Will the garden ever be done? The never ending quest for perfection

While helping a friend move plants around in the most recent iteration of her garden, she turned to me and asked, “do you think the garden will ever be done?” Fat chance! Most of us can’t give up the quest for perfection. As elusive as it is, we don’t (or can’t) stop trying.

The never ending quest can be darned frustrating though. At least, that’s how I felt when I looked at my backyard last fall. I’ll bet a lot of you can relate to this kind of thing. The horrors unfold in the photos below. It all began when I enclosed the area in the corner with variegated dogwoods, thinking it would be a delightful little hideaway. I pictured myself peering out from the patio behind them while admiring the view of the plantings against the house. It was all good for awhile.

A weakness for immediate gratification turned out to be my downfall. The variegated Red-Twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Ivory Halo’) gradually took over, and by the end of last summer I could barely find a place to sit. Pruning them back helped marginally, but obviously, some of them had to go.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the Redbud tree (a major piece) against the house died. So much for the view - it left an unsightly bunch of stumps in its wake and a naked looking house. Beyond depressing.

OMG, this is beyond embarrassing. This sight made me cringe! My only recourse was to paint that ugly chimney white and cover it up with plants.

I don’t know why I put up with this for so long - looks much better painted white.

I replaced the dead tree with a Kousa dogwood to help obliterate the chimney and transplanted some of the variegated dogwoods between the existing evergreens to get them to pop a bit more.

Vertical trellis’s on either side of the window helped to break up the long naked expanse of vinyl siding. I managed to get them installed just before winter hit last year.

How to make this flat boring bed more interesting wasn’t without challenges. Everything seemed to be the same height - I didn’t have enough room to plant anything taller than the one Kousa dogwood. The bed was long, narrow and shaded for most of the day, so plant choices were limited. I took stock of what was already there - mostly ferns, hostas and grasses and added more of them. I wanted to keep it simple, but vibrant with lots of texture.

Plants below, left to right: Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (Full Moon Maple) - added to build up height in that corner, Pulmonaria ‘Mrs. Moon’ Athyrium niponicum pictum (Japanese painted fern), Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’, Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’, Hakonochloa macra ‘All Gold’ (Hakon grass).

I’ve got a green, white and gold theme going on here. I tried to vary height by planting in layers. Hakon grass in the foreground, between the Red-Twig dogwoods, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo,’ and in the background Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle.’ ‘Bobo’ is a new acquisition I’ve grown fond of - a dwarf panicle hydrangea (3’) that performs nicely in some shade. Most of this was put in last fall, some was already in place and a few things were divided this spring. I kept on tweaking as summer progressed.

Another view below - Planting hostas with shrublike proportions helped fill in spaces quickly (Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ and Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’), and kept weeds down. Lonicera x heckrotti ‘Goldflame’ (Honeysuckle) is trellised upward to give a little more verticality to this area.

This is what it looked like around July. Because I got the bones of the planting in before winter set in, I was ahead of the game in spring. Fall is prime time to edit and transplant. If you don’t finish, you can continue your work in spring and enjoy the improvements as you go. I find the bit by bit approach helpful when I’m overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.

This years view is better from every angle. The never ending thirst for perfection is satisfied for now, but by nature, gardens are never done - they evolve over a period of time. Plants die, overgrow their space, need dividing or fall out of favor - our job is to watch, wait, manage and hope.


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