Resolve to beautify the garden

Gardeners' plans for a fresh start don't need to be expensive or complicated

January 07, 2007|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

Gardeners get a fresh start every year. Glossy catalogs full of new plants, ideas and inspiration fill the mailbox in January, and before you know it, you're making lists, plans and decisions. The New Year is upon us, but it's really never too late to make New Year's resolutions, and gardening resolutions are the kind you won't regret.

A gardener's resolutions don't have to involve giving anything up. When you resolve to make your garden more beautiful, the changes don't have to be expensive or difficult or involve plants with names you can't pronounce. Three professional horticulturists from botanic gardens around the country offer apt and adaptable New Year's resolutions that any gardener could happily embrace.

"The most important thing for me is that gardens should be exciting," says Karl Gercens, a senior gardener at Longwood Gardens, the spectacular botanic garden near Philadelphia. Gercens is from Mississippi and talks a mile a minute, dropping gardening ideas like so many seeds in the wind.

"I make resolutions throughout the year," he says. Here are a couple of his resolutions.

More foliage colors. "I am really on the bandwagon for color," Gercens says. "God has blessed us with so many green plants, we don't need to plant green any more."

He looks for trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers with striking foliage or with red, silver or blue leaves. He likes plants with brightly colored stems, peeling bark, day-glo berries and unexpected weeping habits or contorted shapes. There are lots of great choices, and this would be an easy resolution to keep.

Put the pruners away. Gercens would like to see more people discover the great pleasure and freedom of natural shapes in the garden.

"If you have a clipped hedge, you're inviting yourself to work for the rest of your life," he says. Let plants grow naturally and you'll have more time to enjoy the garden sanctuary you've created for yourself.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, works outdoors every day. There are always a million things to do to keep a public garden in tip-top shape, but at home, she says, it's important to relax.

Go native. Every gardener should experiment with at least one native plant that is new to them, DeLong-Amaya says.

"Native plants give your garden a sense of place and a regional identity," she says. Well-established native plants don't need water or fertilizer, so this is a resolution that benefits everyone. One of her new favorites is summer snow (Plumbago scandens), a butterfly plant for warm-climate gardens, native to the South. It has clusters of white flowers from May through September.

Take the afternoon off. DeLong-Amaya has a claw-foot bathtub in her rural garden, and after a hot day at work, she sometimes fills it with cool well water and jumps right in. It's a great vantage point, she says.

"There are things I miss every day because I'm not paying attention -- dragonflies, birds, a gecko chasing a moth, a snake molting," she says. DeLong-Amaya sits in her bathtub with a pair of binoculars and surveys the garden.

A bench or a comfortable garden chair also does the trick, especially if it's in the shade and has a view of a birdbath or pond, but you have to remind yourself of your resolution and force yourself to sit down.

When Heather Sherwood, a senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, goes home, she keeps right on gardening. In her tiny home garden, her great skill with plants and garden decoration are displayed on a small scale.

Stand up straight. Sherwood banished commercial bamboo and metal stakes from her home garden and lets natural materials hold her plants up. She suggests using colorful cuttings from red- and yellow-twig dogwoods for asters, chrysanthemums, columbines and other plants that need support.

Cut long twigs from trees and shrubs in winter and stick them in the ground around perennials when they're about 4 inches tall in spring. You can even use branches of deciduous hollies, whose berries sparkle in the garden. This is a frugal and convenient resolution: You don't have to rush out and buy something to solve every little garden problem. Make use of the natural resources at hand.

Don't waste garbage. Sherwood swears by her worm bin, which she made using instructions from the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof (Flower Press, $12.95). Sherwood bought her worms at a bait shop.

"It's easy to do, and even if you forget about it for a while, the worms don't mind," she says.

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