Archive for May 31, 2011

Gardener’s Gold – Plant Sharing

When I first moved to my house the yard was in a derelict condition. What few plants were there had all grown into each other, having been planted 19 years before. New mulch had been thrown over knee-high weeds. Nothing had been trimmed correctly. Many of the plants were dead, and the ones that remained were diseased and had grown one-sided in their struggle for sun.

I started by clearing out the dead plants, transplanting, and then pruning the others. This quickly started looking better, and attracting attention from long-time neighbors. Many of the original owners still lived here, and were so glad to see that someone was turning the place around. I started receiving gifts of plants from my gardening neighbors — 3 kinds of iris, lillies, lamb’s ear, all kinds of wonderful cuttings. Fabulous gifts!

This tree and all plants in this garden were started in the last 10 years.


I had also brought with me from my last house small divisions of my perennials and herbs. Just one of everything to start with at that point. When I look at my garden today, it amazes me to see how bountiful so many of these gifts have become. A true Gardener’s gold! It has given me the opportunity to share all of these with other friends and new neighbors, and spread the wealth and beauty. To a gardener, there is no greater gift.

So many plants are easy to divide or start from cuttings. You can really fill a yard quickly and have ample surplus to share. Some of my very favorites are: Corkscrew willow (seen in photo), sedum, liriope, yarrow, lillies, coreopsis and many ornamental grasses. These are all tried and true in my own yard; what about yours?

Garden Rooms

I love to create garden rooms.

In my current yard I do not have much shade, so I hung a porch swing under the deck. As I sat there enjoying it, I realized what a great space it could be, and set out to do just that.

My favorite space


It started out as a mulched area, but as I was adding lots of garden around the yard, I kept digging up rocks – lots of rocks! So I started a cobblestone “floor”, bordered by some spare bricks under my swing. This grew to be quite expansive, and actually is quite attractive. Never underestimate what you can do with the unexpected when you put your mind to something!

I had been using the under-deck area for new plants that I had been starting, and I still do; it is ever changing, which is fun. My potting bench and a garden hutch are there, too. All in all, I call it my “office,” although, gardening is never work to me.

This spring it was filled with flowers — Lilly of the Valley, pansies, astilbe, azalea and iris. It is just a wonderful place to sit with a tall glass of Iced tea, and look at the garden, and think about what is next.

I hope this will inspire you to make a garden room of your own. I like to think of mine as my own slice of heaven.

Choosing Plants

Now that we have created the perfect bed for our plants, we can choose what to put in it. Try to create a plan that is good for year-round beauty.

Using a background of evergreens in a cold winter environment will keep the garden interesting looking even on the coldest of winter days. I try to choose plants that I can use in holiday decorating. Some of my favorites are holly, boxwood, juniper, euonymus and rhododendron.

Example of foundation evergreens

These are easily shaped, and provide a nice backdrop. In front of these you can layer in shorter bushes or, depending on your desires, perennials and ground cover.

Emphasize entrances, walkways, and corners with taller plants. This draws your attention, and creates a focal point. It is important when planting to not plant too closely to the house. If you plant so that you keep a foot between the house and bushes, your house will be much easier to maintain, and bushes will stay much healthier. When planted too close they can become one sided with all the foliage facing out, while bare on the back. I also would encourage shorter plants under windows, for safety as well as preserving your views.

Repeat your plant material throughout your yard to keep a flow. I would also encourage planting in multiples if your yard is large. By doing this it won’t look cluttered or hodgepodge. I like to plant in drifts, or waves, with each drift comprised of the same plant, overlapping the corners of the drifts. This carries your eye through the garden and draws you in.

Example of merging drifts and layering heights


When planting in drifts, try to follow the lay of the land. You can accentuate changes in terrain, creating lots of visual impact. Using plants with varying textures will really highlight the various drifts.

Lastly, using ground cover to fill in as a border, or as erosion control on a hillside, can really complete the garden. With so many choices out there, have fun!

Garden creation

For me, this is where the fun begins.

I like to layout my garden shape by using a hose or a rope to define the outer edge. Try to incorporate large sweeping curves whenever possible, this adds grace and visual interest. Follow by cutting a smooth edge with a scalloped edger.

Curved edges create visual interest


At this point, if you have grass that needs removal this is the time to do that. I prefer to set the grass to the side for use later.

The double digging method of prep is my favorite. I start by using a pick to loosen the soil (in my area it is as hard as concrete, and this is the easiest method). If you have big strong kids, this is the perfect job for them. Then start digging — go down one shovel-full, set aside, dig down one more shovel-full, set aside. This is a  huge amount of work, but will pay off with a deep, wonderful bed.

Once you have dug out the bed completely, you can start reloading it. First, by putting the grass layer back in, but, put it in upside down. The grass will break down into nutrients for the garden. Next, layer in the soil you removed, adding any amendments you need, breaking up the soil into a smooth texture as you go. In my location, I always add compost, grass clippings and sand, but in your area this may be different. Let the garden rest for a couple of days, then with a spading fork, give it one more stir. At this point you have the most luxurious garden bed you could ever ask for.  Next up: plants!

Divide and Conquer – Segmenting your garden beds

Now that you have thought through an overall plan for your yard, it’s time to start planning the individual garden beds. In my own garden I designate a name to each bed by location (for example: front left, front right, side yard, etc.), another way would be to number them. I try to divide them into sections that can easily be maintained in less than 15 minutes on a normal schedule. It depends on how much time you personally have to spend in your yard at one time. I find that if I work my way around the garden in this manner, I can know exactly where to stop and start back up.

Prioritizing maintenance from most to least visible, is another way of making sure that the garden looks the way you want it to. For instance, I will do a quick walk through of the previously worked on sections, before starting in on another. I find this is the easiest way to keep a mental note on what to work on next time I get to that section. I always start with the front door — that’s just me — but I always like it to be as nice as I can make it.

A lot of people ask about how deep and wide to make a garden bed. For this, I think a good rule of thumb is to look at the height of your house. In general your ideal depth should be 1/3 to 1/2 the overall height. My house is approx. 30 ft. high, so my front bed is 15 ft. deep. As well the width should span to 1/3 to 1/2 the overall height beyond the edge of the house. This keeps the proportions right. You always want the surrounding beds to visually anchor the house to the land.

Now that you know my formula for sizing and segmenting beds into manageable sections, I hope it will help you to divide and conquer your own garden.

A close look – Getting to know your garden

For my first blog I am starting at the beginning.

It’s important to know your terrain. All the hills and valleys, where it’s flat, etc. Walk your entire yard, and look at your property from every window, walkway and driveway, even from across the street. All of these areas will become important in figuring out your focal points. Once that is done you can start with your plan.

There are many solutions to terrain imperfections. For instance, you might consider creating some elevation to a flat yard by adding a berm, or terracing a steep yard to maximize your usability.

Another consideration is where to steer your rain water, and downspouts.  There are many good options, and more being thought up all the time. (Dry wells, rain barrels, rain bladders, rain gardens, ponds, etc.)

This is also the time to decide where you want your walkways and drives to be. Consider installing them in the sun if you live where it’s snowy, and in the shade if you live where it’s hot. Also, designated areas for relaxing (decks, patios), and recreation (pool, open space, etc.).

Knowing your yard is your most important step in planning, and worth a lot of thought. It can save you countless hours of redoing in the future, not to mention expense and effort. I will discuss each of these topics, and many more, in future blogs at greater length, so stay tuned.

I promise to keep my blogs short and meaty, so that’s my food for thought today. Enjoy!