Dig out and discard the plants you don’t want. After removing the existing plants, rebuild the bed with a new vision in mind.
Photo/Illustration: Lee Anne White
Early on, when I began learning about gardening, I went to a garden club lecture given by local gardening legend Sydney Eddison. I sat at a table surrounded by matronly club members who asked me what I specialized in. I told them quite naively that I loved all flowers, that I hadn’t yet found one I didn’t like. With eyebrows raised and coy smiles covered politely by their napkins, the ladies said, “That’s nice, dear.” But it was true, and as the years went by my garden grew with one of this and one of that, or with impetuous desires to have certain plants completely unsuited to our land (like heavenly scented roses, for example). In the end, my whimsical approach became my garden’s undoing. Every year by mid-summer, it was a floppy mess, a hodgepodge that was neither pleasing nor promising of better things to come. I wish the garden club ladies had clued me in way back when, but then I probably wouldn’t have listened.
Right about this same time, I fell under the influence of a new gardening aesthetic, that of a more naturalistic approach to design. Thanks to the words and work of a number of insightful individuals like Rick Darke, Piet Oudolf, and James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme, I became more interested in plants like grasses that glimmer in the late-day light and native perennials that are as tough as nails. And I found myself leaning toward a design sense that relied on bold groupings of plants and on foliage and texture as much as flowers. So, early in spring, I decided to take on a major overhaul of two large garden beds. I resolved to remove the plants that were floundering (the roses that didn’t get enough sun and the daylilies the deer love), divide and rejuvenate the ones that were thriving, like catmints (Nepeta spp.), bee balms (Monarda cvs.), and irises (Iris siberica and I. virginica), and get out my check book for a big plant order.
I planned to start with a clean slate, by first digging up and temporarily holding most of the plants that were in the beds, then replanting with a new design that incorporated the old with the new. I purchased some of the new plants through a landscaper friend who got me a good price on potted plants in quantity, some came as gifts from gardening friends, and others were ordered from Ambergate Gardens, a bare-root perennial nursery in Minnesota with a wide selection of grasses and natives—just the plants I was looking for.