Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.
This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.
And then a large Rosa rugosa hybrid rose started succumbing to a mysterious blight after it flowered in May. I cut it back – way back – and by mid-summer little specks of green began sprouting on its inch-thick wood canes. By late summer they had turned into blooming stems with fresh blight-free leaves. Will this last? No idea. And if that big rose has to go, I will need to replace it with … something.
Another major hole will be left after Doug Wood, fearless leader of the Wicker Park Garden Club, arrives to put his new bionic hips to work digging out my incredible Incrediball hydrangea. This 5- by 5-foot wunderkind produces one-foot diameter flowers, and trying to reduce the shrub’s size by cutting it back last April had no effect whatsoever. It’s a cultivar of Hydrangea arborescens so it blooms on new wood, and it simply regrew as big as its genes dictated. It’s a fabulous plant but you must have the right spot for it.
Then there’s the fact that my garden was almost blanketed by bright pink Phlox paniculata in August. Really colorful but probably too much of a good thing, especially as the plants started going geriatric in September. Need to remove some of them and replace with … something.
So no autopilot garden for me in 2016, and probably not for you either. Nature doesn’t stand still and neither do our gardens.
In the meantime, we have winter. A time for dreaming, but more to the point, hard thinking about how we wish to go forward in 2016.
In this issue two features posit contrasting answers to this question. Western gardens began several thousand years ago as shaded enclosures in hot arid lands, and our concept of gardens as a paradise harks back to the Persian word paradiza. Structure was the key element in those gardens and is still integral to any beautiful garden today. Our story about hedges links to that tradition.
But another aesthetic is also at work: the ideal of a naturalistic flower garden overflowing with the native plants so important to supporting pollinating insects and other wildlife. Pat Hill’s garden in Elgin illustrates how this works as we stand at one point in her corner lot and watch as the flowers come and go throughout the year.
Of course, who says a garden has to be one or the other? Smart gardeners
(like us) will combine both.