Why It Helps to Have a Plan B in the Garden

Despite our best-laid plans, each season’s garden seems to have a mind of its own, so it’s good to have a Plan B. Even given our best efforts, the weather plays a part, and the insects—both good and bad. This season has been a series of subtle, and some not-so-subtle, reminders that I’m not the boss of the Bettman Gardens; the gardens are the boss.

For years I‘ve been trying to make the raised herb garden shine for the entire season. Perhaps you’ve had this experience? You plant a garden and it looks great. Your plants are perfectly selected for the sun and water availability. But, despite your best efforts, within a month or two the garden declines. Such is the case with the raised herb garden. The other day, as I silently scolded the garden, a park representative came up and shared that every gardener before me has struggled with the same spot. Well, at least I’m not alone.

Plan B

Allium ‘Millenium’ is part of Jennifer Smith’s Plan B at the Bettman Gardens. It’s a proven survivor in the space. Photo credit: Getty Images

Plan B in Action

I’ve amended the soil with pine fines and manure over the years and now I see more life in the form of earthworms—a good sign. I’m also taking cues from the plants that thrive and I’m simply adding more of those: Allium ‘Millenium’, yarrow, upright Verbena and Nepeta. This year I’m adding  Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ to the mix.

Poison ivy has posed a challenge. Over the winter I designed a winter viewing garden across from a bench. My plans were shared, the park helped me to acquire the necessary shrubs and then, when I went to plant I was thwarted by stands of poison ivy. Plan B? Kill the poison ivy, and find a new home for the shrubs.

Plan B

The Bettman Gardens thrive despite challenges, in part, because their gardener know the power of having a Plan B when the original vision falls through. Photo credit: Jennifer Smith

The Wisdom of Age

Am I annoyed that things are not going as I so beautifully depicted in my garden sketches? Of course! But, I’m more relaxed now, in my older gardening years. I have confidence in my gardening skills. If one plan flops, I know I will come up with a new, and often, better Plan B. As for the shrubs that need a new home, I’m creating a border garden along one side of the prairie.

Jennifer Smith is a horticulturist, garden writer and photographer for Wimberg Landscaping, a Cincinnati-based landscaping firm. She is the author of the Adventures of a Landless Gardener blog here on hortmag.com and the former managing editor of Horticulture.

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