Penny-wise Planting, Part 2 - Simplifying the Garden

Herbaceous peony Cherry Pie, a lovely plant but not for the low-maintenance yard.
Herbaceous peony Cherry Pie, a lovely plant but not for the low-maintenance yard. (Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm And Nursery)
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Like many other aspects of life, gardening has become loaded with too many choices in recent years. That has led to a cornucopia of great plants but also to gardens that are inherently more fussy and demanding.

By scaling back the number of plants, especially perennials and annuals, we can tone down the landscape without making it dull. If you take out a tree, as landscape designer Gordon Hayward points out, you don't have to replace it. Maybe, for example, you have created too many flower beds, and you should return one or two to lawn (though this is best done by seed in late summer).

Here are four other ways to simplify.

Boxwood. Reinforce paths and other garden edges visually with a neat, well-defined bed, two feet wide, containing boxwood, either as a hedge or as specimens spaced several feet apart and interplanted with a tidy ground cover. There are varieties of boxwood that are as pretty as English box but not as slow-growing or difficult, including Green Beauty, Vardar Valley and Justin Brouwers.

Editing. Don't be afraid to take out elements that add nothing to the garden. Landscape architect Katia Goffin recalls a garden where a flagstone patio needed resetting but was the wrong shape and interfered with the lines of the garden. It was removed.

Pots. People tend to have too many small pots on their stoops and patios. Replace them with fewer, large containers to unclutter an area and give it focus. "Two beautiful pots, [on] either side of the front door with eye-catching annuals, would do a lot," Hayward says. Or you could plant them with an evergreen such as dwarf Hinoki false cypress. (Avoid the dwarf Alberta spruce, which is a magnet for spider mites.)

Plant removal. Simplifying may also mean removing high-maintenance plants, or avoiding them in a new project. Larry Weaner, whose company in Glenside, Pa., is known for its sustainable landscape designs, has a checklist of what to banish:

-- perennials that need dividing every few years.

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