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Garden Journal

Garden Journal: Taming a garden gone awry takes work but is well worth the effort

The summer gardens come rolling in like waves at the ocean; there are high tides and low as the flowers come and go. First are columbine, iris, campanula and Cranesbill. These are followed by the foamy breakers of peonies, with such weighted heads they go crashing to the ground. Then come the roses, those magnificent ballerinas of the border with their graceful poses giving off their intoxicating fragrance. It is a good thing there are so many varieties to choose from, because now we can have ebbing and flowing blooms of roses all season long.

There will be times when you cannot harness all of the tending required to keep the synchronicity going. And all it takes is one or two rampant self-seeding plants to turn the garden into something else. Suddenly it goes from tranquil meditation space to wild tempest, lead by flying tendrils of sweetpea married to some never-before-seen horrid weed.

Then there are those who have the opposite problem. Nothing ever seems to bloom, the soil becomes like dust no matter what is done to tend it.

Take a deep breath, for the solution to both problems may seem radical, but the only way to approach a garden gone astray is to dig it all up and then bring it back to life.

Where does one begin? In the perennial border. You will have to dig up every plant. Consider hiring some extra hands to help and divide the area into sections. Only work with one section at a time in a manageable size all the way to completion before taking on the next section.

Set each plant aside carefully in a well-shaded spot and give all of them a good misting. Be prepared to cut back all the flowers, but save the budded plants as those should bloom if you are careful. Pull out any weeds, cut out damaged or woody stems, and only replant the younger growth. Create a temporary holding tent for your good plants by using a tarp to shade everything. The best time to do a garden makeover is in the fall, but this is an intervention of sorts and will allow time to enjoy the rewards of your effort. Dig over the border soil slowly, removing any weeds and adding fresh compost, humus and organic, well-rotted manure.

I like to work in the garden in the early morning hours, when the temperature is cooler, the birds are singing and the plants don’t seem to mind so much. Keep everything misted and covered as you go, then settle in your largest plants first.

I would not recommend using bagged growing mixes produced from chemical companies, fake soil enhancers, imported manure or any commercial mulching products, especially if the soil is down to powder. Only organic and live microorganisms will bring it back, so invest in the very best materials and you will be successful.

Now is the moment you might consider adding some dazzle to your garden with a flowering shrub to provide height and definition in your beds as well as help flow. There are many flowering types to choose from that will fill out the design and help keep things in balance. Evergreen shrubs are too heavy for a border unless you are creating a new shrub island, or you can choose dwarf varieties with finer leaves. Flowering deciduous shrubs, like weigela and deutzia are complimentary to those of the softer perennial shapes to anchor a border. This will also create welcoming shade for delicate plants and invite butterflies that will come to investigate.

On the other hand, you could become inspired to take up sailing and just let it all go to a wild and romantic-looking meadow.

In this case, be sure to mow it twice a year.

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