Year end garden review: 6 top picks and inspiring garden tips

Yep, it’s the end of another year. Time to take stock and make resolutions. Hah! Despite my best intentions, exercise regimes, diets and self improvement schemes fall by the wayside quickly as winter progresses.

I’m much more successful with garden resolutions, and they’re way more fun! As I scroll through garden photos and reflect on past successes and failures, I find that there is plenty to improve and build upon. A bumper crop of dahlias, unexpected plant successes, visits to gardens that delighted me and plenty of inspiration from other gardeners provide me with the framework to make the coming year even better.

Maybe some will inspire you, or at least to scroll through your own garden photos for specific reminders.

1. Successes to build on: Plants I want more of

If you want to grow flowers that make life worth living, grow dahlias. I finally got it right this year, a bumper crop for the first time ever. Here’s how - I finally got serious about giving them what they need; good drainage, rich soil and plenty of moisture. My soil conditions were less than ideal so I raised the bed up several inches, then dug in perlite and compost to lighten up the heavy clay soil. I fed them once a week with organic Miracle Gro and watered three times a week. They like moisture but not sodden conditions. I had to adjust the watering schedule whenever we had rain. Notice that I have big heavy stakes behind each plant. They produce better when you support the stems as they grow. A fair amount of hot dry weather in August helped things along.

Start with firm healthy tubers. I got mine from Swan Island Dahlias - they’re little pricey, but worth it. They have a dazzling selection of dahlias in all sizes as you can see from the photos below.

The dinner plate Dahlias are my favorites for cutting. Long stems and big flowers. What could be better?

2.Unexpected pleasures: Tips for tenuous plants

I have an ongoing love affair with Clematis - but I’ll confess that I’ve killed my fair share of them. Against my better judgement I purchased a tiny Clematis x subcrodata from a vendor at a lecture I attended. It’s native in more southern regions than my zone 5 garden so I wasn’t holding my breath. It surprised me by putting on a fair amount of growth and a multitude of sweet little bell shaped flowers. I attribute my success to planting it in a container in a protected part of the garden. The container is also very deep so there is plenty of room for the root system to develop. I fed it monthly and watered it weekly. This method is worth trying with anything that looks iffy.

Clematis x subcrodata

Never give up on anything is the lesson here. This little Anemone, ‘Fantasy Red Riding Hood’ got lost in the shuffle of spring planting and the poor thing was half dead by the time I discovered it. My pot method revived it - transplanting to a larger container and watering regularly. It made an impressive comeback - just in time for a late September bloom. It’s a dear little thing, about 6 inches high and perfect for a shady spot. Yes, I’m ordering more.

dwarf anemone

Anemone ‘Fantasy Red Riding Hood’

3.Gardens that inspired me : Things I want to try

A trip to visit gardens in England in May prompted me to think about planting more aliums. Forget 5 or 6 in a clump, the Brits grow them in enormous masses. I especially admired the stands of white alium - not seen nearly enough here, at least in my garden.

If some is good, more is better right? I’d like to try mixing masses of the purple varieties with poppies.

4.Inspiring combinations: Things to dream about

Sometimes you see things in gardens you just have to try. This simple and stunning combination is ideal for a damp shady spot! It’s got it all going on, great textures and an interesting chartreuse color palette.

Left to right: Acorus (not sure of the variety), Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ and Itea ‘Little Henry

Left to right: Acorus (not sure of the variety), Itea Virginia ‘Little Henry (Sweetspire) Cephalanthus occidentalis (Button Bush)

Now this bottom photo shows a truly lush shade garden! And what an array of texture and color going on without looking busy or disjointed. I’ve been studying this one closely.

Plants left to right: Cornus alternifiolia (Pagoda Dogwood) ‘Golden Shadows’, dwarf Hosta, Hakonochloa aurea ‘All Gold’, Epimedium, Violets, Hostas.

My friend Nellie Gardner of Flower Fields designed this wild prairie style garden. The rich colors and textures inspire me. I was particularly drawn to the variety of sedums interplanted along the border. They provide interesting textures and color without taking over, flourish in dry soil and hot sunny spots. And what could be easier? I filed this idea away - just the ticket to replace the boxwoods in my front garden.

sedum matrix

Sedum sieboldi, Sedum ‘Lime Twister’ and Sedum spurium ‘Red Carpet’

5.Containers of many virtues:

Growing plants in pots solve a multitude of problems and provide many possibilities. Here are a few more ways I saw containers being used in some of the gardens I visited this year. Who would have thought of growing poppies in containers? The gardeners at Great Dixter of course. I seed poppies in my garden every spring with varying luck. They take forever to germinate and while you’re waiting, it’s easy to accidentally step on them, pull them up or else they get smothered by other plants. This looks like a sure fire way to get the results I want. You have total control in a pot. Needless to say, I left this garden with a bulging bag of poppy seeds for future use.

Now here’s a New Years resolution to ponder. I am not a neat and tidy gardener. I lose tags, put things in weird pots and mislay plants. I aspire to displays like this. No motley assortment of pots here, and just look at that neat labeling!

Large containers provide the foundation planting for this house. I think it’s interesting and practical.

I love how they're used containers to enclose the area around the front door. Great solution for a small spot or problem areas.

6. Management: Ways to make gardening easier

I have entertained a variety of ways to save water, but this one is really snazzy. They thought of everything! Whoever built this had the wisdom to raise the tank high enough to attach a hose easily.

The owner of a very large garden came up with a method of keeping invasive plants out of her beds. Periodic weed whacking between the woodlands and edge of the bed keeps them at bay.

Here’s a close up shot - about a foot or two between the two areas. Such a simple solution!

When you get right down to it, a garden is more than just soil and plants. It’s about what fuels our imagination and drives us forward. Delight in unexpected pleasures, plant a little more, work a little less, experiment fearlessly and share generously. Happy New Year!


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