The Garden Life: Resolve to rethink what your garden's personality can be

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist

Published:

 
photoRobb Rosser

Making a list of garden resolutions should be considered a flexible endeavor, somewhat like predicting next year's winter weather in spring. Gardening is a combination of science and art. We work within a definite framework of rules, but we must always be open to the spontaneous whim of the creative spirit. I might be willing to make a resolution to keep my garden weed free but it would have to include the provision that wild daisies are not considered weeds.

A garden is a reflection of the gardener's personality. A good resolution for every gardener is to rethink what you personally want your garden to be. This is the one thing you can do in the garden each year that will make the biggest difference. If you take the time to figure out what you want your garden to be, you multiply the possibility for creating that garden a hundred fold. If you know what you want, you are very likely to get it.

A good question to ask yourself each year is, "How do I want to use my garden?" If, for example, your favorite part of having a garden is throwing magnificent outdoor dinner parties, you want to create an outdoor area that makes a guest feel at home in the garden. A generous deck with ample seating space is as viable to this garden as a prized perennial is to the plant collector. Keep in mind that your purpose might change over time.

If there is one resolution that every gardener should make, it is to place the right plant in the right place in the garden. Begin with a commitment to choose plants that will not outgrow the space where they will be planted. If the information tag on a shrub states that it will grow to be ten feet by ten feet, do not try to squeeze it into the four square feet of soil between your house and the sidewalk.

Make a resolution right now to never rely on pruning to keep a plant within a specific boundary. This is a battle that can't be won. We have all tried to find a house with one giant shrub that has grown over the windows, the address numbers and eventually the front door. If you try to control a plant's size by pruning, it will outlive you and swallow your entire garden after you're gone just to prove this point.

While you're at it, make a resolution to accept the fact that mistakes are a part of gardening. You can cut down on the number of times you make the same mistake by getting in the habit of writing things down in a garden journal or notebook. Write down notes or take pictures in the fall that clearly show the location and color of bulbs that will begin to grow in spring. This is of great value to anyone who has ever dug up a bulb before it had a chance to emerge on its own.

Another resolution you can make this year is to heed the advice of other gardeners. There is no better recommendation for growing a specific plant than one from a gardener who has grown that plant before you. It's just as important to listen to what they do not recommend. As much as we like the look of a plant when we see it at the nursery or in someone else's garden, we should heed the voice of experience, especially when they tell you a plant is disease prone or invasive.

One resolution any gardener can make is to give the garden the attention it needs. If you have grass, mow. Weed beds and harvest vegetables. Years ago, when my parents asked what I really wanted for my birthday, I suggested they buy me a load of garden compost. At the time they considered my request ridiculous. Over time, it became an annual tradition. When people made a reference to the bounty of my garden, my parents were more than happy to share our dirty little secret about compost.

One of the most enlightening revelations in gardening is that we can ultimately create our dream garden with intricate detail. We can, if we wish, make a flower bed a detailed tapestry of color. We might study the Japanese art of bonsai and in the process come to learn that simplicity itself can be continually fine tuned.

The New Year typically brings with it a reflection back to the year gone by. My resolution is to begin this year with a new perspective and above all to remain flexible in my New Year's garden resolutions.