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Four thoughts for beginning gardeners

Read tags on perennials, edge, keep it small and don’t plant in beautiful weather

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 12:51pm

My mind is jam packed with worry about you new gardeners. You are at the forefront of my thought process. What to do about you?
All of this mental agitation has been instigated by my neighbors who have moved one lot over into a new house with so very much gardening potential. They invited me over to give them some tips. I quickly realized that they would get more out of me by visiting my garden and bearing witness to my mistakes. They got the point and altered their plans.
But what about you? Well, I decided to give you a list of thoughts to mull over.
1. Please, read the tags on your perennials. Make note of the mature size of the plant you have purchased. That gorgeous lilac you have wanted forever that reminds you of your grandmother can get really and truly huge.
Lilacs are listed as shrubs but be warned, they can take over. Not only are mine planted too close together, they are now shaded by mountain ash and spruce. A shaded lilac won’t bloom.
The same goes for mock orange that each and everyone of us should have in our gardens. They are gorgeous, with an arching habit that needs room. I have three of these, each one planted at a corner of the deck, each one too crowded.
The one by the French doors arches over to the wall of the house. This is most lovely when in full bloom and I fit under the branches quite comfortably on my way to the front of the house.
Not John. Oh no. Not even close. Could it be because he is a foot taller than me? Did I plan for that difference? No. Did I even think about it when it went into the ground? No. Did the tag say it would spread eight feet? Yes.
I had no faith and now I’m (we are) paying for it. It has a really ugly pruning. If it knew it would be embarrassed, like after a bad haircut and you really want to wear a hat for a month.  
What about those peonies? Please, give them at least three feet. They need air circulation and the opportunity to strut their stuff which won’t happen if they are packed in together.
I hope this gives you the idea about giving your perennials enough space, read the tags.
2. Edging. Don’t fight this. All you need is a sharp spade. Cut a wedge between your beds and the lawn (or potential lawn). Do this now when the ground is still soft. This will cut the grass roots and help keep it from overtaking the beds. I do believe grass is our most invasive species.
If you want your edges to be straight or curved use the hose to lay out your desired shape or to, at least, keep the edge in the shape you have in mind, just follow the hose.
My edges are nothing like this. I just go for it with the space. As the bed fills in over the season, the edge is blurred anyway. Those of you who think you need rocks to define your edges, think again. Grass will invade between the rocks and you will become a slave to pulling it out. Horrors.
I’ve tried the regular edging material that comes in a roll and is about four inches wide. The lawn just grows up and over it in no time flat. Plus, it moves around with the frost heaves.
Use a sharp spade, do the edges now, and you won’t even break a sweat, that is if you ...
3. Keep your garden small. Please, I can’t say this enough. What is it that you need? How much do you want to weed, to tend? How bad do you want to do this?
Position some plants so that you see them when you come home. It’s comforting.
How about nothing more than a pot on the deck with peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes and pansies? If you find success with that who knows where it will lead?
4. At the moment the weather is beautiful, the worst kind to set out seedlings. Wait for a cloudy day, a little rain (all of this is in the near future forecast). But first give your seedlings a chance to acclimate to the Far North’s formidable weather. This acclimation is called hardening off. It gives your tender seedlings a chance to make peace with their fate.
Choose a spot that is protected from direct sunlight and wind. Oh the wind.  Cold wind. Relentless wind. Damn that wind. At my location I have a steady day breeze, you know that breeze, out of the west, reaching into the marrow of your bones. Keep your tender lovelies away from that wind.
I’m cheering for you. I want you to garden, to enjoy it, to succeed. You can do this.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.

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