My garden landscape has evolved over the years. When I first started, I focused on designing a garden with shrubs and trees, thinking woody plants would be low maintenance for my big yard. I worked hard to add trees and shrubs that bloomed at different times during the season or offered interesting foliage. I supplemented this with a few easy-care perennials.
The problem is a large 2-acre shrub garden means a lot of bare ground that needs mulch to keep weeds in check. Plus, older shrubs need a ton of pruning.
So, I’ve been making changes. I’ve been swapping out shrubs for more perennials. While perennials might seem to require more maintenance than shrubs, this maintenance is more evenly spread throughout the year and is less physically taxing. I can deadhead flowers throughout the summer and cut them back in fall or spring using a lawnmower in larger areas.
I’ve spent a big part of this past winter updating my garden design plan and making a list of new changes. This is the scale of what I’m working on.
2024 Garden Goals
Every year, I make a mental bullet list of what areas I want to work on. Since retirement, I’ve upped the ante and hope to accomplish more garden tasks and document my garden journey better.
Looking ahead to 2024, I’ve got some big garden goals:
1. Redesign and replant the pool garden
I’ve been working on this area for a while, removing shrubs to make room for more colourful perennials. I want big swaths of colour, with mostly summer bloom times. This garden slopes up towards the pool fence, but I don’t want a wall of foliage along the fence line. A barrier of shrubs has limited the views from the pool. So, I’m trying to design for a few see-through sections.
Here is my current design, although inevitably, once you start planting, things shift. The idea is to have big groups of plants with outliers like the wind blowing some seed further. We’ll see if that works.
The first step to planting this garden will be to remove some pre-existing shrubs, which brings me to my second garden goal for the year.
2. Get rid of more problematic shrubs
Some of the shrubs I planted years ago haven’t worked out. Some died. Some grew larger than predicted and crowded out their neighbours. Some survived but struggled (I’m talking to you, Mock Orange, whose buds and leaves freeze almost every spring only for the new foliage to be eaten by deer). Some shrubs are now considered invasive – barberries were all the rage 20 years ago, but we now view them as bad ecologically. Yet we won’t talk about the native varieties I added that then took over massive parts of the landscape because they aggressively spread dozens of feet away by runners in my wonderfully fertile garden soil.
I’ve also come to realize older shrubs are anything but low maintenance. Some shrubs now require annual pruning to keep them within bounds. And for the look to remain natural, much of this pruning happens in early spring – like thining out 1/3 of the stems of 11 ninebarks and two red-twigged dogwoods, trimming 14 over-sized Chamaecyparis pisifera (threadleaf false cypress) so the natural growth can remain in summer, pruning 12 hydrangeas and sometimes hard-pruning 20+ boxwoods. All this while also focusing on spring cleanup, vegetable and flower starts in the greenhouse, and the vegetable garden.
So I’ve been removing shrubs from the borders over the past few years, and more will go in 2024, including:
- several barberries in the pool garden and some in front of the vegetable gardens
- three peonies from these same gardens (to be moved to the peony garden)
- two evergreen euonymus in the front beds as they constantly get eaten down by rabbits in the winter
- one ninebark in the east garden as it’s now being shaded by a large blue spruce
- a sickly weigela and poorly placed serviceberry & threadleaf cypress near the air conditioner
- three mock oranges, as they get frost damage every spring here
- one buttonbush in the woodland garden (it’s in almost full shade now but I am keeping two others)
- a struggling snowflake viburnum in the back garden (it’s small, so I’ll try moving it)
I also plan to limb up three very large, overgrown threadleaf cypress shrubs on the east side of the house and see how that looks. If I don’t like it, they will come out.
3. Edge the garden beds with pavers
I won’t be doing this myself, but the plan for 2024 is to add paver edging to all my garden beds. Last year, I switched from a lawn-cutting company to a Husqvarna robotic lawnmower (we named him Edward after Edward Scissorhands). The problem is the robot’s cutting disc leaves an 8-inch uncut section around the lawn borders. I don’t want to hire someone to weed-wack the edges every couple of weeks. But 1,800 linear feet of garden borders is a lot to maintain myself. By adding a flat stone border around the gardens, Edward has space to turn around, and grass won’t grow into the beds. It’s costly, but it’s a step towards easier long-term maintenance. My hope is that health permitting, we can stay on our property for another 15 to 20 years, but that requires less repetitive maintenance if I want to keep up on my own.
4. Formalizing some pathways
I have several simple flagstone walkways through the gardens. They have popped up over time based on common paths I use through the gardens when I walk around the yard. It’s time to formalize these pathways. Right now, I have to lift the flagstone every year after mulching, and that’s a tiring chore. My plan is to pull up the flagstone, excavate some of the dirt underneath, lay down a layer of screenings, and then place the flag on top. The paths will have the same raised stone edging as the garden borders. I’m hoping to do this job myself over the next couple of summers.
5. Remove more periwinkle
When we moved here 20 years ago, there were very few plants in the gardens around the house and drive. What was here was mostly blue spruce and tons of ground cover. Unfortunately, that ground cover was mostly periwinkle and pachysandra. I’ve been tackling sections over the years, removing them manually, but it’s a herculean task. I’ll never get it all, but I am replacing a little more every year with more varied perennials.
Those are my big structural garden changes for 2024. Let’s hope for a good weather year!