by Scott Beuerlein, horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Build your garden beds as if that is how you'll be forever judged. Everything you learn growing plants indoors, and then outdoors in containers, directly applies in the garden.
Is it tough to have a better garden?
My dad used to blather such platitudes as, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Back when I cut his grass, I gotta say I hadn’t fully bought in. Now, closing in on 60, I think he might have been on to something. Take gardening: You put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. Not screwing it up should be a priority.
Problem is, gardening is hard. Variables come from every direction. Weather, pests, pestilence, our own capricious decisions. Moreover, to fully master it, a person must be equally adept at science and art. That’s rare!
Defining What a Better Garden Means
Let’s define a “better garden.” Who is the judge? Your neighbor? Maybe your HOA? Oh, hell no! You should be the judge. But while gardens can and should be as diverseas the gardeners who tend them, some are certainly better than others. What sets them apart?
First, a better garden needs to function—live and thrive. Second, it should be reasonably low maintenance. Last but not least, it should be generally thought of as attractive. Pretty much the same traits we desire in a spouse, right? So simply try to build a garden just a little out of your league, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
5 Simple Secrets for a Better Garden Next Year
Even as we put this year’s gardens to bed, it’s not too soon to start honing our skills for greater success next year.
1 Don’t Listen To Fools
For good information, go to the best—your local county extension agents, public garden horticulturists, the local legends in the plant-society chapters and proven gardeners. Ingratiate yourself into the local gardening social web. Latch onto people with real training and/or years of experience, as opposed to those cocksure firebrands who’ve read a few books and gardened a couple of years and bundled that into a rat’s nest of attitude and doctrine. On the web, look for .edu suffixes, which will connote a university as the source, or .org suffixes, for most botanical gardens.
2 Resist Temptation
Easier said than done. So many cool, novel varieties are on the market. Sure, have some fun dabbling with the new stuff. I do. And sure as anything, some of those plants will even become the standard bearers of the future. But for the bulk of your garden, and for all of your important specimens, go with the tried and true. And be sure to web-search regional plant trials for reliable info.
3 Get Good Books
You should own at least one book on design, a handful on proper plant care, plant manuals and Principles of Gardening by Hugh Johnson. Other authors I like are Armitage, Cullina, Darke, Dirr, DiSabato-Aust, Druse and Sara Stein. Need more? Check the bibliographies of their books.
4 Don’t Overreact
Don’t do, without careful consideration, what cannot be undone. Think through such things as where you plant a big tree, or what you prune off, or who you spray. More harm comes to gardens by folks overreacting to issues than by the issues themselves.
5 Most Important, Have Fun
Enjoy the beauty you create. Keep growing. Improve. Share with others. And, yeah, the sooner the better.
Click here for more gardening tips from Scott Beuerlein for a better garden. This article is excerpted from a longer version that appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Horticulture.