Rubber-Neckin’ to Come

You know what rubber-neckers are, don’t you? Streeeeeetching their necks to see all that can be seen as they drive by an interesting sight. They are typically referred to as the cause of slowing traffic as it passes by a wreck. Twist that connotation around a bit, please, and think of rubber necking at a garden as you drive by. Yes, you have! I know you’ve rubber-necked at a garden. (Maybe it was a wreck of a garden!) That’s what I’m aiming for in my new yard at the former Madison County Jail in Winterset. Unfortunately, I’m still mostly aiming. (In case you’re not familiar with our move, you can see more about our 1903 county jail in Winterset, Iowa, at

Surrounded by gravel, baked by the sun, and less than a foot of top soil over gravel.

Slowly. Much too slowly. Starting a new garden from scratch is taking much longer than I would like, but I keep reminding myself of the lessons of patience that I have already learned. I’ve heard it said–and I do believe it’s true–that you should live with a new home landscape for a year before digging in.  We moved here in November, and the growing season has barely begun. I have already ‘dug in’ a bit, but I am thinking hard about what I’d like my new gardens and yard to look like.

The shady side with a little morning sun. Nice!

So, here’s the situation: I have two extremes of garden siting and conditions. One side of the ‘house’ is where the exercise yard of the jail was situated. There is little open garden space, and what is there has only a few inches of soil over several feet of pea gravel. The other side of the house has a traditional lawn under shady trees and deep, loamy soil. Sounds like the best of all possible options, but having many options seems to make it harder for me to decide what to plant with my limited time and dollars.

The gravelly soil will become my new herb garden, which works out well because I sell herb plants at Applehurst, and this will help people see what their little 4″ pots grow up to be. As for the lawn side of the house, I’ll be able to have the shade garden that I’ve always wanted. As for the shade area, there are so many possibilities! Goat’s beard (Aruncus), Astilbe – the tall ones, such as ‘Bressingham Beauty’, Heuchera– also the tall ones, such as H. americana ‘Dale’s Strain’, Ligularia, and snow-on-the-mountain (Aegopodium). Ferns of many kinds, hostas, even a mossy garden will work here. Yummy!

You should head to yoga class now to prepare. Don’t want you to miss a thing as you drive by next summer!


2 thoughts on “Rubber-Neckin’ to Come

  1. I too have a gravel yard at my Galveston house. For the most part, I think I’m going to embrace it, think of all the European graveled courtyards with a bistro table set and umbrella. I’ll definitely put a garden on the side. If you go with herbs, as you well know, they’ll love the draining properties of the gravel.

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