The Garden Tour was a rousing success last weekend. We enjoyed the strongest attendance ever, and robust support not only from all of us here in the Tooele Valley, but also along the Wasatch Front. We even had a couple drive in from Hurricane. They loved it. For you long-term planners, you can mark your calendar for next year’s event on Saturday, June 13.
Thanks to all the hosts who opened their yardscapes for all of us to enjoy. Your accomplishments are an inspiration. Thanks also to the event sponsors, including the Transcript-Bulletin, our title sponsor, for the 2014 event. Not only do they support the gardening community through this column, the Spring Home and Garden Magazine, and the paper’s Hometown section, they provided all of the printed collateral for the tour, and did a masterful job of it.
The garden tour is much more than a collection of garden settings. It’s also a great place of inspiration and learning. Tour hosts demonstrate what can be done, by themselves, right here in our valley. They show that having a great garden space is not out of reach for anyone or for somewhere else. Here are some best practices that you can put to work at your place.
Get started now. Many a would-be gardener has let precious growing seasons go by because they didn’t have a complete plan or thought they’d “do it wrong.” Creating great outdoor spaces is a process that should be as enjoyable as the result itself. Much like the idea that it’s difficult to move the wheel on a parked car, you can “steer” through the process much easier if you just start rolling forward. Have a basic idea of what you’d like, and get going. Once you have some basics in place, the yard will “talk to you” and you’ll come up with some great ideas and next steps.
Get trees planted this season. It’s been said the time to plant a tree is “now,” and for good reason. Trees give us more options in our yardscapes because they provide visual anchor points, shade that allows us to grow a wider variety of shrubs and flowers, and create habitat for birds and other critters that make the yard space literally come to life. When choosing a place for a tree, keep in mind its mature size and provide adequate distances between other trees and structures. Did I mention right now is the time you should be planting trees?
Keep sun and shade tolerances in mind when choosing your plants and shrubs. Know what the plant needs and tolerates in the way of direct sun before placing it. If you’d like to grow a shade preferring plant, and you don’t have shade, you can situate your plants in containers and place them in small shady spots then move them around as the season progresses. Sun loving plants are more tolerant of shady spots than shade loving plants are of being placed in direct full-day sun. Experiment and see what flourishes.
Blend perennials and annuals. I love perennials and plant them whenever I can. Even so, it’s hard to beat the color and “pop” of many of the great annual plants out there. I use perennials as “anchors” in the garden and fill in with annuals. You can get the best of both worlds by picking annuals that are great self-seeders. Choose plants that bloom at differing times to get color and interest throughout the season. A progression you will see around my house includes daffodils and tulips, followed by iris, peonies and daylilies, then hollyhock, blue flax and clematis. As summer warms up, our hibiscus kick in, followed by late summer and early fall mums and red, orange and yellow foliage on shrubs and trees.
Use mulches and composts liberally. The more you return plant materials back to the soil, the better off your garden will be. You can create much of your own mulch by setting aside grass clipping, plant materials from pruning and weed pulling sessions and vegetable waste from your kitchen into a pile. Done consistently, you’ll be amazed how quickly your pile will grow and provide you with “free” compost and mulch to use in your gardens. Mulch reduces irrigation needs by keeping moisture at the base of plants longer and at a cooler temperature. Because less water is needed, fertilizer tends to “stay put” longer at the root zone. Everyone is happier, and weeds are suppressed as part of the bargain. Low water garden spaces benefit from holding moisture longer and temperatures at a minimum as well. Just because a plant is well adapted to arid areas doesn’t mean that it doesn’t like a bit of an assist as well — at least until it’s established.
Whimsy and informality make for a great garden space. It’s been my experience that lots of regular spacing and repeats of the same plants throughout a landscape are pretty uninteresting. I’ve seen some large landscape settings with sizable budgets that lacked personality. The only message that seemed to come across was that the homeowner had money to spend, but there was nothing intriguing about the finished yardscape. Don’t let that happen to you. Create focal points and surprises throughout your space. Use varying plant shapes and blooming times, as well as hardscape (brick paths, rock borders, fences and such) to create interest. Have one area lead to another. I know that I’ve succeeded in creating a great garden space when it “brings out the kid” in a visitor. That’s my definition of whimsy. It’s putting areas, paths, sight lines and surprises in the garden space that draw the guest in and make them want to stay a bit longer and borrow an idea or two for their home setting.
Put these practices to work in your place, and who know, you may be on the garden tour in the near future.
If you didn’t get to take part in the garden tour this year, don’t miss it next year on June 13. And if you know of a yard space that you’d like to nominate as a candidate for next year, let me know. We’ll start accepting applications the first part of 2015.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.