Pausing For Breath

Gardening is something you do inside your head as much as out in your garden. Sometimes you need to look at an established bed and mentally rearrange the plants. You need to decide to pull the plug on an unsatisfactory performer. And you need to imagine potential replacements, newly planted and in a few seasons.

Garden in November
By late fall the garden is down to the bare bones.

Late fall and winter provide the perfect time to engage in this mental gardening. Spring is a frenzy of planting and clean-up, a time to execute what you’ve been pondering. Summer is when I am mesmerized by the sheer mass of flowers and grasses, and it’s too damn hot anyway. Summer is when you forget the existence of that 3′ perennial with the gorgeous flowers because it is surrounded by the 5′ perennials.

In fall things slow down and cool down. You can start to prep for the following year. And gradually, as fall transitions to winter, the garden is laid bare again, revealing things you forgot or never noticed. As this process unfolds once again, here are some thoughts that occur to me.

Short's Aster
Seed puffs on Short’s Aster.

Ease out the Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaritica). Woodland Phlox is guilty of false advertising as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the blue spring flowers are awfully nice. But the leaves poop out by mid-summer, leaving patches of bare ground. Basically this plant might as well be a spring ephemeral. Plus it’s been awarded the prestigious Most Delicious Perennial Award by Rabbit Gourmet magazine.

And yes, I’ve got it growing in the right conditions: part shade with good moisture.

I’m not going to pull out the Woodland Phlox, but I am going to set it up in competition with others that have a better record of maintaining their foliage through the season. If the Phlox manages to hang on, fine. If it gets shaded out, too bad.

Merrybells, Uvularia grandiflora, Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis var. alba
Merrybells with white Bleeding Heart in the merry month of May.

I’ve already planted a white Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘alba’) in one spot. Elsewhere I’m thinking of hardy Geraniums, maybe ‘Biokovo’ or ‘Tschelda’. And in another spot I may just let the Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) patch gradually take over the Phlox territory, filling in with Violas as the Uvularia make their slow but steady advance.

Move ‘David’ and ‘Northwind’ into the light. I’ve got two Phlox paniculata ‘David’ whose gleaming white flowers are pretty much hidden, mostly by Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). These should be moved to the sidewalk bed.

Swamp Milkweed
Swamp Milkweed in July. I love this plant, but it’s hiding my Phlox paniculata.

Also, there’s a young clump of ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) which is located behind several tall plants and is not getting quite its share of the light. I’m going to move it to the west side of the ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum).

Replace Some of the New England Aster With Big Bluestem? Not completely sure about this, but I am hankering after ‘Red October’, a new variety of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). The name alone makes it almost irresistable.

New England Aster
New England Aster

And I’ve got to say, New England Aster (Symphoricarpos novae-angliae) has been one of my least satisfactory asters. It’s nice but so tall and lanky, and the floral display does not seem commensurate with the space taken. Plus I have two big clumps, do I really need both?

When does your mental gardening kick into high gear? Are you, like me, already obsessed with plans for spring?

This post is written in cooperation with Beth’s ‘Lessons Learned’ meme at Plant Postings, as well Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations on Garden’s Eye View. Both are delightful sites, go ahead and take a peek.

45 Comments on “Pausing For Breath

  1. Yes, definitely some mind games going on here, too. I think it started a lot earlier than usual for me this year–maybe in the middle of the summer while I was volunteering at the UW-Arboretum’s native plant garden. The head gardener gave me some great ideas for fall-blooming native plants that perform well in shade! It will be fun to see the “newcomers” next spring and summer! Thanks for joining in the memes!

  2. Definitely a head trip. I usually drive myself crazy second guessing decisions I’ve made on placement and then move things around. The moving things around, in turn, drives my husband crazy… somehow things falls into place though 🙂

    • Judy also hates it when I always change things around. But I say a garden is a living thing, and living things change. Also I’m a compulsive fretter, I can’t leave things alone.

  3. I’ve been thinking about spring for over a month now! I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to removing plants I’m not happy with; I also have a lanky aster which didn’t flower too well this year… but the few flowers it produced were pretty. I shall have to mull that one over!

  4. Autumn is the frenzy time here; it is really the only time to plant successfully; spring planting doesn’t allow the plants to put down enough roots to withstand the drought and heat. I suppose I do a lot of my thinking and planning when the garden is resting in August! Though to be honest it is a bit too hot to think. I do think about what is working and what not almost all the time.

    • I like to do autumn planting but here it is a bit of a gamble, some plants don’t make it especially if there is a lot of frost heave.

  5. Nice observation, gardening is something I do inside my head, a lot! I have sandy soil here, so rethinking, moving or replacing is relatively easy. Time to plan changes is a definite upside of the winter months.

    • I can see that would be an advantage of sandy soil. The soil in my garden is nice and loamy, though in this area you can find a lot of clay in spots.

  6. I haven’t had time to be obsessed yet but it was nice to be reminded that those days are coming! I love the aster but there are lots of other options and it is a big space commitment for a relatively short bloom.

  7. Do I have the plant for you: New England aster ‘Purple Dome’. I planted this in a bed with both big blue stem and little blue stem, and it forms a nice compact clump about two feet tall and two feet wide, loaded with blossoms. ‘Wild Romance’ aster is in the same bed, but it is tall and rangy and is going to be relocated next spring, one of MANY items on the to-do list for 2014.

    • I have some ‘Purple Dome’ in the back garden. In this spot I still want a tall plant, but I’m just going to try one other than NE aster. Sounds like it performs somewhat better for you than it does for me, though I have it in a partially shaded area, and I think it wants full sun.

  8. With the holidays and quilting season upon me, I don’t start my mental gardening until after well after the first of the year. The reality is our snow doesn’t completely melt until the end of April. 🙂

    • We’ve been known to have April snowstorms now and then but these days the weather is so unpredictable. So I just try to be ready to garden at any moment.

  9. The only thing that keeps me going through the winter is the ability to make charts and draw plans for adding/removing/moving plants in the spring. It’s actually a lot of fun and a lot less labor intensive than actual gardening 🙂

  10. Indeed, now is the best time to do a bit of forward planning. I sort of started my planning nearer the end of summer. Making a mental note of what needs moving – mind you, will I remember come spring, I doubt it! I really need a notebook don’t I 😉

    • I usually keep a document on my laptop where I jot down ideas about the garden as they occur to me. Not as good as a real garden journal, but helpful.

  11. That white Bleeding Heart is very nice. Good for you for making and acting on plans. My mental gardening seldom translates into serious action, but I do find it helps to reinforce my plans if I write about them.

  12. I do like that bleeding heart. Yes it’s the time for reflection for sure. I’ve put all sots of plants in my new back garden and I have my fingers crossed it will work but I know better….xxx

  13. When I was gardening for others I always welcomed the winter break because I had quite a few gardens to plan. I started planning as soon as gardening stopped, and i don’t really miss it.
    Do you have a spot in the garden that is wetter than the rest for swamp mikweed, or do you irrigate it?

  14. You already have quite the plans, will they all pan out? I’m guilty of big plans that never really happen when they should, instead they’re usually a few years late!
    I’m thinking of spring, but more the new flowers and bulbs, less so the projects 😉

  15. The ruthless bit you mention is something I’m lacking in, although I’ve improved over the years. I’m presently creating a new garden from scratch so no need yet for eliminating plants which do not perform or are in the wrong place but you’re right: One should be a bit ruthless at times.

  16. I find that my mental gardening follows The same pattern from year to year. Starting n November I usually do a lot of reading and take notes. Then I take part in seed exchange and that keeps me busy in late December early January. When the winter is coming to an end, I am more involved with the actual planning of the coming season.

  17. Designing all year, I never take the time in my own garden, except when it is gutted for a complete new design (4 times so far). Plants perform and I mostly let them be. Some over perform and they get moved or sent packing immediately once noticed. I get plants for free so sometimes plants go in I am sure will be aggressive, but they stay until I find them a new home in a client’s larger garden. In other peoples gardens, the plan is drawn and that is what they have to mature over time. They don’t change the plants either for the most part. I look at my plants like they are a rescue dog awaiting a permanent home. That or those that stay are the ones adopted. It is much different for me than home gardeners that are always changing and modifying I guess. Home gardeners look at their plants like you do I think, always evaluating, always considering budget.

    • I guess I am an antsy gardener, I can’t leave well enough alone. I think this usually results in improvements, though sometimes I probably should have been a little more patient.

  18. Fall is my mental “off with the old, on with the new” time for me as well. Funnily enough, woodland phlox was on my list to get this coming spring. Now I’ve decided to pass. Thanks for preventing yet another case of buyer’s remorse.

  19. I feel like I’m constantly planning…or, depending on how you look at it, plotting! Winter is a great time to really stand back and look at what did and didn’t work, though. I usually do as much planting/moving as possible in the fall, since we have mild temps most of the winter and dependable rainfall. I vote ‘Yes’ to ‘Red October’…I think you’ll love it!

  20. I do my best planning in winter as I look at the remnants of the garden. But this year I will need to pay more attention to those plants that are not performing before I make the plan….my poor garden has been neglected this past year.

    Jason thank you for linking in as you celebrate your winter time pondering about your lovely garden.

  21. Pingback: Gardens Eye View » Blog Archive » Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-Winter 2013

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