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Let’s face it. The term “ground covers” doesn’t inspire a great deal of passion. For generations, ground covers have been regarded as plants for covering exposed soil in places where poor soil conditions, deep shade or steep slopes make it hard, or even impossible, to grow grass. But today, many gardeners recognize ground covers not only for their utility but their striking beauty as well.
Ideally, filling the spaces between plants with more plants instead of mulch provides color and textural contrast, increases habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife, beautifies the landscape, gives you ornamental foliage and various growth habits that are particularly attractive during the active growing season and – not surprisingly – might even provide winter interest to boot. If chosen correctly, a yard with established ground covers is a visual treat.
Ask any gardener what grows really well in your garden, and you may get an answer you don’t want to hear: POISON IVY. Unfortunately, it thrives from Maine to Florida.
Poison ivy manages to grow anywhere – on islands, marshy areas, and forests. Sand, good soil, or among acidic pine needles, poison ivy grows. Worst of all it grows in sun or shade, climbing up, over and around most everything.
With garden space and spare time at a premium for most families, gone are the huge backyard plots that once yielded all the vegetables a family could eat. After a move to the city in 2012, my own vegetable garden shrunk from a half acre in the country to a few raised beds. Nonetheless, I’m amazed at the large and varied harvest from my new, much smaller space these last two years.
Success for me and other small-space gardeners is due in part to plant breeders, who have developed compact veggies to replace some of the space hogs of the past. Many of these new varieties are ideal candidates not only for small beds, but also for containers, which means you can grow a decent harvest even if you have no ground at all.
Here in the 21st century the idea of ecological or “green” gardening is nothing new. As gardeners we have a unique connection to ecology that leads many of us to desire to garden in ways that don’t harm the environment. Most of us approach using chemicals with at least some level of apprehension and concern about both environmental and human health. Scientific research is increasingly confirming suspicions that horticultural and agricultural chemicals are contributing to a wide array of concerns such as cancer, pollinator decline, and poor water quality. Still, much confusion remains about what going green in the garden entails and how practical it is, especially as we age and become less physically able.
The good news is that the biggest challenge in going green is a mental one. Going green won’t necessarily require you to do much differently physically, but it will require you to challenge some of your assumptions about gardening. The following is a list of five things you can do this year to make your garden healthier and more ecofriendly.
For me, it all started with an unwanted pine tree. After the tree was cut down and the stump dug out, I was left with a fair-sized hole in the ground. Solution? Build a garden pond! Constructing your own garden pond is not difficult, but certain aspects of the job must be done precisely. Here are some guidelines that will help you avoid common mistakes and create the garden pond of your dreams.>> read “Building a Garden Pond”
Ants are good guys in the garden, but bad guys in the house. Learn more about these colony-dwelling insects.
Whether it is a lone ant wandering the countertop or a column on a mission, an ant invasion can be unnerving. Landscaping with organic mulches, movement away from broadcast applications of lawn insecticides and recent mild winters seem to have increased the encounters with these unwelcome visitors.
Plant roses earlier this spring – plus, bring back the historic fragrance and romance of the old roses. Try mail-order bare-root English roses this season.
If you have had your fill of reliable, plain Jane, but popular shrub roses, allow me to introduce you to the English garden rose (Rosa hybrids). Once you’ve seen an English rose, you will easily recognize it.
Can you say exquisitely frilly? Can you say divinely fragrant? Can you say disease resistant? Can you say beautiful for fresh-flower arrangements? How about romantic roses with lots and lots of petals? Yes, those attributes all describe the English garden rose.
Lasagna gardening is also known as “sheet composting,” “sheet mulching,” or “no-dig garden beds.” This uncomplicated and easy gardening method is appropriate for everyone (including people who may be physically limited or unable to dig traditional garden beds). It’s also a good way to convert grassy areas to gardens without using herbicides or tillers. The sod is left in place, where it gets converted into soil organic matter. The process can be done at any time and at any scale, even piecemeal as materials are available.>> read “What is Lasagna Gardening?”
“Wow, that centerpiece looks good enough to be in a magazine. I wish I could put together something half that beautiful. I usually just plop some hydrangeas in a vase – pretty, but totally unimaginative.” That's what I said to my friend and talented designer, Trace, last spring. It was late February, when buds are swollen on bare branches and hyacinth flowers are only a promise, and I loved how the centerpiece celebrated that feeling of anticipation. Trace replied, “Thanks. It’s not that hard; I could teach you.” Thus began my yearlong training, learning how to create impressive centerpieces and tablescapes for every season.>> read “Tablescaping: Celebrate the Season with a Centerpiece”
No matter what size your garden, you can have a bouquet in the making if you plant a few key plants. From long-lasting coral bell leaves to daffodils or hellebores, it’s likely you’re already growing some of the best flowers for a stunning indoor arrangement.
Sizeable bouquets benefit from a focal point of large flowers — think Hydrangea spp., Dahlia spp., Paeonia spp. and Lilium spp. As extravagant as these show-offs tend to be, they’re often improved by some smaller flowers and greenery. In addition to the big, show-off flowers, tuck a few of these into your garden for great backdrops in a vase.
Have you ever wanted a beautiful garden with arbors, water features, furniture and unusual plants? Maybe that garden you dreamed of is not in your budget or you just don’t have the space or time. Why not make that dream come true in a miniature garden? A miniature garden can be planted in a container or in a garden bed. If you are planting in a container, you will need soil and an unusual container for your garden. For both container gardens and in-ground gardens, you will need small-leaved plants, rocks, miniature garden accessories and lots of imagination. Creating a miniature garden in a container can take less than an hour to create. Larger in-ground gardens can take a bit longer, or be an ongoing project, depending on the size. Here is how to create a miniature garden in three easy steps.>> read “Teeny Tiny: Creating a Garden in Miniature”
There’s a special thrill that comes from saying “I grew it from seed.” Try it and see for yourself.
When I was a child, I spent many lovely, sunny hours in the garden of our neighbor Genevieve. It was a smallish yard, enclosed with a low picket fence, and made to feel private with great pools of annual flowers that bloomed all summer. There were clouds of tall yellow blossoms I recall, and red vining things that spilled over the fence. I remember being drawn to the low patches of pink and blue petunias that spread out over the sidewalk and perfumed the air on still afternoons.