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The patient gardener

Is the outside of your home a garden or a yard? When you work in it do you consider it gardening or yard work? Many years ago I considered these two terms interchangeable, but as the years passed and I talked to others who worked with plants, I realized that my yard had become a garden. And I had
become its gardener.

What makes a gardener?

Time has taught me that we choose the level at which we design, maintain, and enjoy our gardens or yards, and that these choices are based on desire, experience, economics, and history. The pivotal point in turning your yard into a garden is to start small but think big: a garden and the plants within it never stop growing and changing.

When you are willing to have as many or more planting beds as you do lawn, then you know you are moving beyond yard work and are on your way to gardening. You may be thinking that it’s the plants you choose that make you a gardener. There are many plants that you will see in both the beginning and experienced gardeners’ designs. Here’s a rundown for those of you who are working on becoming gardeners.

Gardeners’ plant list

Perennial flowers bring color to the garden in a way only annual flowers can rival. In garden after garden you will see Geranium sanguineum, perennial geranium, a beautiful plant in a shady garden; Rudbeckia fulgida, a black-eyed Susan that can brighten a sunny spot even further; and Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, whose beautiful soft blue will fit into almost any color scheme. Hosta, fern, and daylily are perennials that have literally hundreds of varieties each to choose from. It is easy to

find several that will suit your garden environment and design style.

Ornamental grasses remain popular but it seems the smaller grasses have gained popularity over the larger varieties, such as Miscanthus sinensis, maidenhair. Calamagrostis acutiflora, feather reed grass, and Pennisetum alopecuroides, fountain grass, take up less space and are less aggressive in the garden, making them especially valuable if you want the look that a group of grasses gives to a design without taking up too much garden space.

Shrubs of all types and sizes are widely available to the gardener. Viburnums spiraea and boxwood have been around forever and remain popular today. Hydrangeas have gained dramatically in popularity over the last 10 years, with hundreds of varieties to choose from and still growing. Whether you want white, pink, lavender, or blue flowers, or perhaps one of each, you won’t have to go far to find it.

Taxus, or yew, is a great group of plants that are extremely overused and unfortunately used incorrectly. Because of this misuse you will find several varieties are widely available while others are extremely hard to find. Many new gardeners shy away from them because of all the bad press, but when used for the right reason and in the right location taxus can be a tremendous asset to the garden.

Gardeners’ tree list

Small trees, especially if they flower, seem to be at the top of any gardener’s mind in the spring. It seems we all want gardens where even if just for a few days each spring the ground is covered in flower petals falling from the trees. Magnolia, dogwood, redbud, fringetree, crabapple, pear, and silverbell are just a few we are fortunate to have to pick

When planting large trees remember to use caution. Evaluate how much room you have and decide if a large tree is right for the space. In many cases you may find that a small- to medium-size tree is more than enough. If you have the room, try beech, white or red oak, and baldcypress.

Don’t skip research

Many of these commonly found plants also have a host of cultivars or varieties to choose from. The variations of these cultivars can be subtle or dramatic, with differences in size, shape, color, hardiness, or rate of growth that may prove to be important to you and your garden space. It never hurts to do a little research or ask your local horticulturist about a plant if you are unsure of any of its characteristics, before making the purchase. It is easier and more economical to change your mind before the plant is in
the ground.

Recently Tony, my husband and gardening partner, traveled to England and toured gardens rich with history and beauty beyond our wildest dreams. We have talked about his trip and what he experienced, and have reviewed his slides and photographs over and over again. Our discovery is this: If we can be patient in a society of fast food and instant landscapes, and if we continue to learn and grow our minds, beauty and success in our garden will prevail. Our garden is quite young compared to those in England and we have learned to appreciate it more as we watch it grow older.

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