Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Selected from the list of must-have plants, these easy-care roses provide a counterpoint to clipped hedges and traditional structures.

Make a List, Check it Twice

Have you ever wondered what makes some gardens successful and others less so? For me, the answer is twofold. I like gardens that are expressive and cohesive. In other words, they reflect the interests and sensibilities of the gardener, but do so with a clear point of view.

My late friend and mentor Margot Rochester often said, "Don't garden for anyone other than yourself. Don't worry what the neighbors might say or what members of the garden club think."

I agree. If you fill your landscape with what you like, it will always be a personal haven. Take the garden a step further, though, by unifying the space with well-planned design and carefully-chosen plants, and it will be a favorite of everyone.

Easier said than done, right?

Nine years ago, when my family moved to the Upstate of South Carolina, I found the process of creating the new garden less fraught with indecision and more satisfying than earlier attempts at landscaping. I knew what I liked, I organized my ideas, and I was willing to edit.

I want order and structure in the garden. Straight paths and direct line focal points are pleasing to me. Certainly, the rigid style I prefer is not everyone's taste, but formal landscapes satisfy me more than less precise arrangements, and I've decided that's okay.

I'm passionate about some plants (Sinningia tubiflora is a new favorite), but admit I'm more design-oriented than plant focused. I'll include some plants in the garden just because I like them. Most, however, are chosen for decorative effect, multi-season interest, or wildlife value.

So, short of years of experience, how do you begin to know what you like? And when contemplating design, how do you organize and edit a vision that will satisfy you, as well as others?

Thinking back to my first months in the new garden, before I began a definitive plan, I realize I spent a lot of time making lists.

I made a list of must-have plants. Salvias, which I adore for their bright colors, late-season display, long-lasting flowers, and allure to birds and insects, topped the page. Blooming shrubs, such as viburnums, hydrangeas, and easy-care roses, were next.

I also listed seasons by priority. Autumn is my favorite time of year, so I chose fall as my first focus, and spring as my second. Summer, I reasoned, would take care of itself. And although I ultimately planned an area to showcase winter-blooming plants, in general, I want to relax my efforts and enjoy a less hectic pace in the cool-season.

I even chose the color schemes I liked best. Then, I decided which garden structures and ornaments suited my taste, and I determined which styles and materials coordinated with the house.

Even gardening magazines played an important part in the process. When I was a child, I made-up a game that originated with the Sears holiday catalog. Now when I play, I simply search magazines, front to back, for the five things I like most.

What began as fun has been a boon in many ways. Home magazines have helped decorate my house, cooking magazines have filled my recipe book, and gardening magazines have made it easier to identify the plants and garden styles that appeal to me most.

Even now, with the garden on auto-pilot, I still occasionally refer to the lists. Any tempting plant or ornament has to pass muster. Is it the right color or style? Does it bloom at the favored time of year? Does it coordinate with the house and other structural elements?

Defining what I liked clarified my vision of what I wanted the garden to be. Making lists kept me organized and made it easy to edit the nonessential and to put aside elements that didn't work with the whole. Perhaps even more important, the process resulted in a garden that is both expressive and cohesive -- just the kind of place I like best.

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