Getting The Gold From Overgrown Gardens

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Summer Editing: Giving Away The Garden

After the slow, wet spring, the gardens are lush and full, packed with foliage and bursting with bloom. I’ve never seen such a year for dogwoods, the woody structure of which are almost invisible under their burden of enormous blossoms. The roses promise to be equally outrageous, and dozens of plants are twice their usual size.

If many gardens look grand, as many or more look crammed and overcrowded. Swollen hydrangeas and blobby rhododendrons hang heavily over neighboring plants, which lean desperately to seek the sun. Towering cedars and firs spread shade into formerly sunny areas and overly vigorous ground covers swamp their perennial partners.

Too Much Of Too Many Good Things

This very common situation occurs because optimistic gardeners over-plant, happily convinced that they really can have it all. That works when all is small, but as plants mature, spacing problems develop. Some are easily resolved; a skilled arborist can thin those tall evergreen trees to allow the garden more light and air while maintaining the trees’ structural integrity and natural beauty. Shrubs and perennials can be moved, as long as there is somewhere for them to go.

High summer is a terrific time to make editing decisions about which plants (or branches) could or should go to allow room for the proper development of others. However, decision time is not action time. If we want transplants to survive and thrive, it’s far better to wait until autumn for their big move. Of course, if you just plan to dig and toss the plants, that can happen anytime.

Why Save Those Extras?

There are some excellent reasons to save good plants. Clear examples of these good reasons include Habitat For Humanity housing, local food banks, schools, churches, libraries, nursing homes, and community parks and gardens. Most communities offer multiple opportunities to turn garden excess into shared and appreciated beauty.

Such opportunities can be amazingly rewarding for all concerned. As an example, my dear friends, the Friday Tidies have maintained the extensive gardens at our local library for over 15 years. The grounds have been expanded several times, and each time, this patient team of skillful and energetic gardeners has created breathtakingly beautiful ways to turn the empty beds into bountiful borders.

A New People’s Park

In today’s tough economy, many communities lack money and personnel and parks can get short shrift. That offers a terrific chance to step up and make something happen. Here on Bainbridge Island, the Rotary Club decided to convert an unsightly former gas station site near the ferry dock into a pedestrian walkway. They gathered an outstanding array of local architects, contractors, civil engineers, graphic designers, historians, artists and so forth, who have volunteered hundreds of hours over the past two years to plan this project. They hope to break ground this fall and begin planting as the rains arrive.

The budget for this ambitious community project is limited, but amazing amounts of materials and work will be donated. So will many plants, which is where that backyard editing comes in. This summer, I’ll be calling on local gardeners and landscapers to help us locate big rhododendrons and other shrubs which could help fill the gardens along the wide pathway. The result will be mutually beneficial; overgrown gardens gain breathing room and the park gets instant maturity.

Donating Plants Instead of Dollars

Many community projects could benefit enormously from donated plants. The Bainbridge pathway will divide a wild garden that blends into a wooded ravine from an island bed bright with colorful plants. The wild garden will need natives like twiggy dogwoods, wild cherries, roses, oceanspray, and huckleberries. The island bed will need low maintenance perennials, clumping grasses, ground covers, and bulbs. If your garden offers excess, please consider offering it where it will be appreciated and reused.

Over the years, I’ve developed a palette of sturdy, easy going plants that deliver reliable year-round good looks and require very little maintenance. Many of them are mainstays of the magnificent library gardens, which have become a regular tourist destination. These plants are also ideal for prime positions in home gardens where chore time is sporadic.

Rock Steady Plants For Public and Private Places

Obviously, hundreds of plants could be called out (all my absolute favorites), but I don’t want to overwhelm you, so here’s a brief starter list:

Callicarpa Profusion
Ceanothus Victoria
Flowering currant
Fuchsia (upright)
Redtwig dogwoods, Midwinter Fire
Indian plum
Japanese maples
Kolkwitzia amabilis
Western mock orange
Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Allium christophii
Aster x frikartii
Bronze carex
Centranthus ruber
Crocosmia Lucifer
Eupatorium Gateway
Japanese anemone (white)
Lady’s mantle
Matricaria golden feverfew
Miscanthus Graziella, Morning Light
Nepeta Six Hills Giant, Dawn to Dusk
Oregano (golden, Hopley’s Purple, etc.)
Rugosa roses (Hansa) & natives
Sedum Autumn Joy
Sisyrinchium striatum Aunt May
Solidago Fireworks
Spirea Goldflame
Thalictrum Thundercloud
Variegated Iris foetidus

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