I planted my first garden sometime in the mid-80′s. I was living in one half of a rented duplex and there was a small patch of dirt that ran beside the sidewalk to my door. I was so excited to plant my first six packs of marigolds! The next spring I took over an unused 6′ x 8′ patch of back yard garden and planted a few Rutgers tomato plants and a couple rows of strawberries. Crows clipped my tiny tomato plants off at the base the first day. I also wasn’t plant savvy enough yet to know that it would be a year before I’d get to eat my first strawberry.
The following year, I planted thunbergia seeds along the back yard chain link fence. The vine grew like wildfire and the fence was draped with black eyed, yellow-orange blooms all summer long. My downstairs friend and neighbor, Ron, had no interest in gardening and he didn’t mind when I took over the shady patches of dirt outside of his door too. I planted impatiens and begonias. I added a hosta that I dug from an abandoned property owned by another friend. 25+ years later, I’m still growing divisions of that same hosta.
A new husband and a new house resulted in a new and much bigger garden. I was in college at the time and taking botany courses that introduced me to a multitude of new and different plants and the science behind them. My new husband, John, laid brick walkways in our backyard and I planted dozens of different varieties of flowers and shrubs.
Then, in 1998, we moved to our present home. I brought a truck load of plant divisions with me to start my new gardens. For eleven years I landscaped and planted. My husband built stone paths and a patio using foundation stones and fireplace bricks, the remains of a 19th century tavern that once stood on our property. He put up fencing and cleared brush to uncover an old stone wall.
Although I still love my gardens, as I’ve grown older I’ve become less willing to put in the many hours required to care for so many perennial plantings. If the day ever comes that I won’t physically able care for them, paying a landscape service to do the job would cost a small fortune. And so, accepting that I needed to scale back and yet, unwilling to give up my gardens completely, I found myself in a quandary. What I really wanted seemed to be the impossible — maintenance free gardens that look like a team of full time gardeners maintain them! I needed a solution. And so, I began “the experiment.”
Armed with 30+ years of gardening experience and a home library full of gardening books, I developed a low maintenance criteria. Each plant would either have to meet it or face destruction. Everything remaining in the gardens from now on must 1) live comfortably with their plant neighbors without ever, or at least rarely, needing to be divided and 2) not require deadheading. Most important of all, 3) a plant had to look good from spring through fall. I knew that was a lot to ask. But I also knew I could find a minimal number of plants that would meet the criteria and allow my gardens to remain attractive. I would be throwing away money as I pulled out unacceptable plants and gave them to friends or tossed them into the compost pile. I would spend even more money buying acceptable replacements. But would it work? Only time will tell…