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  • Writer's pictureJulia Bechtel

The Death Bed

I have a planting bed in my yard, that is lovingly called The Death Bed. It is putting my Cast Iron name to the test and then some!

Hold on! I can explain... so, what happened was...

Let me paint a picture for you, this planting bed is 2ft deep by 18ft wide between our patio and fence, it gets morning dappled shade, harsh mid-day sun for about 4 hours, then deep shade from the house in the late afternoon and evening.

If that wasn't tough enough, it has black walnut tree roots running under it, from a gigantic and very healthy black walnut tree, that crosses the property line to our neighbors. The tree produces barrels of walnuts every year that the squirrels love to bury in our yard. This tree is so darn stubborn even our attempts to cut it back hoping it would die haven't worked. See the trunk is on our neighbors property, and they rent. The tenants are great and would love to take the tree down, but their landlord doesn't want to spend the money - even when we offered to split the cost! That said, we cut back everything that was over our property line, as we're allowed to in Maryland, in hopes that there would be less walnuts and squirrel damage. I swear, this helped the tree get healthier!

(please excuse our terrible project at a time)

A little history on the Death Bed...

2016 - the creation of The Death Bed. Built up garden blocks, added and rototilled in fresh garden soil, topped with shredded natural wood mulch. Planted hostas and some white things, of which I still can't figure out what they were but they were lovely and delicate. This was before I really learned how to tend any plants and was mostly relying on my husbands green thumb to take over magically. I guess you could say, this Death Bed helped spawn what Cast Iron Landscape Design is today, it's where I found joy in researching what could work and trying out new things.

2017 - everything seems fine. The hostas were huge and blooming wonderfully, the white things weren't doing so great, but I didn't think much of it. Everything seemed fine and I was enjoying the lush greenery surrounding our patio.

2018 - the decline. The hostas were simultaneously scorched on one end and undersized and dyeing on the other. The white things were nowhere to be found. I replaced them with coneflowers, which scorched, then with astilbe which the bunnies ate! With regular watering the hostas survived but looked ragged. You can see the lingering astilbe's amongst the scorched hostas in the pictures below.

(click for more pictures)

2019 - let's try switchgrass and move things around. The year before we created a dedicated dog run, planted grass, and was determined to have a better looking backyard. With 3 dogs who love to run as fast as they possibly can, then quick cut and turn the other direction, our yard had seen much better days. During this time, I was doing tons of research into what was hardy and drought tolerant enough that could also handle intense but short sun exposure. My conclusion was switchgrass. The pictures below show the cleared out Death Bed, which had been replanted with 7 bare root switchgrass, and a newly created large bed where none had existed before at the other end of the yard. The new bed houses the hostas from the Death Bed, new pencil holly, bobo hydrangeas, hellebores, and bare root boxwoods. (and yes, our patio still isn't redone, but I digress)

2020 - not even weeds will grow. Since then, the switchgrass hasn't grown, and in reality, nothing has grown in this bed....nothing! I have since learned that the roots of walnut trees can poison many plants, and only certain ones will survive this toxic environment. This year, I have cleared out all the debris and put down fresh mulch. I am not giving up on this Death Bed!

The new bed we created is thriving though! So much so that the hostas are in need of dividing, the hellebores are exploding, and I can't wait to see the hydrangeas bloom soon.

I haven't yet decided what will go into the Death Bed, but I'm determined to conquer this challenge! Or maybe, I'll finally get to re-doing the patio!

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