Be decisive and become the boss of your garden

Erin Schanen

Four years ago, or maybe it was six or seven, as time in the garden defies logical record keeping, I planted a group of a half-dozen small panicle hydrangeas in wedge-shaped clump. They were arranged in two neat rows, perfectly spaced.

I knew it wasn’t quite right when I planted them, but it took me four years, or maybe six or seven, to fix it.

Last weekend, I dug up four of the hydrangeas — a short-growing variety called Bobo — and rearranged them, moving them less than a foot or two in any direction but fixing a problem that had been bugging me for years.

The whole process took about 45 minutes, which made me wonder why in the world I’d waited so long do it. And that’s the way I’ve felt every time I’ve made a change in the garden.

I also removed and rehomed several English shrub roses from a nearby spot. The roses, a highly scented variety that you could happily bury your nose in, were fine, and that’s the problem. They were just fine. When they bloomed, they were delightful, but when they weren’t blooming they were attacked by Japanese beetles or sawfly larvae, or needed fertilizing before they could draw blood with their wicked thorns.

The more I garden, the more I realize that in prominent places in the garden, “fine” just doesn’t cut it, and we shouldn’t allow our previous planting mistakes to talk us into thinking it does.

Gardeners tend to spend way too much time stewing before taking decisive action. If something doesn’t strike you as quite right, fix it sooner rather than later, because as soon as you do, you’ll kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

More than fixing a problem or an annoyance in the garden, bold action brings a feeling of power that gardeners should embrace more often. It is the gardener who molds the garden.

As I moved the hydrangeas with some haste, I was reminded of an Irish gardener on YouTube name John Lord, who has the mannerisms of someone who has been mainlining caffeine. He dashes around the garden behind his nursery with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, perhaps with a new plant in tow. He’ll find a spot for the new plant and plunk it in, then realize that something nearby won’t work with it and dig that out. On the way to rehoming the second plant, he’ll see a perennial that needs dividing and whack it into pieces for another part of the garden.

His manner is much like a dog distracted by a squirrel, but I admire his decisiveness and devil-may-care attitude. This is not a man who would put up with misplaced hydrangeas for four years. Lord emboldens gardeners to stop overthinking and start digging.

It’s a lesson in being the boss of your garden, rather than letting the garden boss you around, even if it is as simple as moving a hydrangea a foot to the left.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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