Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolved: Be a Better Gardener in 2009

Why is it so much easier to make and keep resolutions about gardening than about any other aspect of my life?

Maybe because even the most tedious garden task is more enjoyable than, say, losing weight, working out, or reading that stack of books I “should” read some day. Can you relate? Whatever the reason, I feel pretty confident that I’ll follow through on my “Top Ten” gardening goals for 2009. Here are the first five. Stay tuned for the rest in my next post.

I resolve to …

1. Start a gardening blog. Is it cheating to start my list with one I can check off already? Maybe, but “starting” and “maintaining” are two very different things. We’ll see how I do. I look forward to getting more connected to the worldwide gardening community, and to sharing with you my triumphs and frustrations as a Zone 5, suburban Chicago gardener.

2. Find plants that will grow in the dry dirt under my Norway spruce. This is a huge tree. It’s probably 30 feet across, and the limbs are about 6 feet off the ground, which leaves a lot of bare soil in view. It’s in the most exposed site in my yard, and gets ferocious, drying winds all year round. Add lots of tree roots to take up any remaining moisture and nutrients, and it’s a tough spot to grow anything. I envisioned a charming patchwork of shade plants snuggled around the toes of the tree, and have tried any number of possibilities. A few are hanging on, but none is thriving. Even the hostas are half the size of those planted at the same time elsewhere in the yard.

I’ve even tried a few “no-fail” ground covers, like vinca, dead nettle, and bugleweed. After three or four years, none of these diehards has spread more than a foot or two. So the search is on for dry-soil shade plants. If you’ve found any that work well, I’d love to hear about them!

3. Add more early- and late-season bloomers. Like most gardeners, I'm always looking for a way to stretch out the gardening season. I got a start on this last fall, with a half-price hellebore (Helleborus orientalis ‘Red Lady’; she needs some company or she’s going to be quite lonely out there come spring!) and a couple of heathers (Erica x darleyensis ‘Mediterranean Pink’).

The heathers were supposed to bloom in December. I’ve since learned that many of them don’t really “bloom” the way you might expect. Mostly, they just have attractive little buds that never really open all the way. Mine are pale pink, so the effect is pretty underwhelming. At least the foliage will add a nice texture to the garden. Possibilities for the future: witch hazel, early bulbs. (Again, I’d love to hear your suggestions!)

4. Add more fragrant plants. I don’t mean the kind you have to smash your nose into or squish between your fingers to pick up the fragrance. I mean the kind that waft clear across the yard and lift you out of your chair to go and find the source of the heavenly aroma.

I thought I had a good start on this: When we moved into our home four years ago, one of the first things I did was to plant three Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ on the new berm along our driveway—we had two of them at our last home and I adore their scent. When the new ones bloomed a month later, I was disappointed to learn that the wind blows the scent away from our house. At least my new neighbor is happy. As she works in her own garden, she gets the full benefit of the scent I expected to enjoy each time I headed out the front door.

But all is not lost. The two ‘Miss Kim’ lilacs planted near the front door by the previous owner do smell awfully nice in the spring, and I’ve added a dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin') near the garage door. I had three of these at my last home and when they were in bloom you could smell them on the other side of the house. The one I’ve planted here is only about 18 inches tall, though, and a long way from having that kind of impact. Patience, patience.

5. Install rain barrels. Every time it rains I watch the water run down the hill away from our house and long to save it up to use in my gardens in drier times. The problem is that if I have money to spend on garden stuff, I’d usually rather spend it on plants. I’ll just have to bite the bullet one of these days and make the investment.

I also have to pull out an overgrown (and very thorny) Barberry bush to make room for a barrel. That should be a fun little New Year task—and my kind of workout!


  1. Donna! Welcome to the blogging world! And yes, we DO need you! Everyone has a story to tell and we gardeners just love to talk plants now, don't we?

    I look forward to reading of your gardening adventures!

    Kylee from Our Little Acre

  2. Congratulations on your new garden blog! Sorry, I don't have any suggestions for your troubled area, it sounds like you've already tried those that I might would have suggested.

    I'd love to have rain barrels too.

  3. Kylee--Thanks for the encouraging words! I'm still shaking in my slippers every time I hit "save", or especially "publish", so every little boost helps.

  4. Robin--Thanks for your encouragement too! Maybe we can keep each other accountable on that rain barrel thing...


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