Saturday, July 13, 2013

Avoiding Problems in the Garden

My Perennial  Border in 20009
I love almost every job I face in Locust Hill's various gardens, whether it’s weeding, dead-heading, staking tall blooms, even lugging heavy buckets of dirt to fill in a hole after transplanting  a large plant, or pruning the dead raspberry bushes at summer’s end. Usually there are one or two projects, however, that I will do anything to avoid. This year it’s to finish the job of making the 100-foot long  perennial border easier to maintain. 

This monumental task has been so ironic – to work almost daily for two entire summers to make something be less work. The first thing I did was to dig up the three thorny quince bushes took required constant pruning.  more than a week.  They’d been living in the border for more than 20 years, and had looked fine each April when they bloomed, but even a diet of constant pruning couldn’t control their obesity.  Pruning them encourages new sprouts.  When  half a dozen of these children pop up, they, too, can turn into obese shrubs.

Besides the toil and trouble of uprooting the quinces,  I also removed dozens of clumps of phlox and other misbehaving plants and replaced them with flowering shrubs and easy-care plants that require little work.  I  put protective shields between the border and the sheep pasture so grass can no longer creep into the bed, and replanted the clumps of iris and astilbe farther away from the border’s edge so the lawn mower won’t run over them any more.

Before I did all this, that perennial border was my pride and joy, everything arranged in an aesthetically  satisfying position.  Unfortunately aesthetics were far from my mind as I struggled to remove unwanted plants and fill their spaces with well-behaved ones.   Now what’s needed is an artistic gardener, and I don’t even know how to start. 

Wow! When I began this column I didn’t understand why I was avoiding this job.   Now, having written the paragraph above, it has suddenly become clear.  There is no way to figure out how to rearrange the plants until I’ve seen the border through an entire summer.  When I took the photo below there was hardly any color but green.   All those flowering shrubs I bought are still pathetically small when they need to fill the back edge with height. 

How delightful  to finally understand why I’ve been avoiding this job.  Now I can relax, knowing what’s the matter! Obviously the border will look very different as the summer progresses.  Hopefully the new shrubs will have gained height, and there will be lots of color as various plants begin to bloom. Then I can learn what’s good and what’s bad, and can formulate a plan for next summer.
I am so cheered at learning why I’ve been doing anything but tackling this problem.  I’m going to go get the camera and not even finish this column.  Taking photos has become essential for gardeners my age. We no longer have the ability to remember what’s where in a large  border any more.   I’m sorry you haven’t learned anything today, but I 


  1. Hatsy, I read this article with dread...this is my future. Beginning next year I too will be re-doing a large perennial border. I also have a bank that is haunting me and keeping me up at night. I remember how beautifully you weeded your border last year. It seemed perfect, not needing anything at all. Mine is so over-populated with everything needing thinning, pruning, splitting. And you did this all in this heat and humidity!! Bravo! Thank you again for a wonderful article.

  2. The variety of greens, shapes, textures is already very pleasing.... And you have given us courage..... our phlox are history (no more mold) .... the quince are dug, hauled (with the help of a tractor to yank up the ginormous root balls)....metal edges are planned.....a barrel of corn meal gluten has been spread to discourage the seedling weeds....hoping to finish this before the end of summer....including a plan to corral the gallium odoratum which wants to take over the universe and has buried a section of waldstenia....And we're gonna spread lime on the lawn to de-grub.... Thanks!

  3. The heat may have subsided, but drought conditions continue in many areas. Scores of trees, shrubs, lawns and other plants are experiencing drought and water stress and will need timely watering this fall in order to survive the winter that follows

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