Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Mistake: No Idea!

This is the first in a series of articles on common gardening mistakes. The first mistake is gardening without a plan. In this article, I'll give you some suggestions how to form one.

I've made this mistake myself: finding an interesting plant at the garden center and buying it with little or no idea of what I'm going to do with it, then returning home and walking around the yard looking for a place to plant it.

Being a plant enthusiast, I've done this type of thing very often with wild abandon. I've bought strange-looking plants, begged for cuttings, shaken seeds into my pocket and pinched off tiny branches in passing. I've tried growing things where anyone who knows anything said they couldn't be grown. I've bought plants, not for the plants themselves but for the epiphytes that were growing on them. I've espaliered apples and hybrid cherry trees to the walls of my home in south Georgia. To indulge myself further, I've enlisted with government programs to help with new plant trials. Several years ago, a visitor from a department of agriculture said it looked like I was running a one-man "experiment station."

On the other hand, there have been days when I've not wanted to see another plant, much less to care for it. So you can see I'm a hopeless case.

Why then am I presuming to advise you about developing a landscape plan? Because I'm learning from my mistakes and I want to share what I've learned with you.

There is something to be said for the thrill of finding an exciting new plant and adding it to your collection. It seems therapeutic. To be sure, the opportunity to buy that plant at that price may not present itself again. But if this pattern is followed consistently, your yard will look more like a confusing jumble than a thoughtful expression of yourself. In fact, it can become a source of frustration for you.

So I suggest that you begin with a basic plan for your landscape. It doesn't matter whether you live on a five-acre mini-estate, or have a patio garden; you need a plan. Obviously, the smaller garden is simpler and easier to deal with. You should be flexible about it, for the garden is almost like a living, ever-changing organism. Not only does your garden change, but so do you. Your desires and needs tomorrow may be a different from what they are today. But it you have a basic plan, you can flesh it out as you go. You can even change it fundamentally if you need to so so in the future.

Sometimes the idea of developing a plan seems intimidating. I understand that all too well. We may be stymied by the enormity of it all and end up doing nothing. But begin we must. Keep in mind that your plan does not need to be comprehensive. You don't need to include every single plant and color. A very, VERY "bare-bones" plan is all that you need at first.

Here are a few questions you should answer in order to get started with your plan.

1. Shall I develop the plan myself, or enlist the aid of another?

Sometimes we don't know where to begin, so a little assistance is needed. If that is true for you, consider seeking an adviser. Find one that meets your needs.

Perhaps you need a lot of help, especially if you have a larger property. If so, consider using a Landscape Architect. You can find some in your area by going to the website of the American Society of Landscape Architects and clicking on Firm Finder. Fill in the search fields, and in a few moments you will have plenty to choose from.

Many garden centers offer consultation and installation services. A quick search through your phone book should turn up a few. These are often quite flexible, ready to help when you need them without requiring big commitments.

Your Cooperative Extension Service can provide a wealth of information, and so may docents and staff at public gardens.

2. What is my lifestyle, and how can my landscape enhance it?

Consider your vocation, family and friends, hobbies and various interests. How does your garden fit with all that?

3. What is the size of my landscape?

This is something that you may not be able to change at the moment, if ever. But your plan should take it into consideration to your best advantage. If your landscape is large, perhaps you should consider dividing your plan into smaller segments. Work outward from your home. Those areas you use more often should be treated first. Those that you use less often should be given less priority.

4. How much time do I have to devote to it?

Don't confuse this with how much time you'd LIKE to devote. Come on now! Be realistic. Count the hours in your day and in your week and ask yourself, "Self! How much time can I devote to my garden?"

5. Is gardening among my favorite activities, or not?

I believe that the urge to do a little gardening and nurturing is part of our human nature. But if gardening isn't your top priority or favorite hobby, that is okay. What is a pleasure for some is a distraction for others. By being honest about it, you can develop a plan that fits your lifestyle.

You have many interests and desires. Your landscape, however large or small, should contribute to your personal fulfillment. With that in mind, posing and answering questions like those above should help you determine how your landscape can become a source of pleasure rather than of frustration. Then, whether you intend to develop your own plan or seek assistance, your ideas can begin to form around your personal needs.

It has been my business for over 25 years to help people with their gardens, so please ask me if you have questions. Visit soon!

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