Researchers say that continuing to learn new things helps to keep one young and may even help to prevent Alzheimers and dementia. That's good news to me because I have always had a love of learning. I often take a class to learn a new skill, attend workshops and presentations on various topics, and read a lot. But there's no better place to continually learn new things than in the garden.
I've come a long way since my early days of gardening--not so long ago--when I couldn't figure out why those pretty blue hydrangeas I bought had pink blooms the next year. But the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. Every year there are new lessons to be learned in the garden. Here are just a few of the new things I learned this season:
1.Pay attention to the recommended spacing on plant tags. It's easy to ignore those guidelines when the plants are small, and you want the immediate gratification of a lush, full garden. But after a couple of years of growth, the result can be a very crowded garden, especially when the plant-addicted gardener adds even more new acquisitions in every bare spot of soil. I like the look of a sea of green, like this scene from my shade garden, but things have gotten out of hand. The poor hydrangea had to fight for air amongst the hostas, ferns, and hellebores. I tried to resist the urge to plant too closely together in my new arbor bed, but the rest of the gardens need some major division and moving of plants next year.
2. Spending a little more on sturdier tomato cages is worth the investment. Those flimsy metal cages I'd used for several years were beginning to rust, and the ends were bent every which way. Since I cut back on the number of tomatoes I planted this year, it didn't cost that much to buy some new cages for them. This year the tomatoes were taller than ever before and stayed upright, not falling over in the first strong summer wind. This also meant fewer tomatoes lying on the ground where they would be more likely to rot. As my Dad always said, "You get what you pay for."
3. If you don't want your garden taken over by aggressive self-seeders, then deadhead when the blooms are spent or pull the seedlings in the spring. Volunteers are nice, but you can have too much of a good thing. The Susans that filled so much of the butterfly garden last season didn't have a chance this year, and the few that appeared had to fight for space with taller bullies like goldenrod and asters.
As if that weren't bad enough, the Obedient Plant has their backs. All these vigorous self-seeders make for a nice fall showing, but I'd like a little more diversity year-round in this garden; too many of the other more delicate plants cowered in fear at these tall gang members and just gave up. A big part of the problem here is that I don't recognize all the seedlings that come up in my garden. I nearly pulled some seedlings in the lily bed until friend Beckie pointed out they were poppies. I've nurtured an unusual plant only to discover when it was full grown and blooming that it was a noxious weed. I do want some goldenrod, asters, and Obedient plant next year, but I'm going to deadhead them this fall before they spread any more. And next spring I intend to learn more about the appearance of different seedlings so I can have more control over what is growing in my garden.
I have no excuse, though, when it comes to the cleome in the lily bed. I had one large cleome at the back of this garden area last year and pulled it in September to make room for a new hydrangea 'Vanilla Strawberry.' Apparently, though, it had already dropped its seeds, because I had dozens of cleome seedlings appear in late spring. I do know what cleome seedlings look like, and I pulled quite a few, but thought I'd leave a few for late summer blooms. But egads, I forgot how tall they can get! Now instead of noticing the fading hydrangea blooms at the back of this garden or the yellow Knockout roses that are re-blooming, the first thing anyone notices here are these tall, gangly spider flowers. They're pretty, but they're out of place. Next year their offspring are headed to the butterfly garden where they will fit in better.
4. Don't buy any new plants in the heat of summer unless you're going to give them some extra TLC. You would have thought I had learned this lesson last year when I nearly killed a much-desired new hydrangea. I planted it during the middle of a prolonged hot and dry spell and then forgot to water it for a few days. I managed to revive it, and it did come back this year, but it's rather spindly and never did bloom. This year I lost a new heuchera planted in the heat of July, again forgetting it needed some extra water. A new Japanese Anemone also looks like a goner, even though I did give it frequent waterings. I didn't want to show either of these pathetic mistakes, so the photo is of my lantana which loves heat.
5. Keep your eyes open for possibilities. This was not a lesson I learned in the garden, but I had to include it as my final point anyway because it is garden-related. I was taking in some aluminum cans for recycling and had to wait my turn in line, when I noticed this old wrought iron chair sitting next to a dumpster. I asked about it, and after some checking, the recycling attendant said, sure, I could have it. Another worker then said there was a second chair already in the dumpster and went to dig it out. It was a missing an arm, but I didn't care. They were destined for the metal crusher, but I picked up both of them for a few dollars each. I can see them sitting under a tree with a colorful pot of annuals next year, can't you?
Over the years the garden has taught me patience, a respect for all the living creatures that inhabit the garden, and an appreciation for the simple pleasures that nature provides. But every year the garden also gives me some specific valuable lessons to help me improve my gardening skills as well.
What about you? What lessons have you learned from the garden this year? If you like, you can join Plant Postings in sharing your experiences. There is always something new to learn in the garden!