The McC Garden:
I think having a garden has been the most educational thing I've done
in the last several years, outside of school. Through trial and
error (mostly error), I've learned many valuable lessons:
Back to the McC Garden
- Roses: lovely but
high maintenance and painful to work
with. I was tempted by the prospect of a lovely rose garden when
we first moved here, but now the only roses we have are the ones that
were already here. They're pretty, but a pain in the butt.
- Soil types can vary
wildly, even in a 37x125' yard. We have
dry/rocky, wet/clay, dry/clay, loam over sand, and some decent
clay/loam. A plant struggling in one place may only need to be
moved to another bed, and just because the loamy soil looks so
delicious and chocolately doesn't mean every plant will thrive
there. Some plants actually like it hot and dry and rocky!
- Overcrowding: The garden
in April looks nothing at all like the garden in
summer, or even in late May. Biomass accumulates so fast you
won't know what hit you. This is important to remember when you
look at the bits of green emerging from the soil in the spring and say,
"This garden is so sparse! I should add some more plants!" Remember how
wide each plant was last year. Take pictures. When in doubt, just wait.
You can add more plants any time during
the season, *if* you really do have gaps.
- Vinca is a great
groundcover, even in horrid growing conditions,
but don't expect to plant anything else in that bed because vinca
makes a dense mat of roots through which no water can go, and it
doesn't stay nicely inside its bed.
- Daylilies can rapidly
get out of hand. I was thrilled to
have drifts of the "wild" orange ones in our garden when we bought the
house, but I have lately been yanking them out or just cutting them
off at the ground so they don't crowd everything else.
native black-eyed Susan, is an annual. It drops so many seeds that in
the spring the path to the trashcans is
covered with tiny fuzzy seedlings, and every single one grows into a
huge flowering plant by late summer. It seems like a crime to thin out
such lovely plants! Luckily, they transplant
easily to other parts of the garden, but there does come a time when I
have to suck it up and just tear out handfuls of them, or mow them.
- Rearranging: Plants can
generally be moved easily, even if they've been in one
spot for years. If they're struggling, I often find that the
roots never got free from the initial root ball, indicating that either
I didn't do a good job of planting, or the difference in soils is just
too great (roots won't cross readily between soil types).
- Spray for black spot on
roses early and often!
- The best way to control aphids,
if the plant in question is small
enough, is to just clip off the terminal shoots where the aphids are
gathered. I'll go to great lengths to avoid having to spray
insecticides. I've grown to love my bumblebees, even though they
freak me out sometimes.
- White Dutch clover, which
can be purchased from seed providers
on-line, makes a great filler for bare patches in the lawn. It
tends to gum up the lawn mower a bit, but it covers better than grass
and also can nurse grass seedlings once established. Also, very pretty.
- Edging: Edging a garden,
even with just a sharp spade line between garden and lawn, turns a
hopeless jumble of plants into an intentional informal garden. It also
makes the lawn easier to mow! Plain rectangular bricks are the best
garden edger. That
black plastic edging stuff is awful to work with, and it's ugly! I also
like the short
green wire fencing that comes in a roll. It serves a dual purpose
of keeping the dogs out of the gardens and propping up floppy plants,
and it's nearly invisible.
- Letting go: If certain
plants won't grow, just let them die, and don't take it
personally. There are
plenty of other plants...in the...sea...whatever. Don't waste a
ton of energy babying the prima donnas; look at what does succeed in
your garden, and plant more of that.
- Natives, or native-like,
plants, are always best. Always.
help support local bird and insect populations
that need those species to carry out their own life cycles. I
really love the Illinois natives -- the grasses and purple and
gold flowers, the butterflies they attract, the immensely deep roots
and the fact that I only have to water very rarely.
- Clumps, not rows!