The Plot I Planned to Plant: When your order is bigger than your garden. . .
by Carol Wallace
What happens every spring but has all the feeling of Christmas day -- except that the thrill can last for days, or even years?
It's the arrival of the postman with boxes and boxes of lovely plants. There is nothing as thrilling as peeking out the front window to see yet another carton sitting on my porch, begging to be rushed out to the garden and incorporated into the garden. Eagerly I slit open the carton, greedily I inspect all my new treasures and line them up on the sunroom floor to see what all arrived.
Some cartons hold surprises. My daylily orders all came with bonus plants, and in a few cases instead of the single clump I ordered there were two clumps. So instead of the anticipated 12 plants, I now have 18. An order from a bulb company held not the 5 Black Knight cannas I remembered ordering, but 10. One perennials order did not have one plant I wanted, but sent three extras of another to ease my disappointment. And when I casually asked a friend if he knew who carried a certain vine, he surprised me by sending me one, along with several dahlias. It's exactly like Christmas, full of unanticipated pleasures.
But pleasures quickly turn to problems when I get outside.
I take my box of bounty and race to the garden, digging knife in hand. And there I come to a screeching halt. Did I order these 12 yellow daylilies for the secret garden, or for the garden at the side of the house? And did I really think I could fit 20 white Asiatic lilies into that tiny plot in front of the garden wall which already holds two rosebushes and a rhododendron? And where on earth, given the colors in any of my gardens will this gorgeous bright daylily I lusted after fit in without creating a screaming clash???
If I plant the lilies elsewhere, will they take up a space that I've mentally reserved for an as yet unarrived order? And when on earth did that Veronica grow so large that it ate up the space I'd planned to put the coreopsis in??
If the plot where I had planned to plant has mysteriously shrunk, the one in my head has apparently stretched the bounds of credibility. Clearly what I need is a plot of my plots.
A plot can be pretty sketchy -- simply a rough drawing of each bed with little blobs indicating each plant that is planted there. I include perennials and shrubs but not annuals, since they may come back if they reseeded, but can always be moved. That way I not only know where there is available space for any new purchase, but also will be able to identify things as they emerge in spring. Some plants emerge very late, and without a map of my plantings I have been known to dig right into the poor things in early spring and murder them. And spring bulbs go dormant in summer and disappear from sight and mind -- looking for all the world like potential planting places. The plot warns me roughly about all these potential pitfalls. When I have a plot, that is. I got lazy last year and didn't make one.
The other thing I needed was a plan. It's pretty simple -- when I'm looking at that catalog and deciding that I can't live without that plant I need to make a note of where I envision it going when it arrives. A check of my plan against my plot would tell me if I really have room, and whether the plant in question can somehow be fit into the overall scheme.
I can then fit the plant tentatively into the plot, in pencil. I'd never use ink, because until I'm done catalog shopping I'm likely to run across four or five candidates for that empty space. And come spring, I'm likely to find a few surprises and substitutions that will need to be accommodated.
If only I had done all that, as I did quite conscientiously my first several years of gardening, I would now be able to grab my goodie boxes, march into the garden and plant with a purpose -- and with confidence.
But since I didn't, the good news is that my husband is now out widening a couple of the beds so I can play musical plants and fit in all the things that I can't seem to remember my intentions for. Which means I managed to successfully eliminate a little more of his precious lawn. Meanwhile, I'm perched at my computer, telling you to do as I say, not as I do - and I'll do it too - next year.
This one is a must! Now that you've got the design down, how about making sure it's going to be maintained and groomed to match that gorgeous picture in your head. Read my review of a "must have" gardening book, Timber Press's new bestseller, The Well Tended Garden. It's one book every gardener, beginner or experienced, should own.
About the Author
Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.