New way of gardening saves time and energy

By Laetitia Sands
Special to Dorchester Banner
Sometimes one comes across an idea that seems so simple, obvious and beneficial to the human race that one wonders why no one, including oneself, ever thought of it before. Narrow down “human race” to gardening members thereof, and I’ve a brilliant new perspective on gardening to divulge.
Popularized (and possibly discovered) by Kerry Ann Mendez, an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant, the new approach involves de-cluttering and organizing ones garden to reduce the amount of work needed. It’s perfect for gardeners of a certain age, who tend to suffer from sore knees, back ache and less energy than they had in years gone by.
You’ll need to remove plants that demand far too much care and replace them with plants that will work for you, meaning long-flowering, long-lived, attractive for more than just one season, drought- and deer-resistant and generally not fussy. They should also attract pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Cross out most annuals. No more down on your knees transplanting, dead-heading and digging them up again when they’re finished in fall. If you feel you must have some annuals, choose those that don’t need their flowers dead-headed and don’t produce masses of seed. Annual verbena is one good choice.
Another option: Annual vines such as scarlet runner bean, morning glory and climbing nasturtium. These vines delight hummingbirds and require iinfinitely less work from the gardener than do man-made hummer feeders, which must be cleaned and re-filled every few days. Both the leaves and flowers of nasturtium, by the way, taste delicious in salads and sandwiches.
Out go water hogs, like my pink hydrangeas which demand daily – sometimes twice daily – watering in the dog days of summer. These days, hybrid hydrangeas exist that need minimum care to look gorgeous. Examples: Panicle hydrangeas and climbing hydrangeas.
Remove from the ground or your list plants that need dead-heading , such as petunias (for how many decades have I assumed sticky, purple fingers were my lot in summer?). Whip out anything that must be divided or lifted up in winter and stored in the garage, like dahlias and gladioli. (Yes, I realize this starts to sound painful. I love the smell of purple petunias and the look of huge dahlias. But think of the elbow grease saved, the energy left for other things in life, such as reading in the hammock, currently full of pine needles.)
Mrs. Mendez strikes a chord when she writes, in her book “The Right-Size Flower Garden,” that plants are not our pets or our children. Chastisement for a plant fanatic like myself who binds up broken branches with sticky tape and mourns for the fig tree when rabbits gnaw its low-hanging limbs in winter.
Take a hard look around your garden and dig out the sort of plants which hold the gardener hostage by threatening to commit suicide unless given a steady diet of fertilizers, sprays and whatnot.
When down-sizing a demanding garden, one should opt for flowering shrubs and vines instead of perennial flower beds, especially shrubs and vines that need little, or no, pruning. Another clever tip: Plant attractive groundcovers. As they spread, they will all but eliminate the need to weed. Consider putting in native plants. They hold up better to local weather and pests than their non-native peers.
Pick shrubs and trees with colorful and interesting-looking leaves, as well as eye-catching bark to perk up the landscape in winter. Aim to create a garden that produces dazzling fall color and fragrant blossom.
Examples of drought-tolerant, deer-resistant and pollinator-attracting bushes that grow in sun or part shade and in the ground or containers include: blue mist shrub and re-blooming lilac. The first has fragrant leaves and flowers in late summer or fall, providing food for migrating butterflies. The second produces sweet-smelling purple flowers in spring, summer and fall!
Korean spice viburnum is another star shrub. It has extremely fragrant flowers in spring, followed by red berries and wine-red leaves in fall.
The gardening guru’s emphasis on foliage as a design feature and for color is thought-provoking. Personally, I tend to think of flowers and fruit as the goal of my garden. But consider that the color of a certain evergreen or the design on the leaves of some groundcovers can make a major improvement to the look of your garden and the mood it produces in the onlooker.
Rodger’s flower (Rodgersia), for example, has beautiful flowers and leaves that look attractive for months on end. Coral bells and many hostas have lovely leaves. The evergreen tree Rocky Mountain juniper ‘Wichita blue’ has dusty blue needles and needs almost no maintenance, according to Mrs. Mendez. Good choices for groundcovers: Wooly (creeping) thyme, woods phlox (phlox divaritica) – very fragrant – and ice plants.
As for fruits and vegetables, many varieties, including dwarf fruit trees, can be grown in containers and modern planters have water reservoirs that can keep a plant healthy for two to eight weeks without needing to be refilled, the author said.
When growing edibles, keep in mind – as always – how to make your gardening life easier. Food planted in raised beds, waist-high, and in containers on wheels help reduce the need to bend.
To learn more about Mrs. Mendez’s book, one of three she has written, look at (No, I’m not getting a commission, but how could I resist passing on all this gardening wisdom? In the meantime, happy gardening!
Editor’s Note: Laetitia Sands is a master gardener in Dorchester County.

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While lovely to look at, perennial flower beds like this one require back-straining, knee-hurting work. If you are your own gardener, why not choose a less labor-intensive type of gardening?

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