In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2009
Regional Report

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Planting flowers of a similar color is one way to create a stunning garden display.

Take A Fresh Look At Your Garden

Recently, my friend Susan and I went to a gardener's fair. While walking around looking at a wonderful assortment of plants as well as garden furniture, ornaments, tools, and supplies, she started lamenting about her garden. Susan lives in a house designed in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright on a wooded hillside with two streams running through the 6-acre property. Sounds idyllic, doesnt it? No lawn to mow, surrounded by native trees and woodland wildflowers and ferns.

Yet Susan was discouraged with the results from her efforts at having a "garden." The bed of hostas she had planted above a retaining wall along the large parking area didn't have much impact. Her daylilies had only a few blooms. Her chives and catnip had died, and the butterfly bushes didn't look very good either. Several mature rhodendrons were leggy, but the new one she had planted last fall was in full bloom.

Over the course of several hours, I asked her a number of questions and got enough feedback to help her see her property in a new perspective. I realized that her problems and concerns were not unique to her. If you're not happy with your yard, perhaps some the following points will help you have a better garden.

Evaluate Yourself and Your Goals
First and foremost, seriously think about how much time you want to spend gardening. This sounds obvious, but gardening chores can mushroom if you're not careful. Even "easy-care" plants usually need some maintenance, so it's always good to really understand what's involved with growing any new plant you bring to the garden. Also keep in mind the maintenance needs for the manmade items in the garden. For example, compare naturally weathered wood with painted. Or, how hard is it going to be to keep weeds out of a brick path?

Integrating your personality and time with how you want your garden to look is no mean feat. We're all enticed by photos of perfectly manicured beds filled with flowers and elaborate arbors, decks, walks, fences, and other items. The reality is that most of us have neither the time or money to create and maintain such a garden. That doesn't mean that we can't have a fantastic garden, but some time and effort is going to go into figuring out how to make a strong statement with less money and time.

Mass plantings, planting in groups that are repeated, or using flowers of a similar color are some of the tried-and-true methods of giving a garden impact. Not everyone is going to buy fifteen large viburnum at a time, but think about the perennials that rapidly reproduce, such as hostas, daylilies, or iris. In only a couple of years, you can divide these and soon have a mass planting or repeated smaller areas throughout the garden. One of the mistakes that Susan made was to plant several different kinds of hostas in a random manner. It would have been better if she had grouped the ones that were alike together. And never forget how wonderful a bed filled with annuals can be! Susan had a long, narrow bed along the other side of the drive. How stunning it would be planted entirely in impatiens instead of a few straggly, sun-starved daylilies.

Accept What You Cannot Change
Live in a woods? Explore all the wonderful possibilities of plants that thrive in shade. Just don't expect to grow roses, for instance. Of course, the reverse is true if your yard has no shade. Accept, too, that some plants are just plain difficult to grow. If there's a plant that I really like and want, I'll try maybe two or three times, then just learn to appreciate it in someone else's yard.

Mulching and soil amendments can improve soil over time, but be patient. While the change is taking place, choose plants that will tolerate the present conditions. And some situations won't ever change. I have a very large silver maple in my yard. I thought, shady conditions, let's plants azaleas and rhododendrons. It should come as no surprise that they've not survived. Nothing could compete with the water-sapping roots of this particular species of maple.

Pay Attention
What I've noticed over the years is that even the most intelligent, thoughtful people sometimes forget that plants are living organisms that need a certain amount of TLC. Take my friend Susan. She had failed to notice the very thick buildup of leaves over her chives and catnip. There was no way that they could push through the wet, matted leaves. As for her butterfly bushes, they were just about to succumb to encroaching vinca. Simply cutting the vines away would give the butterfly bushes a chance for survival. Susan also admitted that in the seventeen years they had lived on this site, the canopy of trees may just have gotten more dense. So those daylilies that had at one time bloomed well had every reason to sulk.

Read and Talk
The next day after the garden fair, Susan thanked me for giving her a different viewpoint on her property. I really didn't think I'd done much, but talking with someone can be very helpful. Search out Master Gardeners, volunteers at botanical gardens, or anyone who has a garden you admire and discuss your situation with them. There are tons of garden books, magazines, and Web sites that are filled with information. Take the time to read them. Then, take the time to enjoy your garden as you think about ways to make it even better.


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