Gardening Magazine

I'll Never Get It Right

By John Markowski @jmarkowski0
I have the same exact feeling each and every year by the end of September.
This year, I got it right.

I spend most of September (and early October), moving plants around to "better" locations, with better companions and also spend a ton of time incorporating newly purchased plants (gotta love the 50% off sales) into the landscape.
With the milder temperatures, it is a great time of year to relocate/transplant said plants in order to give them enough time to establish themselves before frost.
It is a time to evaluate how individual plants performed that growing season and whether or not their conditions allowed them to put on the best show. Those that underwhelmed or failed all together, get a second chance to prove their worth somewhere else.
Maybe they truly needed full sun or in fact, were not deer resistant.
Maybe the foliage colors or shape clashed rather than contrasted.
Whatever the reason, I love the challenge. It becomes puzzle-like and keeps me up at night. It's invigorating. And I'm always convinced everything is in its right place (awesome Radiohead reference by me ... never mind).
But here's the problem. All the tinkering each fall holds me back from creating new gardens/vignettes/vistas. I can't move on to new and exciting projects because the old ones just aren't right. One step forward, two steps back (and a not so awesome Paula Abdul reference).
What's invigorating is also maddening.
So I decided to take a step back and analyze my decision making process to see why I cannot put a ribbon on a garden bed and move on. Some possible reasons for this indecision:
  1. Is it simply the nature of plants and a necessary evil of gardening? Trial and error?
  2. Do I have gardening ADD and just can't stop myself from tinkering?
  3. Is there some psychological reasoning where I subconsciously never allow myself to see it complete?
  4. Am I getting smarter each year and the transplanting is a result of that new knowledge?
To attempt to answer these questions, I took one particular garden bed and traced it from its origins to current day. Here are the results and what I learned from the exercise:
The original garden bed just as I started reshaping it and making it much larger:
I'll never get it right
A few weeks later it was "completed" (ha). From left to right, there is a Weigela 'Wine and Roses', Rudbeckia, Spirea 'Antony Waterer', Sedum 'Matrona' and a few Daylilies:
I'll never get it right
Damn it felt good to have that done. But it didn't last and here is how it unfolded.
  • The Rudbeckia (Blackeyed Susan) almost immediately were covered in black spots and I had to cut them down in late summer. They never really came back fully the following spring and those that did, mysteriously reseeded in other parts of the yard: 
I'll never get it right
  • The Sedum 'Matrona' were OK into the late summer but were eaten by some combination of deer/rabbits. I eventually moved them to a new location in the spring where they couldn't be reached by the critters.
Cut to the following summer and we've made some adjustments.
We've added a Sneezeweed in the back of the bed, a Northern Sea Oats right in the middle of the bed, a Hibiscus 'Kopper King' is hidden behind the Spirea, added a few Spiderwort 'Sweet Kate' at the foot of the NSO, added a yellow Arborvitae, some dwarf Bee Balm and divided the Daylillies in order to add a few more to the mix:   
I'll never get it right
I'll never get it right
I'll never get it right
OK, we're back on track ... except we're not. And here's why:
  • The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' never really bloomed or thrived and after digging it up, I realized it was just about sitting in standing water. Off she goes to another bed for her second chance.
  • The yellow arborvitae just never really fit in. The color was "blech" and just uninspiring. For whatever reason, I went on an Arborvitae spending spree a few years back and now I'm stuck with them and they are underwhelming.
  • The dwarf Bee Balms never survived the winter due to poor drainage.
  • The so-called indestructible Spirea was covered in poison ivy and upon removal, was also suffering from poor drainage:
I'll never get it right
  • The NSO just seemed a bit too tall for its location and was already showing signs of reseeding heavily. She needed to be in a more natural bed where reseeding was more acceptable.
  • The Hibiscus was awesome for a while and I loved the fact that my daughter could see the massive blooms right out our back window:        
I'll never get it right
But the leaves were getting devoured in a prominent location which frustrated me to no end:
I'll never get it right
And eventually, I cut them down and relocated them to a spot where I "think" I can enjoy the blooms and they'll have more space to grow:
I'll never get it right
After the Weigela was removed, I replaced it with a Salix (Dappled Willow) 'Hakuro Nishiki' figuring it would be OK with the poor drainage:
I'll never get it right
And it was ... too much so. It thrived beyond belief but I knew it would soon outgrow its space. So off it went to a new location where I could keep it in bounds with an annual pruning and where it could be a strong focal point:
I'll never get it right
So now fast forward to today ... and I have a new plan or the start of a new plan I should say. The bed looks awful but I have to ignore that and proceed with my plan. The newly added plants are small and look out of place, but I am determined to remain patient.
In the center of the bed, are two new hydrangeas that have been carefully planted and are a bit higher than ground level to improve the drainage. I'm banking on these popping with blooms in the summer (and they are my wife's favorite so I wanted to incorporate more).
There is a Dwarf Alberta Spruce in the back of the bed as I know these have thrived for me and grown quickly in almost the same conditions in other parts of the yard.
I added a Feather Reed Grass 'Overdam' in the middle of the deck where the Dappled Willow was before.
The Spiderwort will soon be moved to a new location as they are too similar to the nearby Daylillies and I need something there that will good between the hydrangeas.
And finally, I divided a few Siberian Irises and added them to this bed hoping they'll look good with the Panicum and Hydrangeas nearby:        
I'll never get it right
We'll see how long this lasts as only time will tell.
As for conclusions drawn, I realize that all of the reasons I listed above come into play but more than anything else, it's all about trial and error.
Yes, I should have known the Weigela needed better drainage but that individual spot seems to be worse than others in the bed, but who knew.
Yes, I knew the Sedum were vulnerable to deer and rabbits but I figured I would stay on top of the spraying.  Um, not really.
Yes, the Hibiscus needed more space, but I loved the idea that my daughter could see the blooms up close with ease.
This passion will last a lifetime and I know I will learn something new every day. How boring would it be if everything just stayed as is regardless of how good it looked. I'd eventually ignore it completely out of boredom.
I'll get it right and wrong again but I'll have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
I ain't changing.

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