Behind the Private Gates, Design, Gardening How-Tos, In the Garden

Planning Your Summer Garden: 9 ‘Oops’ to Avoid

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Spring, and its established ritual of “opening the garden,” is surely a gardener’s favorite time of the year. Top of my list is to check my “to do” notes and update them, reappraising past decisions as well as considering inspiration from other gardens. It is at this point that I’m again reminded of one universal truth — a garden is always a work in progress. Perhaps it is what makes a garden so captivating (while at times it can also seem, at best, “the silver lining in the storm clouds”). We also tend to think that other people’s gardens are always perfect and lament our own, when the reality is very different. So I’ll be the first to confess and discuss the “oops” in my garden along with some helpful tips I’ve learned.

Loving tulips, but hating to see them beaten down in the garden beds by spring rains, I’ve opted to plant them in plastic pots which can be switched to garden containers once the weather behaves.
Oops #1: Always create some air space between the bottom of a planted container and the surface on which it rests; without good drainage, roots can become waterlogged and rot.

This was a dream of mine when we first planted the garden with the new house…training an evergreen espalier on the library’s stucco wall.
Oops #2: In my novice gardener enthusiasm twenty years ago, I wrapped the thin branches of the new, fragile plant around the training wires and as the plant grew it was choked by the wire. We are now having to recreate this garden statement, tying the new plant onto the wire as a guide, rather than wrapping it around them.

When adding a new design element to an existing garden bed, be sure the space will accommodate the new material.
Oops #3: There isn’t enough air between the yew hedge and the variegated box obelisks, resulting in not much leaf coverage on the backside of the obelisks (which fortunately can’t be seen).

Loving copper beeches, we felt a crescent hedge was a creative way to introduce a Newport classic tree into our property’s landscape.
Oops #4: It is very difficult to identify a ground cover that will grow evenly under the curved hedge with its uneven sun exposure. Additionally, the planting is on a slope and also must compete with the tree roots.  Fortunately (and by accident) we discovered the perfect answer growing around the summerhouse at the Redwood Library, Waldsteinia, which with it’s spring yellow flowers has proven a blessing. Widely used in Europe, it is easy to grow and very adaptable to varying soil types and sun levels.

In our four Orangerie parterres, careful thought had to be given to each of the plants that would carry out this formal design.
Oops #5: It took some trial and error to identify an all-summer blooming perennial that also worked in the varying degrees of shade caused by the cherry trees. Pelargonium ‘Rozanne’ was our happy solution.

A dramatic conversation piece that I grew in my cutting garden as a source for flower arrangements.
Oops #6:  This stunner, aeclepias fruiticosa, almost killed my Maine Coon cat; as part of the milkweed family they are toxic to felines.

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ in a hedge form is a beloved and prominent feature here at Parterre.
Oops #7:  We’ve had to bend the hydrangea pruning rules a bit to keep the hedge at the desired height; so far, she seems to be happy with being cut back in late fall and pruned again in early spring when the shoots are about 10″.

A favorite that has proven its worth and part of the original plant list many years ago, my  graceful “Beauty Berry” greets fall with a display of small white berries; very effective in a “black and white” themed garden.
Oops #8: As the woodland trees grew taller, the Calicarpa received less and less sun, the reality of a maturing garden. We are now faced with deciding what to plant in its place.

One of the architectural elements on my top 10 list, the pergola was designed specifically to support a favorite garden vision, wisteria.
Oops #9: Wisteria is known for getting under slate shingles and growing into gutters; it didn’t disappoint. Furthermore, wood rots after a number of years and so the pergola now needs to be totally replaced. But I’m not giving up the wisteria!

Enjoy your summer garden…and I invite you to send along your gardening questions (include in the “comments” section).

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

9 thoughts on “Planning Your Summer Garden: 9 ‘Oops’ to Avoid

  1. This was a good posting for me to read today! We have been in our home now for over 18 years and the landscape has changed quite often. Some plants have been replanted and relocated several times, looking for the right spot. Others have flourished right where we initially put them and given us a solid base that we’ve been able to add on to. The mistakes have been plentiful and I would even say as much as 50/50! Major storms have caused some re-landscaping, but mostly wrong decisions, poor irrigation, extreme Summers, and sadly, neglect. There are times I come across old pictures and I either cringe with the embarrassment or long for the old look. When I see photos of beds in their infancy, that are now beautifully matured, I can hardly remember the smaller look and I’m grateful at how beautifully they’ve grown. The time, resources and (unfortunately) physical ailments that will stay with me forever, would have caused many to sell and downsize; but frankly I’m happy we didn’t. You are so correct in writing that gardening and landscapes are always a work in progress and I appreciate your honesty with your own gardens!

    1. Aaahh, we all cringe looking back at our gardening mistakes but as you so wisely pointed out, they have a way of correcting themselves over the years…rather like us? I debated doing this blog but then decided to keep a sense of humor and dive in; thank you for your support. That’s one of the things I love about this social media world.

  2. Thanks for being so open with your oops. It all looks beautiful to me. I will prune my limelight hydrangeas as you note.
    Karen Saucier

  3. Pelargonium, what a wonderful perennial to plant in a shady spot. I know the plant – it blooms all summer long. I did not know that it did well in the shade, beneath the branches of my beautiful specimen trees. Thank you for this wonderful tip. Sincerely, James Fox, Gladwyne, Pa.

  4. Bettie,
    A wonderfully interesting and helpful post, thank you!

    May I ask your thoughts on Euonymus Manhattan? We live on Long Island and want to plant something pretty and full around our white clapboard pool house. Hydrangea would seem the perfect thing but the pool house sits close to the main house and so we would like to have an evergreen so it’s not totally bare come winter. We’re seriously considering planting Euonymus Manhattan – does beautifully on neighboring properties and seems to have the leafy feel of hydrangea with a subtle pretty flower. But I can’t find any instances in which someone has done this and want to be sure I’m not making a big mistake!
    Many thanks for your thoughts!
    Kind regards,
    Margaret Morris

    1. Hello Margaret, I think it’s a brilliant idea; Martha Stewart thought so, too. The one caveat is that deer love euonymous. Hope that need not be a consideration! Good luck and enjoy, Bettie

  5. I’m late to the party but I really appreciate this very useful post. God bless you for these very awesome tips

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