It is the middle of November, and the hard frosts have taken their toll on the herbaceous perennials in our gardens. Before we put the gardens to bed for the winter and retreat inside, it is wise to take stock and make plans for next year.
Fall is the best time to honestly assess what is working and what is not working in your landscape. It is all right there in front of you. It may be too late to dig, divide, and move plants around, but you can certainly mark your plants with permanent metal labels and a waterproof pen AND take digital pictures. Print the pictures as full sized 8 x 10's and then mark them up with your changes and ideas. If you are doing a big renovation, measure your garden and draw it to scale on graph paper. Note any plants that are remaining in place, list the plants that you want to dig up and relocate, and note any plants that you want to eliminate. That is EXACTLY the process that we are following with the Natureworks Demonstration Gardens this fall.
The renovation of all of the gardens in front of the shop was prompted by the prolonged heat wave and drought of the past summer. Our well started to give us trouble and we had to prioritize the potted plant stock over the gardens. That made us realize that the time had come to create RESILIENT GARDENS. Our goal is to gather plants that don't need a lot of water together. If we choose to plant moisture lovers, we will group them in one garden so that we don't waste water and can be much more targeted in any supplemental irrigation that we do. We also plan to add a lot more native plants and eliminate plants that we no longer use in our design work or that are no longer available in the trade.
If you want to do this work in your own gardens, here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. What plants gave you the most trouble in the past growing season? This could mean that they needed constant watering or that they kept falling over or just failed to thrive. Think hard about whether they should remain. Be honest with yourself and your ability to care for needy plants!
2. Are some plants taking over and becoming problematic? Even native plants can be too vigorous sometimes. In the Natureworks gardens, asters self-seed a lot. Many of them have to be removed in order to restore a sense of order to our beds.
3. Have weeds taken over? It is so easy for things to get away from us when the weather is super hot and uncomfortable. Suddenly, your plants are being choked by grass or mugwort or ground ivy or other garden thugs. Make a note so that next spring you can dig them up, get the weeds out of the roots, and replant them.
4. Does your garden offer good foliage structure throughout the growing season? That is one of the secrets to good design. Flowers are the frosting on the cake of the garden, but the leaves are what hold it all together. They can be green but pay attention to variegated, golden, burgundy, silver, and blue foliage plants as they can add excellent contrast and color all season long.
5. Are you striving to reach the 70% native plant threshold that Doug Tallamy suggests in his important book Nature's Best Hope? Take stock now of what percent of your trees, shrubs, and perennials are natives. Then, decide which non-natives no longer fulfill your needs and mark them for removal.
6. Sometimes, you fall out of love with a plant that you used to like. It happens all the time. Our tastes change and evolve as we evolve as gardeners. Give some serious thought to this, you might surprise yourself. I've seen people give up lilies because of the lily leaf beetle, hostas because of the deer...you get the picture.
7. Have some of your plants outgrown their allotted space? Have some of your shrubs been pruned so many times that they look awkward or clunky? Again, be honest, perhaps a bit ruthless. This is especially true when you look at your front foundation plantings.
8. If you were to draw a chart and track the succession of bloom in your landscape, is there a season that would be lacking in color? Many gardeners tell me that they wish they had more fall color. Others strive to improve their August garden with plants that thrive in heat and humidity. The time to track this is now, while the garden is fresh in your mind. Write your thoughts and notes down and then act upon them next spring. You will have the entire winter to explore new plant choices for these specific areas.
9. Did some plants surprise you and get a LOT taller than you expected? Are some plants so slow growing that they don't have a chance to compete with their more vigorous neighbors? When you print out your garden pictures, circle them and write down the problem. Think about where you can move them to next year where they might fit in better.
I hope that some of these ideas inspire you to take a good, long look at your landscape now so that you can spend the winter organizing, planning, and dreaming. Stay tuned to the Natureworks Demonstration Gardens Renovation Project for inspiration and advice.
Here are some pictures of our work in progress:
Nobody likes to work in the garden by the road as it is too noisy and dangerous. We are shrinking the width of this garden AND removing any plants that are not totally drought tolerant. Plants such as bearded irises will be moved here from all over the property. Native and drought tolerant plants such as Hypericum, Pycnanthemums, Eryngium yuccifolium, and more are being added.
Blue tape means dig up this plant and save it and then replant it in its new location. If we don't have time to replant this fall, they will be potted up and heeled in for the winter, well labeled of course!
This garden is being reduced at one end and widened at the far end. All tall plants are being relocated or eliminated to provide a better view of the shop from the road. Resilient, native plants such as Amsonia hubrechtii and Baptisia australis will remain.