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Janice Peterson: Five useful landscaping tricks for beginners

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Janice Peterson
March 24, 2014

I love to garden but I struggle with garden design. Even when I take the time to plan out a bed I eventually undermine the design by moving plants and adding freebies friends have given me. I admit it; I am a “plopper” not a “planner”.  I try to keep some semblance of order in the front of my house but my backyard is more like a big “experimental station”.

Occasionally someone new to gardening will ask me for design advice (seasoned gardeners know better than to ask me!). However, I do have a few useful tricks for beginners:

1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My neighbor saw a great looking perennial bed in a magazine and brought it in to her local garden center. They helped her recreate the look, substituting some of the plants with more appropriate ones for her yard.

2. Check out your neighbor's landscaping. Notice any plants in their yards that look good and are growing well? Chances are they'll look good and grow well in your yard, too! If you don't know what the plants are then this is a great reason to meet your neighbors and chat about their yard. Who knows, you may even go home with some plant divisions.

3. Go to McDonalds. Or a gas station. Any local business that has nice looking grounds. Garden designers may think these landscapes are boring but there's a reason they work. These are plants that are attractive, easy to grow, aren't extra fussy and can handle some abuse. I've noticed in commercial properties more use of ornamental perennial grasses, which are one of my favorite landscape elements. Check out the neat switchgrass (Panicum sp.) at Woodman's.

4. Visit a local botanical garden (Rotary Botanical Gardens immediately comes to mind!). You will find great design ideas and best of all many of the plants are labeled. Make sure you record the names of the plants you love.

5. Be wary of those ready-made perennial gardens from catalogs. The picture will show every plant in full bloom at the same time. Ha! The reality is that perennials bloom for relatively short periods of time on their own schedules. Also, depending on where the catalog is from, some of those “perennials” won't even survive a Wisconsin winter.

Part of the fun of gardening is trying new ideas and seeing what works and doesn't work in the garden. Thomas Jefferson, that eternal gardening optimist, wrote of “the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another." Oh, I've been there, done that!



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