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Gardening with Expertise and Ease: Growing Older With Your Garden

By Susan Edwards, president of the Hanover Garden Club

Photos by Jim Block, courtesy of Susan Edwards

In truth, gardening gives me a reason to get up in the morning and go to bed at night. I can’t wait to go outside to see what has happened since the day before. From the end of February to the first snow, there is always something growing. Winter months give me a chance to catch up with indoor tasks and activities, so I value that time too.

Garden History

Our garden has evolved over the 45 years we have lived here in Hanover. It was a brand-new house on an empty lot, bordered by a school, a vacant town lot, and two side yard neighbors.

The head waters of Girl Brook run through the back of the lot, mostly a vernal stream, but neighborhood run-off empties directly into the stream, causing occasional flooding of the lower garden. The lot is pie shaped, narrowest at the front, with a steep hill immediately behind the house. A hill rises from the stream to the school grounds. There is no access to the lower garden except on foot. Challenges we have met with reasonable success.

The arrival of deer has changed how I garden. An electric fence protects the vegetable garden, Milorganite protects the bulbs, Liquid Fence spray protects the plants I value, and temporary fencing protects vulnerable shrubs in the winter.

Garden Design

Here are some things to think about:

1. Consider what you can see from inside your home,

From my kitchen sink window, I can see many plants and shrubs but also the bird feeders and bird baths. We created a ground mini pond with a heater for the winter and enjoy a constant stream of birds.

2. The flowerbeds and shrubbery follow graceful curves. I use the lawn between beds like the “spaces” in a painting; this allows your eyes to focus on the beds.

3. I use multiple perennials and ground covers of all colors, textures, and flowering times, intermingling all of them together.

4. I replaced several paths between beds with flagstone, reducing lawn maintenance. The grandchildren love them, and they invite everyone to explore. 

How can you make garden tasks easier?

Lessons learned through experience:

1. Use good, sharp tools, appropriate for the job and sized for you. Take care of them.

2. Vary tasks so you are not overtaxing specific muscles.

3. Have seating around your garden where you can stop and enjoy time out.  

4. Compost weeds separately from kitchen and garden materials.

5. Use mulch on bare ground, removing weeds prior to distributing mulch, I use wood chips.

6. Use of easy-care ground covers will reduce need for mulch.

7. Raise flower/vegetable beds where possible. (Plenty of compost and mulch will do the job over time.)

8. Tuck oversized plant pots into convenient spots to dispose of weeds.

9. Consider the lawn. Curved edges to flower beds must allow for ease of mowing. Don’t edge beds with big rocks or wood if lawn is adjacent or you will need to edge (or have very messy edges).

10. Mulch vegetable beds and planters when empty so planting will be easier in the spring. (Mown leaves and grass clippings work well.) Remove the mulch from the vegetable bed in the spring then replace immediately once planting is done. I have never rototilled.    

Smart Planting

There are many plants I have removed or don’t plant because

1. They require more work than I care to give them, e.g. constant staking and deadheading, or have too many suckers.

2. They are garden thugs and crowd out other plants.

3. They are deer fodder, e.g. Hosta plants

4. I really don’t care for them,

Shrinking Your Garden

I have not really shrunk my garden but have reduced the work needed to care for it. We have added native shrubs to most perennial beds, particularly around the far edges of the lot.  The hill has groundcover shrubs and plants and requires virtually no care. Areas we see from our windows and outdoor seating areas still have lots of easy-care perennials, with a few tubs of annuals to add constant color throughout the summer.

For more information, email Susan at [email protected].

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