By Lorene Edwards-Forkner
can have an abundant garden in the initial flush of spring and early summer.
From the raucous show of spring blooming bulbs, flowering trees and the fulsome
bloom of early summer perennials—delphiniums, poppies, peonies—through the
tender salad days of the vegetable patch, and the first ripe strawberry all is
sweetness and bountiful richness in the early days of the growing season.
is only now, as true summer winds down, that the discerning gardener gets down
and dirty and sets about the not-always-pleasant task of assessing the garden
performance of their plants.
are too often wary of losing a plant at any cost. It may be a stalwart planting
holdout that came with the house, a division from a generous gardening friend
or a tough resilient survivor able to withstand all conditions (coming
dangerously close to my definition of a weed). If it has roots, shoots and a
bloom, however weak or unsatisfying, we will persist in the campaign for its
the same time most gardeners I know decry a constant list of garden tasks, wail
at the never ending battle with pests and bemoan the lack of sufficient space
to realize the garden present in their minds’ eye. Why then do we spend our
precious time, energy and resources on plants that disappoint and dismay? Off
with their heads I say! Remove the offender(s), yes—tear out the plant guilty
only of failing to please. Then forgive yourself—this is horticulture—not
would venture to say that every seasoned gardener worth their stash of plastic
nursery pots and broken, dirty fingernails has killed at least as many plants
as those that survive to thrive in inspired compositions of brilliant color,
texture and pleasing form. Whether the result of serious zonal denial, benign
neglect, or simply “wrong plant/wrong place,” I’m afraid the path to truly
knowing my own garden environment is littered with many horticultural
often it is these losses that have equipped me with some of my most valuable
backyard insights and “ah-ha!” moments of gardening clarity. I have planted,
and lost, scores of astilbe, astrantia, delphinium and pulmonaria before I
finally admitted the reality that my sandy, well-drained soil will simply not
support the growth habits of these border beauties without regular summer
irrigation to a degree that apparently I am unable (or more likely, unwilling)
gardening experience and enjoyment multiplied exponentially when I made peace
with the fact that my conditions and gardening habits are far better suited to
the cultivation of tougher Mediterranean sub-shrubs like germander, santolina,
and curry plants softened by drifts of ornamental grasses and strong, sun loving
salvias, coneflowers and Knautia. My now admittedly dry, shady sites
support lush stands of hosta, hellebores and ferns that contribute a long
season of colorful foliage, contrasting textures and garden interest while
better able to withstand periods of summer drought.
It may sound flip, but “grow it,
kill it, know it”
lessons tend to imprint on my garden psyche in a way that instructional plant
tags and nursery signage fail to.
who has tended the same garden over a period of years will tell you the
environment is anything but static, but instead a constant dynamic shifting of
changing levels of sun, shade, moisture and pests forever tempered by quixotic
weather patterns. So, too, our lives, interests and abilities continually alter
with the passage of time. Our garden of yesterday, last year or last decade may
not be the ideal for our lives and conditions today.
with such hard-earned understanding and past disappointments, I pledge to
cultivate delight—no more seasons of discontent. The growing season is too
short to squander on personally unsatisfying plants.
Here in the
Northwest we are fortunate to garden in a region of nearly limitless
horticultural bounty. Dare to remove weak, struggling and unsuccessful plants
and create a garden of satisfying pleasure with each new season. NWGN