Cure for Over-gardening: The Right-size Flower Garden

It's like getting old - we deny it's happening despite all the signs. It's an inevitable period that we ignore as handily as we ignore muscle aches after our first day in the garden after a long winter.

We've lived a life filling up at a giant buffet of plants and opportunities. But now one plateful is all we have room for.  For want of a better word, let's call it "over-gardening."

To some degree, it happens to all of us. It happened to Kerry Ann Mendez, whose new book, The Right-size Flower Garden, offers some great tips for downsizing.

I love that Mendez coins the mantra: "Plants are not children or pets." In other words, you can't be overly sentimental about plants if you intend to lighten your overloaded weeding/pruning/planting schedule.

The Right-size Flower Garden isn't an encyclopedia of plants for a low-maintenance garden. It's a hand-holding workbook that encourages over-gardeners to prune, pluck and otherwise eliminate the most likely culprits that enslave us.

Mendez recommends planting flowering shrubs and conifers in place of sweeping drifts of mixed perennials. She's quick to say she still uses perennials, but a lot fewer of them, choosing instead plants like oakleaf Hydrangea, reblooming lilac and tree peony.

To many, the scariest chapter in the book is "The Elimination Round: You be the Judge." Not only does Mendez address which gardens will remain intact, but she pulls no punches when it comes to winnowing out the individual slackers. It's all part of the goal of "reducing maintenance and plant expenses by at least 50 percent without compromising beauty or property value."

If you're an over-gardener like I am, you will have numerous gardens or sections that can do with some scrutiny. I like that Mendez starts with the view from inside. After all what good is a beautiful garden if you have to traipse over hill and dale to appreciate it?

Juniper 'Mother Lode' with Chamaecyparis 'Split Rock' in my garden.
Mendez addresses sloping ground, which is easiest to maintain by those with good balance and flexibility. She offers suggestions for covering rough terrain, including low-growing Sedum, creeping Phlox and creeping Juniper. She gives a thumbs-up to Juniperus 'Mother Lode', and I heartily concur, having installed it in my own garden seven years ago.

The author recommends switching out plants that overwhelm their neighbors, but she also suggests replacing older cultivars with improvements, using Hemerocallis 'Stella D'Oro' as an excellent example of swapping out for one of the newer varieties like 'Going Bananas'.

Sections on shrubs that should be pruned severely, perennials that don't need deadheading, groundcovers and three-season shrubs make this a great go-to reference, not just for over-gardeners, but for new gardeners who don't want to make the same mistakes as their over-loaded neighbors.




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