Smart Gardening is FUN Gardening!
Many of the people I assist in their gardens, enjoy doing the work themselves. Gardening is one of their hobbies or recreational activities. It can be strenuous and even considered a workout to weed one’s own garden, trim the bushes and dig up and transplant perennials and shrubs.
By Steffie Littlefield
[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener March 2019 issue.]
Many of the people I assist in their gardens, enjoy doing the work themselves. Gardening is one of their hobbies or recreational activities. It can be strenuous and even considered a workout to weed one’s own garden, trim the bushes and dig up and transplant perennials and shrubs. My grandmother said that “every new garden spends its first two years in the wheel barrow”, referring to the fact that it might take several attempts to get the right plant in the right place and have it not just look satisfactory but for the plants to be happy as well. It has been my goal to help garden owners and enthusiasts to find homes for the plants they love and to have those homes be well suited to the needs of the plants. I like to call this “Smart Gardening” and that it will lead to gardening being more fun.
The excitement of spring brings all of us to the nurseries to look at all the new fresh plants. The garden centers are filled to the brim with bright colors, flowers, lush foliage and interestingly shaped plants pushing our senses to overload. How can we decide on what to buy, how can we stick to our list, how can we remember our plans for the garden this season? Yes shopping is almost the most fun, but it can lead to bad purchases, frustrating experiences and more plants in the “wheel barrow.” So here is my strategy to get the most enjoyment out of spring gardening and avoid hard gardening later.
At home divide your garden into areas or sections, determine what your needs or desires are for these individual areas. Take pictures and make a list, such as:
- annuals- 20’ border, morning sun, a splash of color, maybe red
- vegetables for 3’x8’ bed, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs
- redo NW corner bed by sidewalk, shade, dry, evergreen
- 6 pots on patio in sun, entertaining area, low maintenance
Now spend about an hour either on-line or walking/driving in the neighborhood to see things you like, find colors, sizes, shapes. Take pictures or print these.
Finally head to the Garden Center allowing enough time to at least work on purchases for 1-2 areas. Give yourself time to shop, enjoy the displays and time to talk to the sales staff about your projects. Do the easy ones first, annuals and vegetables, try something new, it’s only for one year anyway. Then if time allows, investigate tropical plants for the pots on patio and annuals to highlight them. Get creative here and treat yourself to a special plant for the largest container. It will give you pleasure all summer.
Caution—Save the redo bed for a time when questions can be asked and you can really learn about the choices available. These are plants that will mature over many years and be an important part of your landscape. You might write some names down and go home and look them up to see more pictures of them as mature plants. Take the time to do the homework or get some professional advice. You will also want to find complementary perennials to plant in combinations to make the area showy in different seasons.
This is where many gardeners will fail the first or second time mainly because they saw a tree or some shrubs in bloom at the nursery and had an impulse to purchase them, and then made a home for them just because they looked good in a pot. But will these plants thrive in the dry shade you needed to redo? Many times these lovely plants end up in the wrong place. It’s a sad story….
The moral of the story is of course to plan your visit to the garden center. Yes have fun with the new annuals, vegetables and even the exciting new tropical plants for pots. When it comes to investing in hardy plants like trees and shrubs take your time, learn about the choices, see what is thriving in your neighborhood, make notes about the light, moisture and soil conditions in the area you are planning to redo. Consider the whole picture and the whole year when combining perennials with your shrubs and trees. Think about adding spring blooming bulbs later in the fall, so remember to allow room for these accents. This may take a little work now, but it will mean less replanting and moving of unhappy plants later. Smart Gardening is fun gardening!
Steffie Litlefield is a St. Louis area horticulturist and garden designer. She is part owner of Edg-Clif Winery in Potosi, MO, and has been a regular contributor of articles to The Gateway Gardener since 2005.