect). It included a number of plants such as Aster, spiked speedwell (Veronica spicata), and Coreopsis, all colorful natives that thrive in heat and humidity. Their inability to thrive was a telltale that let us know we needed to revisit this project. The cool, wet growing season of 2021 showed us what plants died and which ones thrived.

In addition to rain, deer play an unexpected role in the equation. Unlike most of us, this client loves all the animals that visit her yard and actually likes seeing the deer eating her plants! She may enjoy watching them munching in her garden, but she – and we – don’t want them to eat everything. So, we will replant a little here and there as we see what comes up this spring. Most plants hate to sit in water and will die if they do. Our plan is to replant with deer resistant plants that can tolerate wet feet.

An example: Coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is drought tolerant and deer resistant, but it does not tolerate wet feet. Most of the tickseed we planted in this client’s front yard died. We tilled the soil and added Mr. Natural®’s CLM (Complete Landscape Mix) an organic soil amendment that is pre-mixed and specifically designed for growing a wide variety of plants in our Southern clay soils. 

CLM contains “slow release organic components derived from both Mr. Natural® Hen Manure Compost and Mr. Natural® Worm Castings, and excellent soil drainage from Permatill® Expanded Slate and coarse, natural, quartzite river sand (washed).” An additional plus for CLM is that Mr. Natural® is located in Lumpkin County!

Permatill® Expanded Slate, an element in CLM, is a very, very good soil amendment, which helps with poorly draining sites. Normally. The summer of 2021 was not “normal”.

Try Again

In keeping with the original plan for the garden, the plants we selected were perennials. The plants return year after year, building a community and limiting the amount of labor required to maintain the garden.

We initially planted the garden in fall 2020. These pictures are from July 2021. You can see some empty spaces in the pictures, which is where the coreopsis was.

This view of the garden shows its proximity to the woods, from whence the deer come, and the low grade of the layout. The yellow blooming plant is black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida). It may or may not come back. The deer like them but they are prolific re-seeders so hopefully they will regerminate. Seed heads not eaten by the deer are a food source for birds in the fall and winter.
This bright, sunny view of the garden show two of the plants that did well, shasta daisy (white), and native bee balm (red). Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) is attractive to butterflies and is deer resistant. It likes sun and moist to occasionally dry soil. This cheerful, old-fashioned flower works well for flower arranging, blooming for many weeks in mid to late summer.

Even though I prefer using native plants, in this case, planting for the site conditions was of greater importance. One really important thing to note when planting – especially in low lying or poorly draining areas is something that my local nursery has on their t-shirt: “Plant it high, it thrives; Plant it low, it dies.” If a plant is planted below ground level or it sinks below ground level, water can fill in and the plant will die. We always plant high and bring the native soil up around the plant’s roots (1”above ground). Of course, this is all flexible because some plants like it wet!


For the Baskin project, these plants did well:

  • bee balm
  • bluestar
  • juncus grass
  • butterfly weed
  • iris
One of the native perennials, bee balm (Monarda), which comes in rose, red and lavender, did quite well. A member of the mint family, bee balms are great plants for attracting pollinators. They prefer even moisture during the growing season and full sun. An added perk, the flowers and leaves can be used for tea or added to salads. It ranks moderate in deer and rabbit resistance.
red Monarda
pink Monarda
Another native, bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), prefers medium to moist soils in light shade. A spring and early summer bloomer, the blossoms give way to pod-like fruits followed by exciting fall color of bright golden yellow. It grows in airy but dense clumps that can become fairly wide but do not spread. With its quiet color blooms, bluestar sets off more showy plants in the landscape. It is resistant to deer and other herbivores.
While thought by some to be a weed, juncus grass, rush or wire grass, (Juncus effusus) is an architecturally showy perennial that is low maintenance.  A native on several continents, juncus grass adapts to a range of growing conditions but thrives in heavy wet soils in full sun to part shade. Typically found in thickets and swamps, juncus is unpalatable to deer and other herbivores and works well as a ground cover or to provide volume and height to the landscape.
Butterfly Weed, (Asclepias tuberosa) did surprisingly well. It is the most famous in the native milkweed family and is a magnet for pollinators, including monarch butterflies. It takes a couple of years to establish and is best left in place due to its deep taproot. Butterfly weed prefers rocky, loose soil in full sun, and it is drought tolerant, yet it did well in the Baskin garden. Because it takes a few years to bloom a good practice is to mark it when planted.
This showy yet delicate perennial, the Siberian iris (Iris siberica), blooms in May and June. Resistant to deer and rabbits, the Siberian iris can be used as a border plant as its slim, lush foliage is attractive even when not in bloom. The foliage often turns to yellow or orange in the fall. It is a moisture loving plant that thrives wherever soil is evenly moist. “Growing from rhizomes that will spread, over time your iris will form a beautiful clump of blooms.” (North Carolina State Extension
Japanese Iris (Iris ensata) bloom later than Siberian iris and therefore extend the color and beauty of iris in the garden into mid and late summer. Instead of a fuzzy beard, this iris has a distinctive yellow spot to guide pollinators. It is adaptable, preferring a damp location and can be grown in a mixed border or in a mass planting. Excellent for cutting and deer resistant, the low level of toxicity in the flower, stem and root needs to be considered when pets are present.

Working on the Baskin garden has been a learning experience for us, as are many of our projects. Solving problems and creating solutions is much of what our work is about. We will report again on this transitional garden. In the meantime, try, try again! Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

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