Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Adding more winterberries to the garden is on my New Year's resolution list.

What Are Your Garden Resolutions?

As naturally flawed human beings, we are notorious for keeping to New Year's resolutions for only, on the average, about six weeks. Which, for gardeners, doesn't even get us to spring. For most of us living a four-season climate, winter is a wonderful "dreaming" time, when we sit indoors in a comfy chair by the fire with a steaming cup of cocoa and make all sorts of high-minded resolutions and plans for the upcoming growing season. I can't conceive of what it would be like to live in a warmer climate where there was never any down time. I need the winter to step back a bit from the actual act of gardening, to see what memories, both good and bad, flit through my mind and to imagine what the future might bring. And, if truth be told, sometimes I relish not thinking about gardening at all, even though my life revolves around it.

In my area, December has been very mild, meaning that gardening chores have continued. Since March usually brings the beginning of the gardening season here, that means the time is short to reflect and plan. So instead of resolutions, which the statisticians say are bound for failure, I'm giving myself time to think about what's worked, what hasn't, what I'd like to keep the same, and what I'd like to change. Writing them down helps to keep me from forgetting them by the time the spring rush is on. Perhaps, the same will work for you.

This is one my success stories. Several years ago, I did a major organization of garden tools and supplies. One of the best things done was to have wooden "arms" built in the barn where tools, like shovels, spades, and rakes, were hung. There are multiples of each of these, and the arms easily keep them in order and out in plain sight. Shelves were built that hold plastic tubs for different smaller garden tools and supplies, such as gloves, trowels, hose ends and repair supplies. That, too, has worked well.

While on the subject of gloves, if there are multiple gardeners in your household, consider using an over-the-door shoe rack where gloves can be put either into separate pockets for one style of shoe rack or over the rounded wires for another style.

What hasn't worked very well, organization wise, is pot storage. For one thing, there are just too many. The horticultural industry really has to work harder on figuring out better solutions to recycling nursery pots. If you care about the environment, throwing them away seems heinous. And they do come in handy, but just how many can a person use? As far as decorative pots go, with so many different shapes, sizes, and materials, they're hard to stack and keep readily available. I don't think there are any easy answers to this dilemma other than not acquiring so many.

Not everyone will want or need to label plants in the garden. For me, testing and writing about plants, it is a necessity. Yet, I am woefully behind on this project. Will this be the year to get caught up? Certainly, I keep the label that comes with the plant in the ground next to the plant, but these will break or blow away over time. I have the label machine and the zinc label holders. Now I just have to find the time or at least the motivation to move it up higher on the to-do list. As a fall-back, whenever a new plant is acquired, I print out a fact sheet or description, usually found on the internet, and put it in a three-ring binder. So at least I have a record of it coming into the garden.

Which Plants?
How do plants just seem to hop into my car on a sunny spring day or get ordered online at midnight? I try to be discriminating, but, no doubt, more parameters need to be put into place. Once totally smitten by any and all perennials, over time I have come to most enjoy ones that are either indestructible or are from a very small list of ones that bring me special pleasure (making them worth any trouble they may be to grow). Among the ones from one list or the other are daylilies, iris, asters, mums, sedums, heucheras, hostas, catmints, salvias, hellebores, native wildflowers, and ornamental grasses. Most of these are either long-lived and/or easily dividable, providing more plants to put around the garden. Fortunately, I've not been bitten by the "collecting bug" for the many varieties that are offered for some of the above.

I'm always amused to hear people say they want to grow perennials instead of annuals because they're less work. Come tell me that after you've trimmed all the daylilies and iris. Annuals are a blessing for gardens, especially the common ones. There's nothing like the blaze of season-long color from petunias. And what is more beautiful than a pastel carpet of impatiens under the cooling shade of a tree? Fie on those people who scoff at impatiens. My kitchen garden would be much more ordinary looking without the mounds of dwarf marigolds at the corners of each of the nine beds.

Although the gardens on the farm already had a wide array of trees and shrubs, thanks to my mother, over the last several years, I've found myself adding to the collection. They provide a structure to the garden as well as the individual traits each brings. I'm also finding myself wanting to add more evergreens of all shapes and sizes. They not only keep the garden seeming like a garden in winter, but provide an important visual element in summer as well. A recent awareness is how much I like dwarf conifers. Gifted of several by Iseli Nursery over the last few years, they bring a much-needed character to perennial beds. A major addition to my shopping list is to add more winterberry hollies this coming year. They've been a favorite of mine for years, but I'm realizing this winter that I've faltered in adding as many as I would like. Nothing bring joy to winter like they do.

How Much Garden?
This past summer I had a conversation with a friend who had fantasies of creating an English cottage garden. Unfortunately, aspects of her life precluded creating such a labor-intensive garden, including her own personality. Certainly there are some who would say I was in the wrong in discouraging her. But, in my defense, I gave her ideas of how she could create the feeling of such a garden with much less effort. The lesson here, with the finger pointed directly at myself, is how much garden is reasonable? Thank goodness, no new areas are planned by this gardener for the coming year. That's a major step. Now we'll see if what is here can be adequately maintained. Making a garden smaller is a much larger challenge than making it bigger. Maybe I'll put that on next year's list.

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