Now is the time to fill in those gaps in the garden

By 
Erin Schanen

Nothing stops me in my tracks more than when I’m looking at a garden jam-packed with color and texture and come across a spot of bare soil. It puts a screeching halt to well-planned flow.

Gaps in the garden happen because the plant that was supposed to be growing there didn’t, or perhaps because other plants didn’t fill the space they were expected to. Sometimes these gaps are temporary, such as when a shrub hasn’t yet filled its allotted space.

Whatever the reason, now is the time when I work on filling the gaps. This is an exercise both in creativity as well as frugality because both the plant stash and my willingness to buy more plants are running low at this point.

Reseeded annuals, which pop up in little clumps around the garden, are perfect for filing holes in the garden. Most of them transplant well if watered in quickly, and the clumps are thinned to the strongest seedlings. In my garden there is always some Nicotiana popping up somewhere, and although I have no idea what size or color will come from the seedlings, which are undoubtedly a mix of any number of potential parents I grew the previous year, almost any of them will work in holes anywhere except the very front of the border.

Now is also the time of year when I start to find Verbena bonariensis seedlings or tiny plants of its more charming cousin Verbena officinalis ‘Bampton,’ both of which work as excellent fill-ins. Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) is always the last reseeder to show up, and I try to save some space for it around the garden.

If you’re an over-achieving weeder or heavy mulcher, you probably won’t have a lot of reseeded annuals popping up, but there are several annuals that can be sown directly.

My go-to fill-in annual is nasturtium, which works in almost any sun condition and filling in large areas. The pea-sized seeds are easy to pop in the ground and will produce a large mound in several weeks. Be sure to buy a mounding variety rather than a one with a propensity to trail.

Zinnias and cosmos are also good annuals to direct sow for some additional color. You’ll have to keep a seeded area moist for a couple weeks through germination and seedling infancy, but once they get going they won’t ask for much other than occasional deadheading.

If a bit of foliage is needed, look to quick growing edible plants to fill the area, perhaps even thinning some from the vegetable garden to fill gaps in the border. Parsley will add feathery texture, and kale can provide a bold statement. The shiny leaves of Swiss chard are beautiful as well.

Most perennials won’t appreciate summer division, but some tougher varieties such as catmint (Nepeta), Ajuga, Lamium and others will probably bounce back with some extra care.

What you fill a gap in the garden with isn’t as important as just filling it with something. Consider it your chance to get creative and keep that design flow going.

 

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