Analysis and review could be formally made with each season or casually during an evening stroll of the garden. Committed gardeners can be serious note takes and planners or extemporaneous in analysis. However one surveys the garden's performance, reviews can be made in the first and second years, but I believe perennials should be given three years to reach the stage of performance we expect of them after planting. It is good to review after the first few months or a year if any major relocation of obviously misplaced plants needs to be made. They are still young enough to be easily transplanted. If you're taking stock during the heat of the summer months (late May through mid September), wait until the weather cools, usually around September 15th, to transplant them.
After putting in a new landscape or bed, the third year is the make or break it year (assuming, of course, it made it to the third year). You will lose a few plants along the way in nearly any situation, but if by the third year you've lost or replaced the majority, it's definitely time to rethink the scheme.
Review for Composition and Color
As the garden progresses and matures, especially when trying plants new to you and new plant combinations, their growth can be surprising. They will spread wider than we gave them space for, encroaching on their neighbors territory. Plants will grow taller than expected, shading out shorter perennials, perhaps to the point of extinction. Or perhaps the bloom colors clash, or fail to compliment each other.
There are two ideal times for a general review of the garden. The months of June and July are for the summer review, after the spring flower show and into summer's look and at winter's calm, after the garden is put to rest. For a proper analysis, dust off your plan and design papers, looking over your garden after reviewing the original plan. Find your gardening notebook and pencil and jot down your thoughts, ideas, criticisms and successes on what you now see.
Review your list of wants, needs and desires you came up with before you began the actual work and installation.
Are you pleased with the
- Individual bed/border color compositions
- Structural layout
- Interplay of foliage and texture
- Vegetable, fruit and herb harvest
- Spacing of plants
- Flow of the garden
- Utility of the garden
- Is your "heart's desire" in your garden?
It is helpful to view your landscape from several angles. Take a look from inside your home from different windows. If you have a second story window, be sure to analyze your compositions from on high. They will take on another dimension. Is this what you were hoping to see?
Bare of most foliage, the winter landscape offers to us the opportunity of evaluating the structural merits of the landscape. With the passing of the seasons colorful fanfare, we are able to better see areas within the garden framework that require improvement.
- Is the garden one dimensional, a flat plane of annuals (now gone) with little structural interest?
- Is there a framework from which to build plant compositions or communities that provide not only a plant ecology in harmony with nature, but also visual interest?
- At the same time you consider the structure of the garden, evaluate your landscape for winter plant interest.
There is nothing like a well laid path or patio for continuing winter interest, especially if easily viewed from an interior window during the all too many cold and windy wintry days. Devoid of color points of focus, hardscape comes to the fore.
A year ago my sons installed a flagstone patio and walk along an area that had become increasingly shaded as my sycamore tree matured (please note, sycamores are not well adapted to our climate and conditions). For several years I resorted to re-seeding the grassy area underneath its spreading canopy, only to find it thinning out by autumn. This naturally shady site turned into an ideal flagstone sitting area. The need for a design change was augmented by the path I was wearing into the grass from gate to shed.
This one design change eliminated hours of yearly maintenance: reduced the high water, high maintenance turf area, removed the need for yearly re-seeding, replaced compacted and trampled turf into a flagstone path, and converted a flowerless shady corner sheltered from wind to a sitting/dining/entertaining area where container plants reside.
Review the Seven Principles of Gardening
To be truly successful, your garden's success depends on how well the seven principles of gardening have been applied. Review each principle, not just composition and design.
- Are your plants performing well in the soil, as is or amended?
- Are high water-use turf areas reduced to a third of the landscape?
- Is your plant selection appropriate to, not just the design and style of the garden, but appropriate to soil, location and our climate?
- Did you conserve water? Are there any water conserving tips still to be implemented?
- Are the beds mulched? Is the mulch aesthetically pleasing and appropriate to the plants?
- Have you reached the low maintenance aspect of gardening? Are proper maintenance techniques practiced?
Review your gardening statement. How close did you come in achieving it?
If you've been nursing weak plants along, go ahead and put them out of your misery and perform the mercy killing. Observe a moment of silence if you must. Then utter those deleted expletives and choose another plant or plan.
But I hope this isn't the case in your landscape. This is the time to tweak you creation. At this point, analyze what really worked, what you like and what others told you they liked. Because if you've done something right, others will notice it too. Accept all the praise from friends, neighbors, family and fellow gardeners with grace and humility, because the next extreme weather event may occur tomorrow.