Critiquing the North Garden

There are always things we want to change about every garden. Plants we want to move. Plants we want to remove. New plants we want to plant. We don’t just want the gardens to change every year (which we do because we think that makes it more interesting for us and for repeat visitors) but we want to get it right. The North Garden especially. It doesn’t actually change a whole lot from year to year (aside from its latest redesign) because we have settled on a palette of colors that suits that garden and its view. It just needs tweaking from one year to the next to make sure that it’s beautiful from one hot summer week to the next and in peak bloom from May to October. And of course we stack the deck as we do in each garden (except maybe the Rock Garden) with annuals and tender perennials that will fill it to the gills with late season color. (Spring and early-summer color themselves.)

But right now the North is quieter than it should be and than we’d like. The petunias that bloomed so beautifully through July and into August have apparently succumbed to the budworm. And something mysterious has happened to our ever-reliable dahlias, particularly those in the front row. They’re all budded up with nary an open flower on a single plant. With the weather being so soft and lovely (aside from last night’s storm) we feel we’re being cheated one of the prettiest times of year in that garden. But Gail and I are harsh critics when we have our notebooks out. When I looked again through the camera lens I saw that the Aster ‘Lady in Black’ has woven its dark foliage beautifully through the garden and will bloom any second now. I noticed that the Coreopsis ‘Red Shift’ and Phlox ‘Natural Feelings’ that the volunteers deadheaded a couple-three weeks ago are putting on a fresh show. The heliotrope, Zinnia angustifolia (which deserves its own post), Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ and its doppelganger, hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) are all blooming to beat the band. The back row dahlias, ‘Golden Cloud’, which were recommended by a visitor last year are thumbing their nose at whatever scuzz the front row dahlias have gotten and are gooooorgeous.

Nonetheless, we’re working on a list of plants to move and remove for a showier September next year. We might try to save room in the budget to replace petunias with something else (what else?) when they go by and maybe we won’t rely quite so heavily on our favorite little orange dahlias. We’ve made mental and actual notes to remember to cut the phlox and coreopsis back again next year in early to mid-August because their second flush is almost prettier than their first.

Are you your garden’s harshest critic? What will you do differently next year? Have you had similar trouble with dahlias? Any guesses why?

One thought on “Critiquing the North Garden

  1. Dahlias in my northern NY garden are lush and covered with buds – but few flowers yet at the very end of September, after an unusually hot and dry summer. The following appeared in the August 2012 issue of Old House Gardens’ e-newsletter. They are a great resource for heirloom varieties of bulbs (

    Hot Summer = Dahlia Hell
    The blistering weather that ravaged Texas and Oklahoma last summer was just the tip of the (melting) iceberg, it seems, as this year more than half of the country is suffering from record-breaking heat and drought. Farmers, of course, have the most on the line and our hearts go out to them, but it hasn’t been much fun for gardeners this summer either.
    Our dahlias have been especially hard hit — and we bet yours have, too. Some in our trial garden never emerged, others sprouted but died no matter how much we watered, and the rest are less than half the size they usually are by now (a couple are barely a foot tall!) and none of them have many blooms. The problem is that dahlias are native to the high-altitude plateaus of Mexico where days are hot but nights are dramatically cooler. When nights stay warm, it’s as if they can’t breathe well and they almost seem to go into suspended animation, growing very slowly or not at all.

    Louise, That’s so interesting – thank you for sharing it! I wonder if they’ll be able to recover now that nights have cooled back down… -kris

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