Taming the Wilderness – workshop notes

Create space around individual plants to avoid an overgrown, unkempt look

Create space around individual plants to avoid an overgrown, unkempt look

TAMING THE WILDERNESS

Handout notes from the workshop taken here in our garden November 7, 2009 as part of the Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival.

  1. If you are new to the garden, don’t charge straight in immediately and start dropping trees and shrubs. Ideally, give it about nine months to go through the seasons so you can see what is there before you do major felling and removal. In the meantime you can be clearing the lower grade plants – most plants that sucker, clump or seed down can be safely attacked.
  2. Track the path of the sun so you can see where your winter sun and summer shade positions are.
  3. Unless you know what you are doing, seek advice as to which trees are quality, long term trees worth preserving. Somebody at the botanic garden or public park, or an enthusiastic member of a group such as the International Dendrology Society will likely know more than a tree surgeon (whose skills often lie more in safely felling a tree and using chainsaws than in deciding which trees are of value).
  4. Overgrown gardens lose the detail and small treasures, but can give you a framework and maturity to work with. Don’t reduce it all to a blank canvas by clearing everything.
  5. Stand at each window in the house and plan views if possible. Also spend plenty of time looking from every angle in the garden to work out potential view shafts, sun and shade through the seasons.
  6. Make the most of maturity of plants. LIFT AND LIMB. Allow light through underneath and build up layers of garden. Many, if not most, young gardens are badly overplanted to get a quick effect. It is likely that you will need to thin out a number of these plants.
  7. Mature gardens are usually about shade conditions. LEARN TO GARDEN WITH SHADE. Don’t try and turn it all back to sun and a juvenile garden.
  8. CREATE SPACE AROUND PLANTS. The fresh appeal of young gardens is often because each plant stands alone in its own space. As gardens grow, that space gets swallowed up and the plants become entangled. Creating a sense of space again is good for the plant (less competition, more light and more air flow) and creates a more cared for look in the garden. Most gardens need to restrict the size of trees and shrubs.
  9. LEARN ABOUT PRUNING – especially the right times of the year to prune plants and the general rules of pruning. A good pruning saw is worth the expense, as are good loppers. Supervise chainsaw operators carefully – you can not glue branches on later.
  10. Widen paths. Remove anything spiky or prickly beside the path. Creating a sharp edge between a path and garden immediately makes a place look better cared for.
  11. As a general rule, woody trees and shrubs are best left well alone in the root area. Just a feed (preferably in spring) if the plant is looking hungry and pile on the mulch. Herbaceous or clumping plants prefer friable or fluffed soil and in a neglected garden may need to be lifted, divided and rejuvenated.
  12. If you are gardening on a slope or even on a hill, trim the branches and prunings and lay them around the contours of the slope and use them to start building up layers of humus. It is all part of the natural cycle. Bare earth is not a good look.
  13. Be a vigilant weeder from the start. It saves a great deal of time and effort later. Once an area is weeded, lay mulch to suppress fresh young seedlings. You will have many dormant weed seeds in your soil which will spring into life with a bit of light and cultivation.
  14. In our opinions, gardens need some logic to them and this usually means that detailed and tightly maintained areas of the garden are closest to the house, to living areas and entranceways. As you radiate out further, the theme becomes looser and more casual. Most people use outdoor living areas which are close to the house, rather than at the bottom of the garden.
  15. Vegetable gardens need full sun.
  16. As a general rule, water features are best in full sun.
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