Gardening 101

To Garden is to Reassess—Continually


In every gardening year there comes a need to reassess the garden. Usually this desire hits me sometime in late summer or early fall because there always seem to be mature plants that make me, well, a trifle grumpy. Incongruently, after having gone on a wild planting spree in spring, four months later I find myself madly ripping out plants.

We have to reassess our gardens due to several reasons: (1) gardens are not static; (2) plants can outlive their welcome; and (3) our tastes change. Gardens change over time. That darling Salvia greggii that enchanted us two years ago is now a woody, misshapen monster. That sedum put down as a groundcover now covers too much territory—and is still growing. The Phlox paniculata that was guaranteed to be resistant to powdery mildew is not living up to that claim. There comes a point when we gardeners will say, “Now stop!”

Plants can easily wear out their welcome. For years I looked forward to the spring flowering of Phlox ‘Minnie Pearl’ but after flowering, this phlox looks dismal, regardless whether you cut it back or not. She doesn’t rebloom—at least she doesn’t for me—so finally I had to ask myself whether it was worth having three weeks of blooms accompanied by three months of unattractive foliage. The answer was that ‘Minnie Pearl’ is no longer part of my garden.

I always give my perennials three years before their assessment. I’ve had Geranium ‘Rozanne’ for more years than I can count. Yes she bloomed, but she also wove a thick mat in amongst more timid plants. She could even intimidate the daylilies. It is true that she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do: She covered ground. I had followed Tony Avent’s dictum to let her “do her thing” in my garden only to find that this was too much of a good thing so out she has come, no easy task as her root system was cemented into the soil.

Three years ago I planted Rosa ‘Climbing Pinkie’ around one of my front pillars. Now ‘Climbing Pinkie’ is an over-exuberant rose so soon it was covering not only the pillar but also the portico and was making its way down the opposing pillar. That would have been all well and good except for the fact I disliked the flowers intensely. The blooms are messy and so profuse that the rose simply becomes a blob of color, a look I dislike. Needless to say, ‘Pinkie’ no longer resides at my house.

Around ten years ago I fell hard for the tropical look—no leaf could be too big. I madly grew colocasias, adored my Canna ‘Musafolia’, and enjoyed my hardy banana, Musa basjoo. Today, I only have one small colocasia patch, the bananas ended up on my compost pile where they are enjoying a happy renaissance outside of the garden proper, and the canna is relegated to the backyard where it competes with terriers intent on digging their way to China. What happened? Quite simply my tastes changed.

Recognizing that we all make mistakes it’s okay to decide that you dislike a plant that is thriving in your garden. After all, it’s your garden. One advantage to removing plants is that you now have room for new plants. This is the time to start daydreaming about what your garden will look like next spring. After all, hope springs eternal.

Kit Flynn has been an Extension Master Gardener in Durham for 13 years. Besides being a compulsive gardener in Chapel Hill, she also writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter and for “Senior Correspondent,” an online magazine.