Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
December, 2000
Regional Report

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A fence to define the garden area can be visually appealing and also help to limit the garden space, reducing the temptation to plant more than you can handle.

Low-Maintenance Gardens

The seed and plant catalogs are starting to fill my mailbox, providing a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Although the temptation is to just start ordering, I need to do a little thinking first about what I'd like to change in my gardens this year. The vegetable garden was very close to the vision that I've been working toward for the last several years. It was not only as pretty as any other part of the garden, but also quite productive. On the other hand, the various flower beds and herb garden did not live up to my expectations.

Overworked in the Garden

One problem is lack of time. And part of that may be unique to my situation: I am now helping my mother with her yard, which creates scenes not unlike those of a situation comedy. But otherwise it is similar to what many gardeners face. Is gardening becoming more of a chore than a pleasant pastime? I feel like I could have worked in the garden 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this past year. As much as I love gardening, I do have other interests and time constraints in life, to say nothing of needing to make a living.

To make gardening fun, rather than overwhelming, I've tried to think of ways to change my gardening habits. The following list is not all-inclusive, but it does provide a starting point for rethinking garden designs and plants.

Design Gardens to Organize Space

Probably the most startling revelation for me was the concept that a garden isn't necessarily about plants. Rather, it's about space. When I think of some of my favorite gardens, what I remember is the overall effect, the feeling, of the garden, not just the plants. My conclusion is to think about garden design first, organizing space and creating rooms, just like the books tell you to. Then think about which of those weird and wonderful "must-have" plants you really need and where they fit in to your plan.

Define Boundaries

Next on my list is defining boundaries. If you have a postage-stamp yard, the boundaries have already been defined. If you have a larger property, you may want to consider installing an attractive fence or wall to create a reasonable-sized area for your most intensive garden efforts.

Choose Plants Carefully

Now we get to the plants. If reduced maintenance and the greatest visual impact is your goal, focus on using comparatively few species and cultivars, but in large numbers. Look for plants with form and texture, multiseason interest, a long blooming period, drought and pest tolerance. With perennials, it's also handy to have plants that are self-cleaning (don't need deadheading) and don't require frequent division.

Location, Preparation, and Mulch

As with real estate, location, location, location is important. Plants grow best, with less care, when they are grown under their ideal cultural conditions (sun-shade, wet-dry). It's paramount to prepare the soil well before you plant, incorporating plenty of organic matter. To avoid frequent pruning, be sure to space plants for their mature size, and, finally, mulch with an organic material deeply and faithfully to slow weed growth and minimize watering needs, plus adding fertility over the long run.

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