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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – September 21

My friend Jessica Small, from Small Gardens in West Harwich, just sent me some photos of my last garden. They were taken at least ten years ago when my property was on a church garden tour. Seeing these pictures prompted me to think about how that garden helped me become a better gardener. Here are ten things I learned:

1.  Just because it seemed like a good idea at the time doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. I started off thinking that the front garden would be blue and white, but soon saw that it was boring. Maybe this color scheme works in other gardens, but what I did was a huge snooze. I got over it and moved on.

2.  Editing is really, really important. Just because a plant has spread or self-seeded into a particular place doesn’t mean it should stay there. Pulling extras out and throwing them away makes everything look better.

3.  Planting anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a mistake. The hybrid called Blue Fortune, is sterile and fantastic, but the straight species self-seeds into every crack and crevice. This plant taught me that cultivar names are important.

4.  If you can create a garden that you see at eye level, such as some terraced beds, do it. Some plants are best seen straight on.

5.  Working a few annuals in with the perennials is usually a good idea. Favorites from those years: Fanfare impatiens, Pentas, Fusion Impatiens, Cuphea, Wave Petunias, Proven Winners Superbena, and Silky Asclepias.

6.  Bigger groups look better, even in a small garden. I’ve always been prone to planting smaller groupings and this garden demonstrated that clusters of at least five perennials makes a better show.

7.  Hakonechloa macra grass does best when it gets at least three hours of dead-on sun. It’s usually sold as a grass for shade, but it really grows better in part sun.

8.  Jump on problem weeds hard and fast. I didn’t take the mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) or the common violets (Viola papilionacea) seriously when they appeared so I battled them for the entire time I gardened in that location. I still have some violets appear among the peonies I moved from that garden to Poison Ivy Acres, and I dig them promptly and throw them out before they can flower and spread.

9.  Fast spreading groundcovers sound like a good idea when you’re faced with a new garden, but you’ll pay later when you can’t control them. Sweet woodruff. Enough said.

10. Don’t pass up an opportunity to share your garden. Invite your friends and neighbors over when plants are looking especially nice. Open your garden for tours that benefit worthy organizations. Let other people in on the magic.

The terracing was in this yard when we bought the house, but there wasn't much planted here. I loved being able to see this garden straight on instead of looking down at the plants.

This slope taught me about the importance of editing out spreading and self-seeding plants.

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