Summer Garden Evaluation Planning Ideas and Tips

The lazy days of summer are the perfect time to plan for the upcoming changes, edits, and renovations that I'll make to my established garden after the weather cools.

As often as possible, I start my day in the garden. As I sit with my morning coffee I peruse the garden, mostly soaking up the beauty and ambiance, but I can’t help myself from seeing things that I want to change or improve. This reflection is something I tend to do each year, especially around this time. Follow this link to read about some of the changes I made to my garden a couple years ago.

And don’t worry, I don’t find this stressful and I don’t feel bad about the “problem” areas that I notice. It’s not from a sense of dissatisfaction that I’m compelled to start cataloging the changes I want to make. It comes from a place of curiosity, an appreciation for continuous development, and a love of the process.

Earlier this year, I wrote about finding gaps in your spring garden and using them to add early spring ephemerals and small bulbs. Now, in the height of summer, I'm doing the same thing. I'm looking for spots in my garden that aren't doing much and trying to find ways to improve them. I'm also keeping an eye out for plants that aren't doing well and thinking about how I can make things even better.

I notice plants that don’t look happy. Are their leaves a little off in terms of color or vitality? Or perhaps they aren’t making me as happy as they should. Have I fallen out of love with them? Have I learned all that I am going to learn from them? Have I planted more than one?

And finally, my garden is small, as I mention frequently. Because of that, I’m always on the lookout for places to continue my ongoing experimentation with plants and planting design.

Below are some of the reasons I make changes. See the gallery under the list for some example photos.

  • Sometimes a plant doesn't perform well, and it's just a dud. In that case, I remove it and toss it. But sometimes, it's a good plant in the wrong spot, and I can move it to a better location.
  • Sometimes I intentionally plant multiple copies of the same plant to enhance my design. This creates continuity through repetition. However, if I don't have a specific reason for duplicating the plant, I might consider removing it to make space for something new and exciting that I haven't grown yet.
  • The plant needs more water than I’m willing to give. I can tell this is the problem if it’s wilting in the heat, getting crispy around the edges, and/or not lasting very long between waterings.
  • My plant is getting powdery mildew because it's not getting good air circulation. Clematis vines, in particular, can have this problem. I might try moving the troubled vine to a spot with better air circulation to see if that helps.
  • This plant is too big for its current location, even though it's a good plant. If it's a perennial or groundcover, I can divide it to make it smaller and still keep it growing. Dividing the plant also gives me a chance to reinforce my design idea by repeating it throughout the garden, creating a cohesive look.
  • I sometimes make design errors. I might place things in the wrong spot and end up with a color clash. Or I might unintentionally plant something too big toward the front so that it blocks my view of the rest of the garden bed.
  • So many plants! And not enough room to grow them all in my small garden. Sometimes, I just want to grow something else, and that is reason enough. 
  • Off-season plant shopping rewards you with plentiful perennials and grasses that look great (instant impact!). When you’re working with plants that are blooming and full, it is easier to create pleasing color connections. After you select your new additions, remember that planting in high summer requires a bit of extra care, but it is certainly doable. This blog post and video will give you tips for success.

What I'm Noticing As I Take Stock of My Summer Garden

I don't always address everything I notice right away. Sometimes, I make a mental note to tackle it later when the timing is better. Maybe when the weather is cooler, the season is more appropriate, or when I have more time and energy to make the change.

At other times, I think to myself, “No time like the present. Full speed ahead!"  The linked video shows a recent change of this sort. This is especially true when I'm getting rid of something. Removing it helps me figure out my next steps. But the first decision I have to make is whether I want to completely remove it or save it for another place or give it to someone else. If I want to save the plant I'm removing, I'm a little less impetuous.

If I don't think a plant is worth giving to someone else, I usually just get rid of it. Basically, I remove and discard plants that I don't think are worth growing or that won't likely survive being transplanted.

Like many gardeners, I often push the limits of my space in terms of the plants I try to grow. We all do it. I bet you've tried something impossible, like growing a sun-loving dahlia in too much shade, and felt disappointed when it didn't bloom. Or perhaps you’ve practiced some zonal denial by planting a borderline hardy plant? I’ve done things like this as well, knowing full well that it's not practical. Overall, I try to accept the conditions that I have to offer while allowing myself a few indulgences.

PLAYLIST — Videos Showing My Garden at Different Times

I like to keep learning and growing—"garden" is definitely a verb around here! Because my garden is small, I’ve developed a tolerance for removing perfectly good plants that I’m “done with” in order to make room for different ones. This hasn’t always been easy for me. However, the longer I’ve gardened, the more confident I've become that there’s always another plant and/or another option to explore for my garden design dilemmas.

Published August 04, 2023


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