Monday, July 7, 2014

Shake Rag Gardens and Grounds Get Some TLC

With rock walls, pathways, a stream, lush vegetation and historic rustic buildings, Shake Rag Alley’s amazing 2 ½ acre campus is always charming and often described as "magical." But the gardens had suffered from a drought two summers ago followed by a couple of brutal winters (and admittedly, some neglect).

It was time for some loving attention to bring the gardens back to their full glory. With the help of volunteers and the talents of Shake Rag’s new site manager Jason Dingledein (who has a botany background) – and a big assist from Mother Nature who provided abundant June rains – the gardens are now as beautiful as ever.

Our biggest project was to address the hillside above the patio area behind Ellery. The loss of a large tree changed the hill from cool and shady to sunny, hot and dry. And the hostas planted there didn’t like it one bit. Last year, with a grant from the Uplands Garden Club, we planted some snowberry bushes to help stabilize the hillside. This year we took on the challenge of relocating the sea of hostas. 

What we found when we removed the hostas was a lot of aggressive weed roots and a crumbling secondary retaining wall dating back to when Al Felly designed the gardens back in the 1970’s. The end wall had also collapsed. 

So some major restoration was in order. Jason went to work and completely rebuilt the end wall plus built a new second tier retaining wall. He also rebuilt the shaky rustic railing along the stairs…it is now VERY sturdy. To eliminate the weeds, we put down heavy plastic covered by a pine needle mulch and will let the hillside “cook” until spring when we will replant with perennials that actually like it hot and dry.

Most of the hostas were relocated to the shady garden between the two log cabins where they will be very happy. This garden has always been our nemesis. Despite numerous attempts to clean it up, the weeds always seemed to win. 

But finally having plenty of hostas to fill it in, hopefully we can shade out the weeds. The garden now has a nice variety of hostas, plus some day lilies, spider wort, and a lot of red bee balm that was growing among the weeds...and of course, some Shake Rag garden art.

Elsewhere, there was lots of pruning, weeding and cutting back. Some of our more recently replanted garden beds just needed a bit of routine maintenance…others needed a lot more. With the fertile soil at Shake Rag Alley, EVERYTHING likes to grow, especially weeds (or so it sometimes seems). It does take a village to keep the Shake Rag gardens looking their best and there's lots more to do. Anyone who would like to lend a hand is more that welcome (and no, you don’t need to be an expert gardener). If you can help, please call the office at 608-987-3292 to find out when our next work day will be.

And do stop by Shake Rag Alley for a visit. Visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds any time. Pick up a walking tour pamphlet at the information kiosk out front to learn about the buildings. And enjoy…Shake Rag Alley truly is a special place.

Here are more photos of garden areas around the grounds -

Ellery Side Garden

Ellery Side Garden
A quiet place to sit on the Green

The Felly Garden

The Log Cabin with sedum in bloom on the rock ledge

Log Cabin Garden looking toward the stream

The stream by the Green

Potters House walkway garden

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