The More Things Change (in The Garden), The More Fun I’m Having

Many of us have entered the season during which we gardening mostly in our heads. We are thinking about what plants to add, move, or replace. We are poring over old garden books and catalogs (the 2016 catalogs have yet to arrive, but the 2015 issues sit in a convenient pile by my side of the bed).

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells: their reappearance is like a reunion with an old friend.

Unfortunately, this season exposes a household rift in gardening philosophy here at Gardeninacity. I enjoy changing things around. Or put another way: I NEED to change things around.

I see something wonderful in another garden and have an uncontrollable impulse to replicate it (often scaled down or adapted until there is little hint of the original inspiration). It strikes me that a certain plant is not working, or not working well enough, in a given place. The idea then buzzes around my head like a fly until I am forced to act. Or I fall in love with a particular plant and must have it even when there is no reasonable place for it.

Judy, on the other hand, is a rigid traditionalist, if by tradition you mean keeping things however they are arranged right now. Take the Grey Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) in the back garden, for example. When I planted them some years ago, she was distinctly unenthusiastic. However, when I mentioned the possibility of removing one or two, she was strongly opposed.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Wild Columbine

I sympathize with her position. Many plants become like old friends. You see them shine in their season, and it’s like a joyful reunion. This is particularly true of spring blooms: Crocus and Tulips, Wild Columbine and Virginia Bluebells, for example.

However, sometimes there is no choice about parting with old friends. In our first years in this garden we had wonderful Hollyhocks (Alcea). Then they developed rust. I’m not willing to spray fungicide, so now we go without them. Same thing happened with the Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) who succumbed to aster yellows disease.

Purple Coneflowers in the Driveway Border before I had to take them all out.
Purple Coneflowers in the Driveway Border before I had to take them all out.

Admittedly, though, sometimes the surgery is elective. After seeing the River of Salvia at Lurie Garden, I just had to have a big patch of blue Salvia. Delusions of grandeur, I know, but I tore out the Geranium maculatum in the Sidewalk Border and replaced them with several Salvia varieties. I call it my Puddle of Salvia. Was it an improvement? I think so, but opinions may vary.

And if I hadn’t removed the Hollyhocks and Purple Coneflowers, I may not have come to experience the joys of Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) or Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) – plants I now feel that I couldn’t live without.

Yellow coneflower.
Yellow coneflower.

I garden by two complementary rules, which fortunately work well together. The first is, if you feel that you must have a plant, then you must. The second rule is, if a plant isn’t making you really happy, then get rid of it.

These rules go together even (or especially) if the same plant moves from the “must have” to the “not making me happy” category within a year or two. Life (and the growing season) is too short.

Puddle of Salvia with Penstemon.
Puddle of Salvia with Penstemon.

Sure, this approach can be expensive, especially if you are an impatient gardener. You should not let your gardening activities place an unreasonable strain on the household budget. (Fortunately for me, “unreasonable” is a subjective concept). But if you do have patience, the miracles of propagation and generous gardening friends mean that you don’t have to spend a great deal.

Part of the joy of gardening is experimentation. Seeing which plants work where, and in what combinations. But as much as we may change things, we do need to keep enough old botanical friends around so that you don’t find yourself lost in the crowd.

56 Comments on “The More Things Change (in The Garden), The More Fun I’m Having”

  1. Oh, I like your new format! OK, now I can relate to both Judy’s viewpoint and yours. Not sure what that makes me? Maybe a “present tense” gardener? Oh, but I do have trouble parting with plants, so in that way I’m more like Judy. Definitely starting to think about the next growing season … like all gardeners. Good post!

  2. Jason, I love your new header, I also love your gardening rules! The first one is really mine too, but often when I purchase a plant I want to have my budget does not sustain :(( The moving plant from one spot to another and/or to compost bin often proceeds as well. Pretty photos, love Columbine.

  3. I definitely agree that a plant not giving satisfaction should go; no point in keeping something that doesn’t live up to its promise; but I am also someone who hates to read some blogs (not yours) where the gardener is forever moving plants around and never giving them a chance to establish, often I think this is because of lack of a good design rather than the plants. Look forward to the changes you will tell us about soon – this was an introduction wasn’t it?

    • It’s true there is a danger in being too impulsive and not giving plants time to settle in. I do tend to be an impulsive gardener sometimes, so maybe it is good that Judy is a restraining influence. A lot of changes could be avoided with more planning, but that is not my strong suit.

  4. You’ve got me thinking now, Jason! I agree that if a plant isn’t working (not happy or you don’t like it) then move it or compost it. But I’m probably more of a ‘make the best of what you’ve got’ kind of gardener. Don’t get me wrong, I adore plants and have fantasy planting schemes, but I have to limit my spending! It’s taken us a few years to get to know our garden and we’re still working out what to do with it. No hasty decisions here. But I am an editor by nature (as well as by trade) so I have no hesitation in refining, moving, ditching stuff if necessary. It certainly pays to know the plants that work well in your conditions and that naturally limits what we can grow here. The joy for me is planting and maintaining a garden that works in its environment and makes the gardener/s happy. I like your new look.

    • Thanks! Your approach is very wise, but I would never claim to be a wise gardener. “Right plant in the right place” is the foundation of good gardening and it takes both time and experimentation to figure out what just what the right plants and places are.

      • You’re absolutely right. Finding out what works is part of the fun and, as a gardener, there are always lessons to learn and more to discover. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be wise either, just pragmatic 🙂

  5. I love the idea of a puddle of Salvia! It is tricky if you don’t share the same garden philosophy as your other half. My OH is marvellous. He hardly ever stands in the way of my garden plans, except when it comes to water. He really doesn’t like being responsible for pools, ponds or anything watery – too much effort…. always him propelling the pool brush or dealing with slime which makes me squeal….Consequently my progress in negotiating a new pond is slow. I will get there in the end. Just wondering if he would notice if I were to hire a small digger….

  6. These gardening rules apply here too. Your Judy sounds a lot like my Gary. He doesn’t like change. If it is good enough the first round it should be good enough. ha… Rarely my way of thinking about most anything. Failures in the garden often bring the best changes. What with all this talk about change, I see you have changed to WP. I hope you like it.

  7. Great post, I’m so glad I’m not the only one changing things around. As urban gardeners, I guess we all share the same woes, so many plants, not enough space :). I’ve had beautiful scented Asiatic lilies I acquired from the garden I volunteer at last year. I put them in pots, and gosh it was a wonderful display, but I know I needed to put them in the soil this year, so I did, right by the fence, I couldn’t figure out how it would look next year, I grouped them, let’s see what next year will bring, I’m not quite sure how they would appear. Love your flowers, I don’t think iIve ever seen wild columbine before. Happy Gardening 🙂

  8. It seems between the two of you there may be a kind of balance! You have me thinking…I have one bed that of course is the one I see when sitting on the porch and try as I may I can’t get it right. I don’t even get the luxury of removing the plants…they just turn into mulch right before my eyes. And here in Houston autumn is a wonderful time to plant : )

  9. I’m usually like you, always thinking about and planning and working on changes, moving plants around, etc. But the older I get, the less I want to do that. My back muscles and I really need a year or two of just letting things be.

  10. Are there any two gardeners sharing a garden that agree on everything? I see you are exercising your penchant for change on your blog. I bet you and Judy never run out of conversational material as you negotiate and compromise and make a garden all the better for it.

  11. I can relate to both you and Judy. Though I’m always wanting to change things a little, and I always have new plants I want to add, I have a hard time just tearing things out and making drastic changes. Fortunately, my husband has zero interest in gardening, so I can do what I want. On the other hand, my plans for change always involve digging up more lawn for a new garden bed, and he doesn’t want to give up one more inch of grass–he thinks I have “enough flowers”–ridiculous, right? I, too, have a “puddle of salvia” inspired by the Lurie Garden:)

  12. Too many plants and not enough space, for sure! When a plant doesn’t live up to it’s potential it’s an opportunity to add something new. I gave up on Echinacea purpurea some time ago but have enjoyed E. paradoxa and others not as prone to Aster Yellows. I also add Salvia Black and Blue each year, also Wendy’s Wish. Very nice post!

  13. You and Judy seems to strike a good balance. I have a puny dogwood I’ve never been happy with, but can’t bring myself to take it out. I was realizing just yesterday besides enjoying a couple of weeks when my garden peaks in spring, one thing I like most about gardening is buying new plants.

  14. Fortunately the hubby could care less except for what I grow in the veg garden….he must have garlic, basil and tomatoes…other than that it is up to me and his willingness to dig it up and move it….we dug up lots of spreading plants, suckers and volunteers….into the compost they went as there are more if we need them. And I will be assessing the cleaned up winter tight garden now for spring changes….he would rather not know until spring.

  15. A gardener must have garden projects that they are looking forward to. The next time Judy balks at a change, remind her that if a gardener ever completes the garden with nothing else to be added and changed, the gardener has to put their house on the market and move to someplace that needs a new garden! That prospect should bring her around. 😉
    BTW, I really like the new look of your blog.

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