Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


that celebrate the unique history, ecology and character of our island home.

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Cutting back the grasses

cutting back the grasses

cutting back the grasses

My garden assistant Jen and I cut back all the grasses today – Miscanthus, Panicum, Pennisetum, Nasella, Stipa, Calamagrostis, Anemanthele – using a long-armed gas-powered hedge trimmer.  It only took about 45 minutes.   Jen said, “Wow, that saved us a whole day’s work.”  Indeed.   I said, “How about you weed and I’ll deal with the dead bodies.”

I rake and roll the debris onto a small tarp, then drag the tarp to the tractor.  It takes several trips with the tractor to dispose of it all.  As I was driving, I thought, “Wow, I am almost sixty and I’m still gardening!”  Nagging at the back of my mind is, “for how long?”  Many of my friends don’t garden anymore and have moved to smaller places.   I miss their gardens and I’m guessing they do too.   I would like to stay in our home and garden as long as I can.  And I’d love to see children or grandchildren keep our home as a get-away place.  So I’m always thinking of how I can make this garden easier to take care of.  Here are some of those ideas.

Stay fit and flexible.  Yoga and swimming have been my best allies.  Warm up before going outside.  Vary tasks.  Quit before you are tired.   My friend Michele does a victory lap around her garden, wine glass in hand when she is done for the day.

Hire some garden help – even if for now you don’t need much.  Develop a relationship with someone  who comes to understand how you like to do things and gets to know your plants.   Someone you could eventually trust your garden to in case you are ill and can’t get outside.   Hire a knowledgeable professional and expect to pay him or her well.  Or hire someone less experienced and plan to spend several years training this person.  And then if you plan to keep this person, pay him or her well.  Make sure there is work to do even during the winter.

Cover the ground with plants.  Weeding and mulching is time-consuming, expensive and hard on the back and hands.   I am relying more on shrubs and using perennials as accents.

Select plants that need less pruning, deadheading or dividing to look good.  Place shrubs that get twiggy or perennials that spread in a section of the garden you could your “wild” area.

Choose plants that match the cultural needs of your garden and you won’t need to coddle them.  Dragging around hoses is hard work, so use drought resistant plants whenever it is appropriate.  Consider installing an irrigation system to get the plants off to a good start,  but in the long run even this needs monitoring and repair.

Be judicious in your use of low “ground-covers.”  In a small garden or an in-town garden they are fine.   In my garden, open to forest and field they become a huge chore as weed seeds land and sprout between the runners of the groundcover .  I use shrubs at least 1’ tall as groundcover – something I can lift the skirt, reach under and pull the weeds.

Contrary to the sound bites I hear nowadays, I think lawns are much easier to take care of than planting beds especially if you don’t expect your lawn to stay green over the summer or be weed free.  Think about how much easier it is to run a lawn mower over an area than it is to weed the same amount of space.  I mulch our lawn clippings so I don’t fertilize either.  And hiring someone to mow is also easier and much cheaper than hiring someone to weed, prune, deadhead, etc. . . .

 

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Yes! Try this at home.

Tomorrow I am speaking to the Oak Harbor Garden Club.  The topic is, “Techniques, Tips and Tricks of a Garden Designer,” and will describe the process I use to design a new garden or renovate an older garden.  The intent is to give gardeners some of my tools – some of which they might like to use themselves, some they might want to hire out.

In the process of sprucing up my slide show, I got some recent photos of a garden I worked on several years ago.  It’s so exciting and satisfying to see that the owners took the plans, installed the garden themselves and are making the garden their own.  What a great job they’ve done!  And the best part – actually outdoors spending time with friends and family in the garden.  That’s what it’s all about.

before, path of destruction

before, path of destruction

after, the party route

after, the party route

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DIY Design

My beloved plant group Twilight met last week.  Three fellow garden designers and I led the group through some techniques we use for garden renovation.  One of the techniques utilized what is called a base map – which is a measured, to- scale, bird’s eye view of a garden – sometimes called plan view. (Click on the picture below to get a better idea . .. )  It’s a labor intensive drawing – both to measure and collect all the data onsite AND to create the drawing, even though I have fabulous drawing software (Dynascape).  I was astonished at all the great ideas flying around the room and how much got accomplished by each team of two in just under an hour’s time.  And it seems that everyone had a great time.

If you are interested in doing some of your own design, I’m happy to prepare this document for you and / or to develop a list of suggested plants customized for your garden and your preferences.  There are a number of ways for me to help you DIY.  Just ask.

Plan view drawing – ready for plants!

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