Garden Maintenance

Creating the Garden all over again

The Sunken garden at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

The Sunken garden at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

As my friend Candace says, “All you need is 55 acres and 360 employees” and you too can have a landscape that looks like Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia!  Let’s see, that is 6.5 people per acre?!

Clearly, we are working at a comparative disadvantage!   But as home gardeners, we are not planting thousands of annuals every season either.  Thankfully there are wonderful shrubs and perennials that can provide year-round color without that kind of effort.

If you do want a gorgeous landscape, the time to plant it or change it is NOW.  Now through about mid-December is the perfect time to plant almost anything!  If there are plants in your landscape that you have always hated, thank them for their years of service and cut them down!  I know this sounds ruthless, but the removal will give you the space to add things you have always wanted. What about those shrubs that you are constantly pruning? Hate those thorny hollies?  Always wanted more hydrangeas? Be fearless!

Take an assessment of different areas of your garden.  How is the view from your windows? Are shrubs blocking them?  Do you want to add more color near your entrance?  Could you swap some of your asters for re-blooming azaleas that give you color 3-4 months of the year? Would you like to add an herb garden with just enough space to grow some lettuce or tomatoes?  How about some raspberries or blueberries?

If you have plants that did not bloom well this year, take a look at whether they are still getting enough light.  Trees get bigger (especially the neighbor’s) and suddenly your sun-loving plants are shaded, leggy, sick or not blooming.  If you Knockout roses are getting aphids, they are probably not getting enough sun.  Move them to sun and replace them with shade lovers. Also look at whether it would help to limb up your trees.

Most perennials have turned to mush after Friday night’s freeze (25 degrees in Summerfield). Cut them to the ground, pull up your summer annuals and clean up the debris.  If you have perennials that you love, now is the time to divide them and spread them around.  They will bloom better anyway when they are not so crowded.  Consider adding some native plants such as Joe Pye weed, Bluestar Amsonia, Yarrow and Fennel whose clusters of tiny blooms attract loads of beneficial insects to your garden. (More info at http://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-pollinatorconservation/)

It is time to divide your bulbs & corms too: Iris, Gladiolas, Asiatic Lilies, Lycoris (spider lilies), Calla lilies, Cannas, Crocosmia, Daffodils… If you haven’t dug them in a few years you may be surprised how many there are all jammed on top each other.  If you don’t need them all, share them with friends.  Add compost to everything while you are replanting!

Add the grass-catcher to your mower and capture all your shredded leaves & grass clippings. This is the best mulch for perennial beds and empty vegetable beds. Your soil will be dramatically improved as it breaks down over winter. The best gardeners never let a leaf leave their property!

If you call and it’s still daylight, leave a message.  I’m out in the garden.

(There are about 10 more seats left in my 2014 gardening classes.  Hope you can come!)

Happy Gardening!


5 Comments on Creating the Garden all over again

  • Wanda says:
    October 28, 2013 at 3:25 am

    I love your word “fearless” and I have seen the results in your own garden….beautiful! You give me courage to move forward with new eyes to my own garden. Hope you are saving these great posts to use as your How To Garden Book….Thanks for sharing your helpful wisdom.


  • Karen Rittenhouse says:
    October 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Ellen: Thank you for this post!

    It’s going to be wonderfully warm this week, so sounds like the perfect time to get out and finish those pre-winter tasks.

    My perennials did turn to mush, so I’ve cut them down. Next, I have an area with knock out roses that looks absolutely fabulous in Spring when they first flush out. Beautiful red against a solid green background. After that however, they struggle to re-bloom, become leggy, and fight bugs all season. I know it’s because they don’t get enough sun where they are but I love them there!

    So, come on Karen – time to move them. Ugh. And what to replant? Well something, no doubt, that I’ll end up loving even more than the roses because the next thing to go in will be something that flourishes in far less sun.

    Thanks for the needed information and encouragement to do what needs to be done.

    I love my gardens so much. Without you, they would be far less happy (and so would I!)


    • admin says:
      November 1, 2013 at 2:28 am

      There is so much to love about gardens. When people come to visit I take them to Greensboro’s gardens. My best vacations have included visits to many gardens. Is there any more wonderous place to be than in a garden? (Especially when it is your own.)


  • Christina Larson says:
    October 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    My Mother loved Butchart Gardens, and we visited there together. It’s really breathtaking. It’s a little surprising, at least it was to me, to learn they’re in Zone 8 so far North, but being near the ocean keeps things mild everywhere, I guess. Must make time for another trip there soon!


  • june webb says:
    October 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Ellen, I would like to register myself and a friend, Debbie McHone, for your March 1st class. We are hoping to attend all of your classes as I really enjoyed and learned a lot on the class I took before on shade gardening.

    thank you, june webb


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