Gardening Magazine

Dance with the One That Brung Ya

By John Markowski @jmarkowski0

I have a ritual each winter where I review all of my plant photos from the prior gardening year as a means to not only escape the winter doldrums, but also as a means for planning. I drink a few hearty ales and take copious notes during this exercise and it creates the framework for all that I plan to change that upcoming spring.
I distinctly remember two winters ago, when I was in full blown garden review mode, when a very obvious notion finally penetrated my thick skull. Four simple words: "Stick with what works." As most gardeners are want to do, I was always in search of new and exciting plants to try out. While that is fun and all, it really prevented me from creating my ideal robust garden. Half the plants would die over the winter or would be devoured by the deer. I was unable to make any progress out in the garden.
I knew I wouldn't completely give up on seeking out new plants, but I could create the bulk of my garden around trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials that I knew would "work". Seems like an obvious concept but for whatever reason, it was lost on me.
Fast forward to now and finally I know all of the plants that survived the winter. There were a whole bunch of casualties that I've mourned, but for those recent additions that survived the extreme temps, poor winter/spring drainage and the deer, I am forever grateful. As expected, these survivors were previously proven performers, further proof that "stick with what works" ... well ... works. And here is photographic proof:
As you may be aware, I have nothing but great things to say about Amsonia. They have literally sat in standing water for periods of time and have been completely ignored by the deer. When I was seeking out a ground cover in a particularly poor draining area of the garden, Amsonia 'Blue Ice' was a no-brainer. Two years later, all twelve of them are thriving:                      
Dance with the one that brung ya
Dance with the one that brung ya
As are all of the Amsonia tabernaemontana:
Dance with the one that brung ya
Dance with the one that brung ya
Itea 'Henry's Garnet' was one of the first shrubs I planted in my landscape back in 2005 and all of them are still kicking ass today. So logically, why not add some 'Little Henry' shrubs in tighter areas. I did just that last fall and yes, all six of them are on their way this spring:
Dance with the one that brung ya
For reasons unknown, I owned only two Clethra shrubs as of a year ago, even though they have thrived since day one. So last fall I picked up a bunch more of these at a steep discount and finally this week, they have all arrived after a long deep winter slumber:
Dance with the one that brung ya
Irises and me = perfect together:
Dance with the one that brung ya
Lady's Mantle has consistently been ignored by the deer and the rabbits so why not use it like mad as a ground cover all over. Seems to be OK with both full sun and partial shade:
Dance with the one that brung ya
Two Penstemon 'Husker's Red' hung out in my garden for years, looking good but not adding much to the larger equation. I divided them up, two became six and as a larger grouping, not so bad:
Dance with the one that brung ya
I haven't completely abandoned the pursuit of new plants. Just this week I added Allium 'Blue Eddy' knowing the deer will ignore it but now to study how it likes the moist clay soil:  
Dance with the one that brung ya
Speaking of Allium, I'm testing out 'Globemaster' this year for the first time and so far so good:
Dance with the one that brung ya
And finally, I finally succumbed to trying out a few Baptisia and we'll see how they perform:
Dance with the one that brung ya

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