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As the days are now officially getting longer but are still wintery and cold, it’s the perfect time to do some garden reflection as well as plan for next season. Once January hits I like to get out the garden books, open up my garden journal and scour my favorite online resources for new ideas for spring. But before I get ahead of myself, I like to take this time to look back at the last gardening season and take note of my successes and failures.
"A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes."
- Barbara Dodge Borland
Writer Barbara Dodge Borland once said, “A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.” This cannot be truer! A gardener fails; it’s the nature of our hobby. But it’s in those failures that we learn what will and won’t grow in our garden, which varieties we can’t live without, as well as what we don’t have the time – or the patience – for. So although we call them “failures,” they really are little lessons that are an inherent part of the experience of gardening.
I like to jot down little wins and failures throughout the garden season so I can go back in the winter and compile them into a list to help plan for spring.
A lot of my garden blunders from this year had to do with moving in late June to a new home with an entirely new landscape. Although I had a blast discovering the beauty of my inherited gardens, I had more space than I knew what to do with! I had also already missed half of our already-short season. Despite all this, I had a blast experimenting in these gardens and yes, failing.
Watering. Or lack-there-of, in my case. This may have been my biggest challenge of the season. We had an abnormally dry summer here in Vermont and our new home has a well with water pressure that leaves much to be desired. I spent most of the season battling the water pressure, hooking multiple hoses together and lugging countless pails of rainwater around from our rain barrel. Although we were grateful for the past owners to leave their rain barrel, it was inconveniently placed very far away from our existing gardens. Thankfully I planted one of my new gardens close to the spigot at the house, but you could definitely tell a difference between the gardens that were easy to water and those that had to fend for themselves.
Planting Perennials too close together. Like a little kid, I was eager to fill my new garden beds with all my dream varieties – varieties I didn’t have space for in my previous city garden. But in all my excitement, I didn’t plan the garden out enough and planted many of the varieties far too close together. Although they all survived, the plants are extremely crowded and I’ll have to dig many of them up this spring and re-locate them.
Painted Trillium is an enchanting woodland wildflower, with delicate white petals and a magenta-red center burst. Native to the northern woods, each plant produces a single bloom tha...
Easy growing Daylily Original Orange is famous for its vigorous, orange blooms along roadsides nationwide. This Daylily is carefree, adaptable, and tolerant of any soil. (Hemerocalli...
Airy, lacy, and graceful, the native Maidenhair Fern is known for its grassy green foliage and jet-black stems. Delicate fronds form in a circular pattern on tough, cold hardy plants...
'Munstead' Lavender is an English Lavender that has fragrant, cool lavender-blue spikes and gray-green, mounded foliage. You can tuck this lavender into your herb garden, but we lov...
Weeding. Ugh, weeding. Weeding two acres of gardens is challenging enough, but because we didn’t move in until late June, many of the gardens had been overrun with weeds for months. I fell behind from the beginning, eager to build new beds, and never really caught up.
We also planted our vegetable garden in the open field away from our fenced-in property, partly because that is where the previous owners had built it and graciously left us their mature asparagus bed. But having the vegetable garden so far from the house made it (extremely) easy to overlook when it came to weeding. The weeds ended up choking out some of our vegetables and I have no one to blame but myself!
Keep a garden journal and jot notes at least once per week during the year. When it’s the garden season, keep track of your successes and failures (even the little ones). In the winter, this is a great place to plan for spring.
The Great Sunflower Heist of 2016. My partner and I are both obsessed with sunflowers, so we had grand plans to plant several pounds throughout the property. Unfortunately the critters and birds that reside near our home are equally obsessed with the seeds and ate most of them before they could sprout. We ended up with only a few dozen sunflowers – but they were gorgeous!
Pink, Pink, and more Pink. I created a wildflower bed near the house that I had also had big plans for – plans that were supposed to be pink, purple and yellow, but ended up being entirely pink. Because I planted my baby Snapdragons in with the Zinnias, you just couldn’t see them through the Zinnias’ lush (and spectacular) growth. I also added Sunflowers for yellow color, but we’ve already gone over what happened with them. The result was a sweeping statement of pink, which was elegant but not exactly what I had planned for. As my dad so eloquently put it one summer morning, “Why is it all one color? I don’t get it.” Some people love this look but it didn’t fit in with our wild landscape.
Now that I’ve admitted to my garden “failures,” it’s time to brag a little: I did have many garden successes in my summer of playing and experimenting in our new gardens.
Shrubs Added Privacy and Winter Interest. We added almost a dozen shrubs to the property throughout the season, collected from American Meadows and my partner’s work as a landscape stonemason. These shrubs were strategically placed throughout the property, some breaking up long wildflower beds and others adding privacy and structure to our patio and screened porch. We also added several in front of the house for height and more privacy. Some of my favorites are Butterfly Bushes, Hydrangea, Burning Bush, Forsythia and Mock Orange. Now that our property is covered in snow, these shrubs add much-needed texture and interest to the gardens.
Wildflowers Galore. Despite my one perfectly pink masterpiece (which was still gorgeous), we added the Northeast Wildflower Mix all along the inside of our fence. This softened the fence line dramatically and offered up a rainbow of blooms from mid-summer all the way until frost. The wildflowers we planted also attracted a variety of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds that I had a lot of fun watching and photographing.
Less Lawn, More Flowers. Although my lawn-obsessed family thinks I’m crazy, my partner and I have a goal to reduce the size of our lawn by at least 40% in the next few years. We both love gardening and don’t love the maintenance that our 1.5 acre lawn needs! This season we started by creating the new wildflower bed, the beds inside the fence and a new (huge) garden bed that I added tulips, daffodils and crocus to this fall.
Shade Plants Thrived. The gardens in the front of our house need a big makeover. In the meantime, I added a variety of shade perennials to the beds directly in front of our home and they did really well. My favorites included Hostas, Solomon’s Seal, Coral Bells and Bleeding Hearts.
Had Fun! This was one of my biggest successes. I woke up each morning excited to put on my garden gloves and go play in the dirt. Even though everything I did wasn’t perfect, is it ever? Despite my garden blunders, I had a great time throughout the season with my experiments.
Now, to the fun part: planning for next season.
Try Something New. We have a variety of new Itoh Peonies at American Meadows that I can’t wait to get my hands on. I haven’t grown them before so this is my season to try! I also want to add Clematis to my garden this season; I always admire it in other’s gardens and want to try growing it myself this spring, probably along the screened porch. This season I'll also grow enough Dahlias to cut and bring indoors for bouquets.
I’ve found a tool called “Garden Planner Online” is extremely easy (and free) to use. You can easily put in your square footage and design your garden. It can be addictive, so you’ve been warned!
More Wildflower Color! I am already in the process of planning a re-haul of my pink wildflower bed. This season I am going to try color blocking the area with bright, bold annual wildflowers like Zinnia, Cosmos and Poppies. I’m looking for a bold statement so I’ll choose reds/oranges and greens/blues, which are opposite each other on the color wheel, meaning they’ll complement one another.
Fix My Watering Problem. We are going to move the big rain barrel over near our gardens so it is much more useful to us. I am also going to plant more drought-tolerant varieties in areas that I know I won’t be able to water regularly. We’ve also (somewhat) fixed our water pressure issue, which will help.
Move Everyday Edibles Next To The House. We will still keep our fenced-in vegetable garden out in the field (for my partner to tend to), but I’m going to plant our everyday edibles in my wildflower garden beds next to the house. I’ve become obsessed with potager gardens from scrolling through Pinterest and plan to incorporate tomatoes, lettuce and herbs in with my wildflowers. This will make it easy to tend to these favorite edibles, as well as enhance the beauty of my garden beds. Plus, tomatoes and herbs match my color-blocking scheme!
Put the plants you love most close to your home. If Peonies are your favorite flower, try to plant several near your home where you can enjoy them on a regular basis. If you love the smell of Lavender, plant some in a pot on your porch or balcony.
Start The Sunflowers Early. I am going to start some sunflowers indoors to transplant in key areas around the property, such as around our stone patio and in my potager/wildflower garden. We’ll still scatter seeds in early spring but at least we’ll know the seedlings will survive.
Create A Weeding Schedule. This is a big one. Weeding is my least favorite garden chore and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ve decided to create a weeding schedule to force myself to go out there twice per week and weed. I’ll rotate through different areas and set this time for first thing in the morning when it’s the coolest.
A garden is never finished and a gardener is never perfect. It’s the failures and successes of each season that make it so exciting to start fresh the next year. I know that highlighting my failures – and thus being able to work on them for next season – is what will make my garden better with each year.