Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts On Garden Planning

Friday, December 14, 2012

15.9° here on the mountain, windless, quiet. I have been out twice with Karl the Wonder Dog and he has now gone back to sleep in front of the wood stove. Snoring already. What a dog!   The weatherman promises a sunny day which is great because as soon as I shake off this sore neck, I will continue to push hard on outside jobs before the weather turns sour later on Sunday. The sore neck is from too much skyward observation last night of the Geminid meteor shower. I was never into watching the skies much as a kid but now I can't seem to miss these events even though Gail and Alex show little interest in accompanying me outside. I guess things do change as you get older.  Right now the sun is coming up, the stars have turned off and there's an obvious mackeral sky for as far as I can see.
As winter approaches it's time for me to do our website over so I begin scanning through pictures and making notes of things to change, improve, delete. This not-too-good picture up top caught my eye. With holiday gift giving approaching, gardeners often receive gifts of books and garden books lead to design thoughts which eventually lead to plant orders as spring approaches. But as I look at this picture of a little display Gail put together at the flower farm one day, I am reminded that not all pictures make good garden sense. Let's use this picture as an example of what not to do.
When Gail and I are asked to help design a garden, we usually try to get the gardener to do almost all of the work because the end product is so much better for them.  What we do emphasize, however, is attention to the plant/tree/shrub height, mature width, and leaf size, color and texture of the plants they are considering. Yes, flower color and bloom time are important too but the plant before and after it flowers is what the gardener and garden visitors get to see most of the season so those attributes are important.

The little display Gail put together included the use of two smaller hostas, Diamond Tiara and Golden Tiara. She used a couple different ferns in the front left of her display and a row of Gold Heart Dicentra (bleeding heart with typical flower shape and color but yellow foliage all season) in the middle. The design was an eye catcher and sold a number of plants but as part of your garden, it wouldn't have been the greatest plan. Here's why.

Now days it seems that most people have a lot to keep themselves busy and as such they like gardens that require minimal care. That translates to plants that don't need pruning or dividing as time goes on. Gail's design looks fine but has some issues. Gold Heart bleeding heart has been popular since it hit the market but the color contrast is what sold it to people. Nice pink heart pendants dangling from gold this plant matures to +30" tall in a few years, its location, surrounded by shorter plants that it would block out---well---- that just won't work. On top of that, dicentras like this go into dormancy by late July which means that for the balance of the season you have a garden with a hole in the middle of it. That's not to say that Gold Heart doesn't have a place in your garden, just  in the display we put together it wouldn't work well. The shorter, fringed woodland dicentras that bloom most of all summer and are available in white, pink or various shades of red would be better.

The two Tiara hostas are very nice and always a good investment because they are vigorous growers and they can be dug and divided to spread their wealth among your gardens or friends. BUT...planting a vigorous grower near slower growers such as the ferns means that the size of the maturing hostas will overpower the ferns in time and you'll lose the benefit of the ferns color and texture.To keep them in better control, plant them in sunken pots one size larger than they were growing in at the nursery. That will maintain their size and allow direct watering and fertilizing right to the plant. These ideas will let the slower growing ferns  progress as they prefer and the whole display will come together nicely in a year or two.

As you read through garden magazines and books this winter, give this little lesson a thought. Some of it might well apply to gardens you already have in place that seem to exhibit some of these same characteristics. And above all, think of the notion that we look at the plants-trees-shrubs all year, and that's what we should consider as we plan. Happy planning!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the birds are begging for more sunflower seed while the crows are perfectly happy with scraps I just dumped on the compost pile. Gotta get going here--boy--already almost 8!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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1 comment:

Kathy said...

You got me! I looked at that photo and thought: what a lovely combination! Didn't realize it was a bleeding heart. Wow! What a looker! And good to know that 'Tiara' spreads. Might be just the thing if you're looking for a shady ground cover. But I agree completely--now that I understand the guests in this little party--that they're not suited for a long term relationship. We all make planting mistakes like this, and, frankly, part of the fun of gardening is realizing your mistake and figuring out what will work better. It's like solving a puzzle.