Advice from a very, busy, sometimes lazy gardener:
As I watered plants this morning and completed a little cleaning chore that has nagged at me for two months, I realized that I have not been a good gardener this year. Between injuries, vacation, heat, drought, and other excuses, my garden has suffered from unprecedented neglect. And it has survived. With the exception of a handful of plants, two of which were already unhealthy, my perennials have survived. The worst result of my neglect is that weeds and grass have overtaken some areas. And that really isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a garden at the end of the summer. I’ll deal with the weeds and grass when the weather cools off. I’ll move some perennials around, and I’ll plant a few seeds and bulbs. The garden will forgive me for this year and we will renew our relationship in the spring.
In the meantime I decided to offer you some wisdom gleaned from years of making every mistake in the book!
- Keep it simple. This applies in two ways. First, if a plant has more requirements than “full sun, don’t forget to water”, I’m not taking it home. Anything that says “moist” or “shade” has at best a 30% chance of survival in my yard. And if I know from research that it requires frequent fertilizing, heavy pruning, and spraying for chronic pests, it has to be pretty darned special to warrant that much effort. If you have wondered before why I don’t grow roses, now you know. Keeping it simple also applies to planning out the landscape. I would rather have two or three reliable plants in massive repeated plantings than have eight or ten different specimen plants with different growing requirements.
- Welcome leftovers from other gardeners. If someone says “this plant just spreads too much, too fast” I put a big smile on my face and offer to take some off their hands. Anything that is aggressive and determined to reproduce in this area is a blessing to me. And that includes a few, such as obedient plant, that are downright unwelcome in other areas.
- Plant flowering shrubs. I have found flowering shrubs to be tougher and more winter hardy than many perennials. There are so many sizes, shapes, colors, and types from which to choose! Love buddleias, spireas, and privets.
- Go native! Nothing will work as well in your yard as a plant that is already thriving ON ITS OWN in your area. Any flower that can bloom in the middle of an open field or deep in the woods without any care is bound to be bigger and brighter and more beautiful in your yard, with just a little care. And you do have to be careful not to fertilize or overwater them! Most regions have suppliers for native seeds and plants.
- Know when to give up. There is a small spot in one of my flower beds where nothing will grow. Trust me, NOTHING. I’ve tried plants, seeds, bulbs. Something always happens to whatever I plant there. It is like the Bermuda Triangle of dirt. So I gave up and put a small statue on the spot. There are plants I’ve tried to grow in my yard and just can’t; either the growing conditions are just not right, or I’m not the right gardener. So I don’t buy those plants, even if they are pretty.
- Buy bulbs and tubers and rhizomes. I’ve always had good luck with anything that goes under the soil and does its own thing at its own time. Daffodils, tulips, daylilies, cannas, and irises require only a bit of effort when first planted. I hardly ever lift, store, or separate!
- Buy four. When you are buying something new and you aren’t sure how it will survive in your garden plant it in four different locations. I seldom buy anything that is expensive, so this works for me. I put new plants in four different locations and by the next year I know which location is best. If the others are still alive I move them. If not, I decide whether I want to buy more to add to the one that is doing well.
- Be fearless! If you are buying inexpensive plants or getting them free from friends or planting seeds, then don’t be afraid to do something new each year. Move them to new locations and experiment with new groupings. If something does particularly well then you can let it expand until you have enough to create new beds or share with others!
- Welcome a few weeds. They are still plants. Some of them even bloom. And they might be dinner for something beneficial. Get to know your local weeds so you understand which ones need to be yanked out immediately and which ones can be tolerated if you get busy.
- Remember to enjoy! Gardening should never just be about the work. If you are not taking time to “smell the roses” then you either expect too much perfection or your garden is too big for you.