A well designed garden has a great start in life, but truthfully a garden must be edited over time as it matures. And quite honestly, this editing should be somewhat ruthless. I often hear a client confess that they try to nurse and save every plant in their garden, even those that are looking to check out early because they are so unhappy with the cultural conditions. The end the result can be a hodge-podge of unhealthy & unhappy plants. I understand the inclination for preservation, we have a spider relocation program in our house (no squash – capture & relo outside). In the garden, sometimes we are too tenuous for our own good. Plants can easily be given away (as long as you do not have persistent weeds intertwined) or just composted. You will be much more satisfied with your garden when you give up an unhappy plant and replace it with something that adores the conditions you have to offer.
Driving this need to edit is the fact that conditions change over time in a garden. Typically its when trees mature and part sun becomes full shade resulting in plants that grow leggier and leggier each season. On the flip side, a tree can come down unexpectedly, exposing a once shady glen to blasting sun. In other cases, plants that performed quite well for the first few years either peter out altogether or need division to revitalize. Sometimes we’ve (or let’s just blame someone else) planted things too close and years of hard pruning to establish a peaceable kingdom have left things with awkward forms, bare legs and unhappy foliage. If these issues are left untended too long, a garden may need a complete renovation to restore balance and good health.
In my own garden, which is a combination of pre-existing hardscape & plantings and my ongoing renovation, I see room for improvement every season. I am also a bit of a perfectionist and I like to tweak the design. Rather than rushing to implement changes, I keep a running list of ideas & tasks that I review each season. Writing it down often quells my desire to resolve the issue immediately and allows me to wait for the right season. Sometimes the notes are nothing more than general ideas and sometimes I have multiple perspectives for one area over the seasons. What bothered me in spring, may completely resolve in summer and I always weigh these pros & cons before implementing a change. My overarching rule though is if it bothers me long term or requires too much care, be it coddling or clean up, it will be changed. There are a few exceptions – an ancient tree with a beautiful form that drops debris all summer on my patio or tall miscanthus that look fabulous until the tail end of the season and that first fall rain. I still try to design my way out of these problems, like elegant supports for the grasses.
When I review the list, I organize the work seasonally and then delegate what I need help with vs. what I can take on. I also keep a running tab of plants I need on the list so I know just what to get when shopping. This approach is extremely helpful come fall when its time to make changes and I know exactly what I want to do.