Woman with trowel: Lessons learned gardening

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Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’

I expect to learn a great deal this weekend at the Vancouver Hardy Plant Group Study Day. My own yard is another great educational centre. Here are a few of my recent lessons, taught to me by my plants.

1) Sneezeweed is one of the plants you can ‘chelsea chop’ in order to delay the blooming and encourage the plant to produce more blooms on slightly shorter stalks. The phrase means lopping off the top third of a plant in late May. It works, and you get blooms into October.

Echinacea

2) I am slowly learning that echinaceas are a risk. I keep trying with them as they help tie together the rust colors and cool red tones of adjacent plants, but I have found a number of the recent cultivars overzealous in their unwillingness to survive the winter. If anyone has a suggestion for improving their longevity, I would appreciate a comment.

Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’

3) I left all my dahlia tubers in ground last winter as I have had poor success with lifting them. I was lucky as it was mild so most of them survived to spring. However, many of them just didn’t get a proper start with the cool June temperatures – some delayed blooming until August. So I may lift them again this late fall and have another go. Potting up the over wintered tubers for a few weeks on my sunny deck, before planting them out late spring, seems to give them a much needed head start.

Phlomis seed heads (in December)

4) Leaving seedhead stalks up for the late fall/winter display can be dramatic, especially if we get some hoar frost before the deluge. However, some plants will take this opportunity to self-seed prolifically: ligularia, angelica, phlomis are three energetic culprits. The first two I no longer allow to set seed, and the latter looks so good for so long that I just weed out the seedlings. Joe Pye weed and Karl Foerster grass also last a good while with no progeny.

Learning is a part of gardening, and part of the fun. I see combinations in my garden that are pleasing, and totally unplanned. Sometimes I find that “sure” things just don’t work for me. Timing the blooms of plants works one year, then not another. My garden is a great big sand box, and I play.

What has your garden taught you lately?

Photo credit: M. Brehaut

Last modified: October 10, 2012

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