Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On the Right Path: Getting the Most from Gardening Seminars

I'm guilty of it, and maybe you are too--attending a seminar, class or one of those huge expos where there is everything under one roof. Sometimes I get so much information, even if the most simple of seminars, that when I come away, my ideas are big.

Much bigger than my budget or my reality or my energy level.

So, what's the best way to attend one of these events and walk away with something that is actually useful?

First, go into the situation with an open mind. I recently attended a Saturday morning seminar, Landscaping Ideas Worth Stealing presented by Central Pennsylvania garden writer and certified horticulturist George Weigel. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I went in with an open mind and came away with some great ideas that I can take back to my own yard. (More about that later.)

Second, grab all the handout information you can gather. In George's seminar, he offered a few different fliers--some were tip sheets and some were listings of additional (local) contacts and events. I've stored these in my reference basket and have come back to them since the event, now that I've had a chance to process some of the information that was presented.

(My reference basket is simply a basket I purchased at Home Goods where I store my gardening related information. Yes, I know it would be easier to locate the information if it was stored all nicely and organized in a nifty binder, but I'm not there yet. It's on my to-do list.)

Third, allow yourself some time to process the information you've heard. Chances may be good that you'll come up with 101 ideas while you're at the event. Or maybe not. (The majority of my processing time happens when I'm driving, and since I have at least a 30 minute drive to work each morning, I get lots of processing time!) Regardless of the ideas you imagine, you'll most likely be limited on your money, time and energy. Which brings me to my next point...

Fourth, create an idea or wish list. You can use paper and pencil method, or even start a board on Pinterest (here's my Pinterest board, Fingers in the dirt, sun on my skin). Consider why these ideas appeal to you. Consider the composition, the color, the movement, the shape, the feeling, the atmosphere, etc. that you think of when these ideas come to mind.

Fifth, be open to alternatives. Being open to changes on your wish list, or even changes in the original information that was presented in a seminar, may make the difference between your idea becoming reality, or your idea always remaining an idea.

Let me give an example.

During George's seminar, he showed dozens of pictures of beautiful, lush gardens. I don't have beautiful, lush gardens, even though I'd really like to have them.

I could have gotten hung up on the amount of money all those plants would have cost. Or the amount of time and energy it would have taken to get my yard looking like those gardens. But I didn't.

Instead, I focused on what he said about why those gardens were so appealing to the eye. The varying height differences of the plants, the different colors and textures used, the movement within the gardens, the use of shade and sun...all those ideas which I could use in my own garden.

And that got me thinking about my own gardens...and here's what I've decided.

In my front garden bed, I have a small garden that last year I edged with bricks. These are the pics from last summer. Pretty, no?

But, there were two of these small gardening beds with a patch of grass in between which made mowing there a pain in the you-know-what.

After George's seminar, I realized what was missing with these two beds and why I wasn't really thrilled with them.

First, they were too small. Each bed was only about 4 feet depth, which is simply too narrow.

Second, they were too choppy. I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking leaving that patch of grass in between.

Third, where's the color, the texture, height, the movement in these small, choppy garden beds?

I can't find that either.

So, that's when I came up with my plans for these beds.

  • Make them bigger. I'll start this by connecting the two beds (and get rid of that funky grass soul patch thing going on in between them) and make them wider.
  • Add some height by adding some different plants. I have a pussy willow bush in the back yard (that will eventually become a pussy willow tree with the right pruning) that's at an awkward spot now, so I'll move it to this bed for some height.
  • Add some symmetry. I'll start by moving one of these shrubs seen in picture one to a place where it's more aligned with the other.
  • Add some variety. Those hostas need to be divided (which means more hostas in more places), and I even have a couple of rose bushes that are struggling elsewhere in the yard due to not enough sun that I could move here. I'll also think about what plants would work well here and start them from seed, so when spring finally arrives, I'll have the plants ready to go in the new bed.
Here's what has happened so far...

My wonderful teen-aged son has already started widening the beds!

We extended the edge to about six feet--enough to give enough depth to the bed.

We also elected to not only extend it the whole length of the property line, but extend it down to the sidewalk!

The weather lately hasn't been cooperating enough for my son and I to get out there and remove the grass that's in the new bed and dig a small trench to settle in the bricks. But I'm excited that we have an edge laid out!

I'm still gathering ideas of plants and composition of what will go in this bed. In the mean time, I'll keep my eyes open for ads on Craigslist and put back a few pennies here and there in case I want to splurge on something nice. I'll also keep thinking about it, remaining open to opportunities that could come my way, confident in the end, I'll figure it out.

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