Clustering plants with similar needs will reduce the amount of work that goes into tending for specific gardens or plants. Shown here: Tall purple, blue and white foxgloves grow beautifully behind pink and white snapdragons.
Create a fabulous garden display – minus the fuss
Story by Randi Jo Gause
We can all appreciate a vibrant, flourishing garden display, but not all of us have the time and patience for the chores necessary to maintain a beautiful garden. To make matters even more difficult, Alaska's long cold winters and difficult soils make creating a thriving garden an even greater challenge.
We've rounded up tips and tricks from our local horticultural experts to show you how to grow no fuss flowers and foliage in your home garden – and still have time to enjoy it.
Planting the Seed
Like any work of art, creating a garden display abundant with easy-care plants begins with having a plan.
"Do your research on the plants and how they grow, and match them as closely as possible to what your site has to offer or be willing to amend your site," advises Patricia Holloway, director of the Georgeson Botanical Garden. "Make sure you know what your plant will look like five, 10 or 20 years down the road and plan spacing to accommodate it. Does it sucker? Send out rhizomes? Need shade? Need wet feet? If you don't have what the plant needs, chose something else."
Secondly, choose your garden's elements based upon what you're capable of – and feel comfortable – maintaining.
"If you want fancy topiary, make sure you understand what is involved – then it is not a high maintenance chore but a labor of love," Holloway adds.
As you begin constructing your garden, consider grouping flowers or plants based upon their needs for sun, water and nutrients. Clustering plants with similar needs will reduce the amount of work that goes into tending for specific gardens or plants.
"Azaleas, anemones, ferns, columbine and bleeding hearts grow together in one of the few shade gardens that I have," explains Linda Lockhart, president of North Root Big Lake Gardeners Charter. "In the sun I have groups of lilies planted with artemesias and dianthus, none of which likes a great deal of water or fuss and they look fabulous together. Things that need specific care I tend to grow in containers – roses, some herbs, petunias. Each container gets a bit more care than does the general garden."
Give your budding garden an opportunity to grow with a solid foundation – healthy soil. Good soil structure allows plants to take root and extract nutrients from the soil.
"No matter what you start with, amendments will do nothing but good for your soil," Lockhart emphasizes. "When creating a new garden bed, we start with a six- to eight-inch layer of topsoil (more if we want a rise or a small hill for interest). On top of that we add six inches of humified compost, and on top of that ideally would be a layer of rabbit manure – rough or composted will do – then a sprinkling of organic dry plant food…and a sprinkling of sweet lime. This combination has been working extremely well for us."
Microorganisms also play an important role in promoting healthy soil. In this symbiotic relationship, microorganisms bring more nutrients to the plant, while the microorganisms benefit from what the plant discards.
"Plants that are treated with rich soil that provides a wealth of these organisms…will be superior to those that are planted in dry, sandy, rocky soil," explains Lockhart.
To cut back on your gardening efforts, says Linda Lockhart, avoid prima donna plants that require a lot of attention and stock your garden with plants that will survive theh toughest conditions. Above: An early look at Lockhart's driveway garden.
If you're looking to cut back on your gardening efforts, avoid prima donna plants that will inevitably require more attention. Instead, stock up your garden with plants that thrive even under Alaska's harsh conditions.
"One of the tricks here is to use annuals that survive the toughest conditions – too much sun, too little soil, too little water – and let them fill areas that are just not going to be worth anything to more expensive perennials," says Lockhart. "Good examples would be cosmos, herbs, nasturtiums, daisies, lilies, or artemesias. These plants all make great use of the edges of the border gardens."
Open space also means an open invitation for weeds to infiltrate your garden. One strategy for weeding out these pesky intruders is to plant a carpet of shrubbery in sizes, patterns and spacing so that within a couple of seasons it grows together and masks weeds.
Don't spend your summer lugging around a watering hose. With an automatic watering or irrigation, your plants will flourish while you're sleeping or out enjoying the summer sunshine.
"Underground sprinklers can save money as over and under watering can kill shrubs and lawns," explains Mike Colton, owner of Colton Underground Sprinklers. "Also, most homeowners use less water when they use an automated sprinkler system."
Automatic valves and controllers allow homeowners to program different areas of the landscape for watering on specific days and lengths of time to ensure that each landscape component is watered appropriately.
"One of our customers with a 2-1/2 acre garden installed a sprinkler system to help her keep up," explains Colton. "At the end of the growing season the customer told us, with tears in her eyes, that we simplified her life because she no longer spent her entire waking hours watering her gardens and green houses – and all plants flourished beautifully."
While no garden is entirely self-sufficient, homeowners should consult the advice of experts to make the task a little easier, and less daunting.
"If you are like me and like gardening, the maintenance 'chores' are some of the best times I have in my garden," Holloway adds.