garden resolutions: what i’ll do differently

AUTUMN, NOT NEW YEAR’S, is when I make my gardening resolutions. As I gradually pull things and cut others back, I’m deliberately contemplating what I’ll do differently next year: more of this, less of that—you know the thinking. I’m saying them out loud (well, here in print), in the hopes that I’ll actually track down some unusual-colored Nicotiana to add to the existing jumble here, explore more annual poppies, and loosen my mowing style–just three of the things on my “must do next year” list. The rundown:

1. Mow more creatively.  The dry season we’ve had reminded me of this, when rather than risk the steep hilly part above the house burning off to an ugly brown, I just let it grow the last eight or 10 weeks.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) was part of the jumble up there when I got here, and I used to let it flourish (seen above in foreground, with an island of Miscanthus in the back), mowing just once in late April or early May. Eventually brambles and other woody things started to take over, so I started mowing it short, like lawn, to eradicate them. That went on for five years or thereabouts. And then, this summer, I stopped.

Up popped the bluestem again, and is taking on its beautiful reddish-tan fall hue that lasts into winter. I’m going to mow around the densest stands of this bunchgrass and cultivate it once again. Some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve visited have deliberate mown paths through taller grass, or other loose areas where the garden transitions from kempt to a little wilder.  Yin-yang, you know?

2. Pump up the volume of self-sowns I love. Nicotiana basically plants itself here, many years after I planted N. mutabilis (giant, pink and white), N. sylvestris (also large, with extra-long, tubular white flowers) and N. langsdorfii (small, chartreuse), and now have a mad mix of half-breeds, or so it appears. (Above, a mass of white ones erupting from the patio.) The hummingbirds adore flowering tobacco, and I adore them. I must track down some dark-colored ones (like the elusive ‘Stonecrop Mauve’ I used to have) and other species.

And how can I have just one annual poppy (pods, above)? Dare I let the Perilla, with its purple leaves, go mad again? Pretty, but oh, so prolific! Maybe not, but I need more stands of tall verbena, or Verbena bonariensis, and also noticed in my walkabout that my favorite biennial, Angelica gigas, is calling out for some human intervention (my hand, sowing seed and plugging in transplants in key spots) to get more thickly re-established.

3. Grow sunflowers. At my friend Tod’s magical garden, and at the farmer’s market, these high-summer big guys kept calling out to me. I planted the silverleaf species, Helianthus argophyllus, but it didn’t completely satisfy my craving. Need to make room for more.

4. Dig up “onesies” and either eliminate or replicate them.  Unless a plant is a stunner that can stand alone, onesies are usually the recipe for a polkadot garden. I have some beds that are looking sadly that way—where once-impactful groupings have dwindled.  Time to add more Joe-pye weed or eliminate it; ditto the anemone called ‘September Charm’ and many other choices. Will it be more, or less?

5. Repeat successes. Last week a friend and I hauled out chunks of Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ and some merrybells, or Uvularia grandiflora (above)–things I had giant clumps of.  I made divisions for more of the same elsewhere, and also made breathing space around those overgrown clumps. Win-win.

Another kind of success to repeat: Order more bulbs to grow in pots. I do well with pineapple lily, Eucomis bicolor; there are other species and varieties of Eucomis to try, and a nursery friend suggested I’d do well with overwintering Amorphophallus konjac and other voodoo lilies in my cellar in pots, too.

6. Add more vines, annual and perennial. (Which means add more supports–though I will grow even more of them up existing shrubs.) I was reminded this year when growing things like cardinal climber, for instance (above), just how much this extra vertical layer does to add another season to the same garden space.

7. Speaking of supports, rethink the ones for many vegetables. I need to study up and see what I can build for cucumbers, squash, peas, beans. A related resolve: Grow my pole beans one variety to a teepee, or two very different kinds to a support (such ‘Romano’ (flat green pod) and ‘Rattlesnake’ (round purple-flecked pod) or a gold-podded type, but not two basic green ones to one single trellis. What a mess to tell apart.

And this: Set up one or two entire bean teepees for bean varieties I’ll harvest dry. On more than one occasion, I think I picked young pods of shelling beans. Oops.

8. Erect support wires around my raised bed of raspberries. What a mess! I’m studying up on easy, effective berry-support designs (pdf).

9. Now—before I forget—write down what vegetable varieties really pleased me (such as ‘Aunt Ada’s Italian’ pole bean, above) and which didn’t, so I make room for the former and not for the latter next time.  I had particular revelations among the peas, the beans, and also with broccoli.

10. Grow more herbs–for visual and olfactory enjoyment, and of course to cook with.  I already confessed I’d become herb-complacent; this is the year to change all that, one aromatic beauty at a time.

11. Be a more ruthless pruner.  Not a butcher, mind you, but extending a firmer hand to things that want to try to take over the path, for instance. There is no cure for too-stingy spacing at planting time, but certain things can be kept in check if Mommy has a firm resolve, and a firm grip on her pruning shears.

12. Remember to walk back inside and look out the window, before taking shovel to ground to implement any above decisions.  The best-laid home landscape plans start from inside, looking out, I think; that’s always been my conviction, and remains my resolve as I think about the year ahead and the garden-to-be.