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New Garden Lessons Learned

As the seasons change we once again take stock and see what lessons we have learned. The 1st December marks the official beginning of Summer in South Africa and so it is time take part in the quarterly gardening meme by PlantPostings called “Garden lessons learned“. Barbie completed her “Gardening Mistakes” post a few days early and today it is my turn to think back over the last three months and document the successes and mistakes in the garden. Fortunately, not all gardening is trial and error. With the help of our wonderful gardening friends, mentors, numerous excellent blogs we follow, books and fabulous nurseries at our disposal, we learn quickly and do a lot of thing right from the get go. But a lot is learned by trying things on our own.

Garden lessons learned

These are the lessons I’ve learned this season …

1. Extend the Spring Bulb Show by planting bulbs at intervals
I had a fabulous show of Spring Flowers. It was magical and thrilling as a new gardener to be greeted every morning with new flowers opening, walking through the garden and being surprised by something new bursting into bloom … it was really fabulous. I was incredibly proud of “my” spring show and anyone who would indulge me was taken on a tour to see the spring flowers. But then they all seemed to finish blooming at the same time. Next year I will plant bulbs in weekly batches rather than trying to get it all done in one weekend. This should prolong the showing for a while.

2. Pruning is mega important
Yeah Baby! I was intimidated by pruning and so just never did it. For example … the Hydrangea that I planted in my pre-gardening days about three years ago had never flowered (or grown much), the grotty looking Weigela was earmarked for the trash can and I was nervous as heck to cut the ornamental grass down to nothing. But at the end of July I took secateurs to hand and cut! Snip, snip, snip all over. It broke my heart a little to cut things down to bare stalks and I had serious doubts about my efforts, but am I ever glad I did it now! The Hydrangeas have come back and have morphed into huge magnificent plants about to flower, The Weigela looks like a plant again and not like a dead twig and the roses are covered in masses of gorgeous blooms! I will never be scared to prune again! My advice to any newbie gardener regarding pruning – Just Do It!

[one_third]The bees love my rosesBee on the rose[/one_third]

[one_third]Petunias for instant colourPetunias for instant colour[/one_third]

[one_third_last]Experimenting with foliageExperimenting with foliage[/one_third_last]

3. Plant at recommended distances
So we all know I’m not very patient. Impatience and the desire for instant gratification in the garden has been the cause of me planting things closer together than I should. What a pain … now I have to dig up things that are overcrowded and replant them! Stupid rookie mistake! (Except for Clivias – apparently they like being crowded!).

4. It’s not just about the flowers
I’ve learnt that I can create an amazing garden without even thinking about the flowering potential of a plant by combining great foliage plants. Considering form, texture, leaf colour, shape and size I’ve learnt that a magical garden can be created using plants that might never flower or whose flowers are insignificant. A wonderful revelation and a whole new way of gardening has opened up to me.

5. There is ALWAYS something to do in the garden
Once you start gardening, you can’t stop. There is always something that needs doing in the garden! ‘Nuff said!

[one_third]Roses after serious pruningRoses after serious pruning[/one_third]

[one_third]Loving the OsteopernumsLoving the Osteopermums[/one_third]

[one_third_last]Witoogies take care of aphidsWitoogies take care of aphids[/one_third_last]

6. I don’t need perfection in the garden
A bit of a perfectionist in many others areas of my life, I have realised in the past three months that I do not need perfection in the garden. Sure I want everything to look gorgeous, but it is the overall effect that makes me happy, not individual plant perfection. It is just not that important that every blade of grass, every leaf, every bloom be perfect. It is in fact the little imperfections that make it interesting.

7. Just move it!
I’ve learnt from many experienced gardeners that when a plant is not thriving in the position it is in – just dig it up and plant it elsewhere. It might well thrive in another position.

8. Bugs serve purposes too
Spraying the roses every two weeks with some noxious smelling stuff recommended by some rose growers made me very uncomfortable. The bed the standard roses are in has lots of little flowers growing at ground level that the bees love. So I felt guilty every time I used that spray. And frankly, every time I used it there seemed to be more aphids on them than the time before anyway, so what was the point? After pruning the roses I decided to stop using the spray and the result? No aphids. Admittedly there are some beetles that seem to be munching the blooms but the blooms only last a few days and there are so many, many new buds on each plant, that I don’t actually care if there are a few buggy-holes in the old roses that need to be removed anyway. And there are so many happy bees buzzing around that bed its like a regular bee-palooza* in there! Lovely!

[one_third]I love gardening with grassesPanicum virgatum "Shenandoah"[/one_third]

[one_third]Lavender is a great filler plantLavender is a great filler plant[/one_third]

[one_third_last]Ant on the Globe ArtichokeAnt on the Globe Artichoke[/one_third_last]

9. Planting seeds can be a real pain if not done carefully
i). I planted a bunch of seeds carefully. Nicely spaced, giving the emerging seedlings lots of space. Tick!
ii). I planted a bunch of seeds just by throwing them in a pot, not giving the emerging seedlings any space to grow. What a pain to thin them out and a huge waste of time! I’ll take the time and do it properly next time.

10. In times of grief the garden can be a great place to heal.
Not a lesson I wanted to learn, but learn it I did.

I ♥ Sherrie

What lessons have you learned this season? Please share with us – we learn so much from reading these types of post by experienced gardeners, so join in and head over to Plant Postings to add the link to your “Garden Lessons Learned” post so we can share in your gardening successes!

*Palooza – According to the “Urban Dictionary”, a Palooza is an all out crazy party!

By Christine

Dominated by large trees on a medium sized property, my garden is very shaded. With no “full sun” areas I have to plant shade and partial shade loving plants. I love shrubs and flowers including camellias and azaleas but Roses and Irises are my favourite and getting these to thrive is a challenge …

18 replies on “New Garden Lessons Learned”

Wow, you sure have learned a lot in one season!! Great lessons learned! I too have learned many of these lessons the hard way and by trial and error over the years. It’s painful sometimes, but worth it! I am in the same boat as you are on #3. I have a large garden crammed full of stuff I planted my first year that is completely overcrowded, and now I have to dig up and relocate a bunch of the plants. Yes, what a pain indeed!! Next spring/summer will be very busy!


Excellent post Christine! I too am really learning about adding foliage to contrast my plants with. it’s one of those things I just don’t think about when I’m entranced with the beautiful showy flowers. 🙂 And great tip on extending your spring bloom season! I’ve never thought of that before!

What a great post! Thanks Chris! Numbers 3, 5 & 7 hit me in the face! I still repeat mistakes (like planting too close!) but moving them is my new lesson! 🙂
This weekend is moving weekend!

Good list. #9 is a lesson I learned too and will be more careful and more patient next year. Mistakes are a good way to learn, no? I hope your pets are OK? That’s a cute little pup in the last picture!

You really have learned most of the major lessons there are to learn and quickly too. I would be interested to hear if planting the same bulbs at intervals makes them bloom at different times. Please report back. Meanwhile planting lots of different bulbs that bloom at different times can keep them going almost all year. I read your comment about ‘Zebrinus’ on Alistair’s blog and wanted to warn you that Miscanthus sinenesis is highly invasive where I live. Not in your garden, but in natural areas where birds deposit the seeds. Don’t know anything about it in South Africa though.

Is your little dog settling in? Have big dog and little dog made friends? And the puddytat?

When I find myself buying the second replacement, time to catch a wake-up! It doesn’t want to GROW in my garden, so there!

Hi Diana – you are so sweet to ask about my pets, thank you 🙂
They are all fine – Was a bit hectic at first with her and the cat, but then Puddytat gave little dog a few smacks and that ended that drama – Sherrie now has a very healthy respect for the cat, keeps her distance and all is well on that front. But she is less accepting of Dexter. Snarls at him on occasion, which I really don’t like because Dexter is so sweet to her – he shares his toys, his garden, his bed, his people … Otherwise all is well. She LOVES the garden, which is great. She takes herself outside and wanders around. Very sweet!

Haha, I’m busy learning that lesson about second replacements! Why do we keep trying plants that just won’t work in our gardens?

Interesting lessons. Apart from the garden, I think the last cutie pie is a healer too. Btw, I’ve posted your caption for the ducks already.

Great lessons! Good tip on the bulbs – I had never thought of that. Good advice on pruning, and I’m glad you’re not spraying your roses anymore. I know some gardeners do, and some roses require it, but I think the roses should work for me, not the other way around! I know better, but I still plant things waaay too close! :O And I’ve learned #10, too. Gardens can be very healing. That first photo is gorgeous, by the way!

Christine: Thanks for joining in the meme again. This is so much fun! I found myself nodding my head when reading this post, as I agreed with everything you said–especially “Just do it!” I’ve had the same experience with pruning shrubs, and some of them need dramatic trimming every year. Of course, some shrubs have different needs so it helps to do a little research, too. But when it’s time to trim, “just do it” is great advice. 🙂

These lessons get very different if you are in different climates. But that blue petunia is so unique i haven’t seen one like it. Do you know that the blues and violets are more common in temperate than hotter climates!

Great lessons learned well!

One caution about pruning though: sometimes you do need to be careful. If you have a shrub that flowers on last year’s wood, pruning at the wrong time will remove all of the flower buds. Also, there are some trees (I’m thinking of conifers) that don’t take well to pruning. Other that that I agree with you: just do it!

I’11 add one:

11) Pay attention to mature sizes of plants listed on their tags (but research too because they’re not always correct) — that compact little gem you brought home could be taller than your house in another year or two.

Ah yes, you are so right!! I think I might have just made a mistake with a planting this last week and am considering moving it. Just read somewhere it grows to 1.5 m, I thought it was a much smaller plant.

And I don’t think my Weigela will flower this year. (old wood … need to read up on that). *sigh*. But I’m happy that the plant at least looks healthy again.

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