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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.