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Tips for Evaluating This Year's Garden Design

Planning a Better Garden for Next Year

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No one dreams grander than a gardener. We don't start a garden with some vague idea of a little color. We see Versailles. And it doesn't matter how many times we step up to Lucy's football, we're going to kick with full gusto. There's no point in becoming frustrated at gardening's little set backs, because we know a garden is never finished. Hopefully it gets better each year, not worse.

Fall is a great time to take stock of what worked in the garden and what didn't. So as you sip your morning coffee or your evening wine and stroll the garden beds, ask yourself the questions listed below. Keep in mind that reviewing this year's gardening triumphs and defeats is the best guarantee of success when designing next year's garden. Garden design requires a knowledge of plants and you've got a whole garden full to learn from. Don't let that experience go to waste, just because the season is winding down. As they so often say at Fenway Park, there's always next year.

  1. What Worked What always brought a smile to your face? There's usually at least one section of your garden that works really well. That should be a key to telling you what your style of gardening is, as well as what truly grows well in your conditions. Was it the blue iris that bloomed with the pale yellow daylilies? The butterflies flocking to your Buddleia? The way your golden arborvitae made all the other plants pop? Viewing your garden in small sections makes it easy to set up season long vignettes.

     

  2. What Went Wrong Did this season seem like an endless parade of problems? Powdery mildew, blossom end rot, Japanese beetles, aphids...? Take a lot at what you're growing and how its growing. If you live in a damp or humid climate, plants that are all squeezed in together will never dry off enough to fight fungal disease. If you must have mildew magnets like phlox, lilacs, zinnia and monarda, at the very least you should consider replacing your troublesome plants with newer, disease resistant varieties. If your problem was insects, remember insects low stressed out plants. You may need to focus some attention on replenishing the soil and putting in irrigation.

     

  3. Right Plant, Right Time Did your flowers bloom when you were there to see them? This isn't just a question for part time residents or vacationers. If you're at work all day and only get to enjoy your garden in the evening, think about putting in more flowers that seem to glow at dusk. Choose some that do double duty and add fragrance to the night air, like Evening Scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala), Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana), Evening Primrose (Oenothera), Night Blooming (Selenicereus) and Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba). Plant them near your back deck and enjoy.

     

  4. Going the Distance Did you find yourself telling guests, “I wish you'd been here last week, when [fill in the blank] was in bloom?” You need to play with the sequence of bloom in your gardens. Strive for having a different section at peak at different times, rather than trying to have the whole garden in flower all season. And give more focus to colorful and unusual foliage that's stunning all season.

     

  5. Over Achieving Plants Have enthusiastic growers crowded out other plants? If you're wondering how your lilies turned into monarda, it's time to think about doing some thinning and dividing. If you don't have the time for it now, at least mark the plants this fall, so you won't be tempted to let them be in the spring. New gardeners like instant plants. As your garden matures, you need to be more selective about what gets space in it. If you're pulling your hair out about too many plants having the run of your garden, consider putting in larger plants and more specimen shrubs.

Maybe your garden was beautiful, but you just don't seem to be enjoying it the way you used to. Here are 5 more questions to point you toward your garden design's little fixes.

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