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lalennoxa

Lessons from the 2023 garden - dreaming of 2024

As many of us are winding down our gardens for the year, what were the successes and challenges, joys and pains, and things learned which hopefully you will be able to bring to next year’s garden? And what are your pie in the sky dreams?

Comments (23)

  • katob Z6ish, NE Pa
    3 months ago

    After a dry spring, dry enough to convince me to give up planting any annuals etc, it rained and rained here in my part of Pa. I still don't know if I should plant for drought (and replant every few years when the rain come and the rot follows) or plant for rain (and feel the guilt of wilting and dying plants every time the rains fail)... My thin and heavy soil doesn't really have a middle ground, so in that regard I've learned absolutely nothing.

    I've learned daylilies appreciate some fertilizer and watering even if they tolerate the opposite well enough, and I envy gardeners with the type of soil where some fertilizer and watering doesn't make a difference, mostly because they're happy enough without (which is not the case here)

    Also slow and steady wins the race -you don't have to finish the project in a weekend, and no matter how bad things look in September, a good freeze, weedwacking, and mulch will do wonders.

    Oh and I like epimediums.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked katob Z6ish, NE Pa
  • christie_sw_mo
    3 months ago

    Failure - This time last year I had already started winter sowing HUNDREDS of seeds. I had decided to get it all out of the way before I got busy with Christmas stuff and it was nice to make a winter sowing mess outside on my patio while the weather was still decent, then we got lots of rain in the fall and my containers were waterlogged. I started them too early and they stayed too wet and I ended up with a bunch of containers with no seedlings. Only a few managed to survive my mistake. I've winter sowed for years and always had great luck but I've always procrastinated and stressed about whether I'm sowing my seeds too late. So lesson learned. This winter I'll be winter sowing my leftover seeds from last year and will procrastinate without guilt.

    I'm mostly trying to plant more flowers and host plants for butterflies and planting some for hummingbirds.


    My challenge was ticks. : ( I found at least 50 (not exaggerating) on me over the summer. More than ever. Only about a dozen that were attached because I check for them as well as I can. I've learned that deet doesn't really repel them. They still crawl on me and just keep crawling around until they find a spot without deet to attach to, usually on my head where they're hard to find. I now have coveralls and permethrin to kill them. I put off getting that because it's lethal to cats but I gave in so I'm ready for next year.


    Joy - I managed somehow to not get any tick diseases. Miracle


    My pie in the sky is a big berm or raised bed for plants that are cold hardy here but don't like our soggy winters like agastache. I have plenty of heat and sun in the summer but they don't come back for me in the spring. I drew out plans on paper years ago for a potager garden with raised beds and a fountain in the middle. That's my real pie in the sky. I'll probably never get to it and would feel guilty for spending the money.


    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked christie_sw_mo
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  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    3 months ago

    I came to a major realization this year that I need to drastically cut back on my vegetable garden. When I moved here I put in a huge garden (~2000 sq ft) with some sort of idea in my head that I was going to grow enough food to have plenty for myself, preserve for the winter months, and give away. The first couple years after I moved in, people often came over and having enough to share and have it be appreciated gave me joy, but post-pandemic people don't come around much anymore; that also might be because people are getting older and don't want to take the drive out here, or maybe both IDK. I also discovered, after spending a lot of money on a canner, that I really don't like the whole canning thing so much -- at all, actually. It's too much hassle and what I canned tasted like....canned food. Freezing food isn't my thing, and I don't have a lot of freezer space anyway. There's only two of us, and I'm growing so much that a lot of it is going to waste and that's just, well, wasteful. So I've decided to really cut down next year not only on the volume of what I grow and actually really like, but also not grow the things that are just "eh" but I grow them just because I can and occasionally I might eat it.


    I’m seriously debating ripping out the asparagus patch (gasp!). Asparagus is one of those “eh” things, I like it but don’t jump up and down about it, and the season is so dang short. I constantly have to weed the asparagus bed, for whatever reason the weeds go to town in that area, and the asparagus beetles are pretty bad.


    Keeping on the food front, I had more fruit tree failures. It is not easy to grow healthy tree fruit. Everything and anything will go after not only the fruit, but the trees themselves. It’s a constant battle. I had to ditch an apple tree because of scab that I couldn’t get rid of, and my cherries lost all their leaves early again this year so I don’t know if they’ll have the energy to make it through the winter and grow well next year, and I had another young mulberry cr*p out on me for no apparent reason. I plan on ordering some new trees for spring planting, and my goal is to delve into the reference books I have and figure out what the heck I’m doing and then make a diligent effort to keep on top of things with the tree fruit. It’s demanding and time consuming, but well worth the effort – you just can’t buy anything that compares with fruit eaten right off the tree at peak ripeness (especially peaches!!).


    I’ve been coming to terms that the years are creeping up on me, and while I can still do a lot, I do it slower, and I can’t do marathon sessions anymore after I hurt my hands and wrists a few years ago in an over-use injury. With this in mind, DH is starting to build raised beds for the vegetables, which will be easier to tend as we get up there in years. He made a really nice one for the strawberries this year, but I think I’m going to have the next ones he makes set on the ground rather than raised up on legs. It sure was easier tending the strawberries up at hip level rather than way down on the ground!


    I did a fairly major cull this year in the beds. I purposely over-planted when the beds were new because I really can’t stand a bare look, I knew eventually I’d have to thin things out. I’m looking forward to seeing how things looks next season after all this. I’m also looking forward to my younger trees filling out more next year and planting some new trees.


    What gives me a lot of joy is seeing the pollinators making use of all I planted for them. Since incorporating a lot of native plants into my designs I’ve seen an increase in not only the volume of pollinators, but also the diversity of types that pay a visit. I’ll tell you – plant a boneset and be amazed at the crazy-*ss variety of buzzers that show up to feast. I’ve also enjoyed seeing an increase in the number and diversity of birds since planting so many more natives – circle of life and all that. What I can’t figure out is why it takes them so long to figure out that there’s tasty food available. Fruit will just be hanging on the serviceberries, or an abundance of Japanese beetles on seemingly everything or whatever, the birds pay all that no mind until one day all of a sudden BAM! it’s all gone.


    Next year I’m going to work at sitting more. Yes, sitting. I seem to have an innate inability to sit still, I constantly feel like I should be doing something. I even pace the house or do chores while I’m talking on the phone or in Zoom meetings (DH constantly ribs me about this) – although I have to say I retain information better if I’m moving while I’m listening so for me it’s better to take a walking (or pacing) meeting. This spring I bought myself a nice folding lawn chair to sit outside in the evenings with the dog. I can count on one hand the amount of times I sat in it this summer, and I don’t think I made it more than 10 minutes at a time. There must be a way to “learn” to sit still. I figure I’d benefit from it, so I should probably try.


    My pie-in-the-sky is having the funds to re-build my front porch and put in hardscaping and landscaping in the front along with tearing out the back deck and putting in a patio that is designed for accessibility/aging in place. Maybe someday...

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked mxk3 z5b_MI
  • linaria_gw
    3 months ago

    I ripped out two climber/ rambler roses,

    New dawn was too poorly for me (there are -it seems - bad quality specimen around) the other was too vigorous, several 12-16feet canes in one season


    I will install a new rose climber thingy and plant darf rambler

    apart from that I hope to stay on top of my berry shrub pruning, I gathered several, have around 12 young plants and mainly train them in some kind os espalier way - smaller plants, better health less fruit, great qualitiy fruit


    and I will drop off gooseberry woody cuttings from a standard (could not get simple shrub form) gooseberry "tree" of a great cultivar at a nearby nursery. I have to deal with them quite often with some projects and the totally nerdy gardener offered to start them for me



    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked linaria_gw
  • woodyoak
    3 months ago
    last modified: 3 months ago

    mxk3 - do you grow any heirloom apples in your orchard? If not, consider adding some.. Grandpa never sprayed, pruned or otherwise treated the orchard trees and there were some fabulous apples that I still remember 60 years later! Grandpa lived into his mid-90s and these trees were planted in his young adult years so they were old when I was young! A friend for my youth says that her sister had bought the family home and one variety of apple that we both loved was still producing on a tree at their place that was at least 100 years old! In Canada the variety is called Alexander (after the lasr Russian Tsar who ruled when the apple variety was developed); I think the varirty was called Wolf River in the US. The apples are huge and make both good cooking apples as well as good eating apples. - as young kids, it could take all day to eat one! There was also a fabulous edible crabapple - it made a fabulous and easy dessert of stewed appples. It was a huge, tall ’forest’ tree. Harvest was about collecting fallen fruit or using a long pole with hook on the end to shake branches to make the fruit fall! And then there was the all-green cooking apples that Grandma used to make pies, and the ’winter apples’ that were rock-hard when harvested in the Fall but ripened over the winter in storage in the cellar, and on and on…. Heirloom plants are worth investigating as they tend to be tough survivors that produce good fruit.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked woodyoak
  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    3 months ago

    Thanks, woodyoak -- I'll have to into the varieties you mentioned. Trees of Antiquity sells heirlooms but the shipping is astronomical. I was going to order from Grandpa's Orchard, I'll see what they have.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked mxk3 z5b_MI
  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    3 months ago

    Cecily -- how exciting for you! congrats on the new house!

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked mxk3 z5b_MI
  • cecily 7A
    3 months ago

    Thanks! The process has been exhausting. We sustain ourselves by thinking how great it will be when it's done. Moving at age 60 is probably easier than waiting another decade but dang it's a lot of work!

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked cecily 7A
  • peren.all Zone 5a Ontario Canada
    3 months ago

    Yes congrats! I would say moving at 60 is much better than later. A good opportunity to purge too. I imagine you still have time to do transplants from your old home once you get some rain. You are going to be very busy for a while!

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked peren.all Zone 5a Ontario Canada
  • cecily 7A
    3 months ago

    Update: My current home has a large patch of geranium macrorrhizum Bevan's Variety. I figured that's one plant that I could transplant successfully to the new house since it's so tough. So I pulled some roots and transplanted them under a holly toward the back of the new garden. When I checked on them a few days later, the leaves were gone. They had been browsed by deer! That shows how severe our drought is. I pity the deer that ate them because it must've been starving.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked cecily 7A
  • LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON
    Original Author
    3 months ago

    I’ve been remiss in not posting to my own thread (a lot going on), so will try to rectify that. Off the top of my head, one of the things I’ve worked really hard on over the years, and finally getting some sense about this past season, is pruning. I would worry that if I made a wrong cut, it would never grow back or it would look wrongly pruned. I was so scared to touch anything, for fear I would damage it into perpetuity. I’ve come to realize a few things. Firstly, when I made larger cuts it was traumatic and I would freak out - however, within a few weeks I would acclimate and all would be good. Minds are funny that way. Secondly, plants are deceptive in that they grow! I have a shrub that I keep pruned in a ball form by the walkway. I used to pride myself I was keeping it perfectly pruned to the same size over the years. Instead, what I was actually doing was keeping it pruned as a ball, but definitely not to the same size! The ball has gotten larger and larger over the years and has now butted into the walkway, which was previously clear. I look at old pictures and laugh at how my mind was thinking I was keeping it at the same size. Thirdly, some of the best prune jobs have been accidents. Like I had a newly planted young Japanese maple planted and when my two larger trees were pruned it sustained damage, losing some of its young branches. Now many years later that initial damage pruning actually formed the tree in a way I never would have, and it looks wonderful.

  • KW PNW Z8
    3 months ago

    This thread was enlightening & fun to read. Several comments in different posts really resonated with me. @mxk3 z5b_MI about ”…work at sitting more.” I could’ve written that! This sumer I made a huge personal effort to simply sit in my yard or on my front porch & gaze around me. I really tried to just enjoy the peace, watch the birds & admire the views. It took serious effort to not be making mental lists of items I spotted that needed a bit of attention or pop up to pull an errant weed. Just sitting is something I am not wired to do. It’s so fun & rewarding to work in the garden but we must not forget to take time to sit & enjoy the fruits of our labor, yes? I also had light bulb moments at @LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON words about pruning - the pruning situations described are things I also have experienced or learned. It is reassuring to know my pruning thoughts and fears are not uncommon! It’s especially nerve wracking for me when pruning trees with shaping only as a goal. Thanks LaLennoxa for starting this post!

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked KW PNW Z8
  • rosaprimula
    3 months ago

    For the longest time, I pretty much operated a gardening free-for-all...which was insanely labour extensive, frequently on the verge of chaos, shunned by family and friends. I made absolutely no concession to age, agility, maintenance demands, space, climate....and as I especially enjoy raising my own plants from seed, you do tend to end up with quite a lot Unsurprisingly, it all got a bit out of hand. I would have had to think quite hard to come up with lessons I had learned (none).


    Anyway, after a season of falling over more than usual (tripping over tangling vines and dodgy edging boards), as well as being lashed by vicious thorny briars, I bought a sort of mini-chainsaw pruner and set about editing. I have (mostly) got the roses in hand (discovering parts of the plot I have not stepped for a decade) and grubbed out many of the ancient currants, And decided I was not going to be guilted into anymore manic vegetable growing (I am a reluctant cook), The biggest change though, has been to row back on my habit of growing far too many annual and biennial flowers, especially since I no longer have a raft of gratefully impressed customers and my offspring grow their own: I had to resort to planting the extras in the local cemetery and various public spaces.


    Pruning: As a terrible meddler, experimental pruning was the basis of much of my novice garden training. There is ALWAYS a load of this when you work as a jobbing gardener and growing large roses and a lot of fruit trees and bushes means the secateurs are always busy. However, the dilemma of pruning still confounds me since one of the very first dictums I learned at hort.school was 'growth follows the knife'...which it certainly does. Initially, chopping back the roses opened the plot up to a lot of light and space but the furious rose plants grew back with a vengeance...and all at exactly the height where they could inflict major damage to eyes. Prior to the great cutback, the most unpleasant surprise usually entailed a painful puncture on the top of my head, from some wayward branch but now it was turning into a bodyline massacre. Had no choice apart from the spade. I took cuttings of many of the removals but I am currently ignoring the numerous buckets of hardwood cuttings, all awaiting planting holes...somewhere. I grubbed out a lot of the fruits with a sigh of relief at no longer needing to spend many,many hours picking and preserving (there are jars of redcurrant and bramble jelly going back years in the larder).


    I have had the allotment for 20+ years and finally, I decided to attempt to build a garden rather than a random collection of plants...but have had a painful and confusing time deciding what sort of garden I want. Over the years, I have been a helpless dilettante, with shiny new enthusiasms every single season. I have grown (and killed) an unconscionable number of plants...and the plot still looked a mess. However, I have set a few ground rules and am replanting the old vegetable beds with plants which will need no irrigation (quite an ask, living in the dryest part of the UK). More important (to me) is an honest attempt to rediscover some sort of genius loci - a spririt of place, or a set of plants which are perfectly at home in the flat, open fenlands, growing in harmony with the resident fauna and weeds and wildflowers. It is still in it's early stage - I planted up 3 new beds this year - but I have a sort of guiding principle and am learning that restrictions and obstacles are more helpful than negative, making this undisciplined gardener make measured choices instead of random whims. This seems like a potentially more fruitful route to building a coherent, aesthetic and sustainable garden. Plus, the perennials I have been tenderly growing can finally be planted in spaces which have been prepared, considered and planned (and not the random plonking which characterised my garden (ahem) 'style'.


    Onwards and upwards.


    And on another topic altogether, I have been watching a series on BBC about American gardens. Sadly,it is helmed by the odious Monty Don and an unfortunate eurocentric (English, really) direction...while Don manages to be both obsequious to the great and good and hugely condescending to gardeners with less social and financial capital. But if you can get IPlayer, do check the series out. And grit your teeth (although Don seems bizarrely popular in the US).


    'Monty Don's American Gardens'...just the title alone is enraging, but if I didn't let it put me off, I am sure you will manage to find something to enjoy.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked rosaprimula
  • KW PNW Z8
    3 months ago

    rosaprimula - I enjoyed reading your post here - your posts are always so well written and entertaining. I would not be surprised to learn that IRL you are published somewhere. I did search for Monty Don’s program on my local PBS (Public Broadcasting Station) where most of our access to BBC programs and the like are found. No luck. Also searched my local library with no luck there for local DVD’s or publications. I did learn from internet search that he also has series on Japanese and Italian gardens and more!

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked KW PNW Z8
  • rosaprimula
    3 months ago

    Ah, I completely forgot to congratulate Cecily on the new house. Bravo...and courage.


    O, and thank you, KW, but nope, my publishing output consists of a couple of swearily sarcastic rants to the local rag and winning a poetry competition when I was 12.

    I think the TV programme is fairly new so there may be a little time-lag before it is available in the US.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked rosaprimula
  • mazerolm_3a
    last month

    I need to get better at fertilizing. I watch a lot of gardening videos on YouTube, and sometimes I’m shocked at how plants are bigger and bloom better than mine, even though mine have been longer in the ground.


    In fact, I was searching for compost bins and found plans for these stackable ones that look easy enough that even I could build them! https://www.vegetablegardenguru.com/compost-bin-plans.html


    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked mazerolm_3a
  • linaria_gw
    last month

    re pruning and experimenting


    I read most of the basic advice, lots of books and current papers by agricultural or fruit grower assocations

    IME pruning different plants is like learning a language or vocabulary, some stuff you really need to put into your head, then you can play around with it


    example: rose pruning

    in a lot of books or pruning advice, it is still recommended to do the pruning when the Forsythia shrubs flower

    around here (Europe, Switzerland) it is often so mild in the winter, all stuff starts growing way earlier, and at the flowering start of Forsythia there are 1-2 inches of new growth on roses


    we do get some late frost but IME it does not damage the roses - only mini kiwis, Actinidia, or flowering Prunus...


    so, I tried to trimm some of my ramblers shoots in November, taking back the sid shoots to about 1 inch


    by now the new buds start to appear and I hope that I get an earlier flower,

    if it works out well, I do the whole plant earlier, and probably some of the simple Polyanthas as well


    allways new stuff to ponder and tweak...



    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked linaria_gw
  • LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON
    Original Author
    24 days ago

    Just a bit of an update on my pruning goals for 2024 - I've actually found a lot of inspiration online (YouTube mainly) watching videos and trying to define the kind of style I am aiming for. Whereas before it was more about maintaining the tree/shrub; now it's more about defining it as a piece of artwork in the garden. Kind of like an organic topiary/Niwaki/bonsai style - but not always following some kind of rigid template. The best videos I've seen (for me) really encourage being somewhat fearless - but also gaining a sense of the structure of each individual plant, combined with what I ultimately want to accomplish. I've really been inspired by the concept of "layers of light" showing through - versus my previous idea of huge bushes of growth. I often repeat "layers of light!" out loud as whenever I feel a little apprehensive as I prune! The warmer winter weather has inspired me to get out a lot more, and do winter pruning - which is great because I find pruning can be a lot of stopping/starting, as sometimes you need to work up the energy to continue again the next day. And then I'm sure there will be more pruning as leaves bud out and I continue with that goal of allowing layers of light to come through. It's so satisfying!

  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    23 days ago

    "he warmer winter weather has inspired me to get out a lot more, and do winter pruning - which is great because I find pruning can be a lot of stopping/starting, as sometimes you need to work up the energy to continue again the next day."


    It's also great to prune in the winter because the branch structure of deciduous woodies is so clearly seen, there is much less chance of disease spread, overall the job just goes a lot faster, and cleanup is lighter because all you have to haul away is bare branches, not heavy, cumbersome, foliage-laden branches. Of course some things shouldn't be pruned until after spring bloom, so there's that to keep in mind, but yea winter dormant pruning is optimal in many instances.

    LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON thanked mxk3 z5b_MI
  • LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON
    Original Author
    22 days ago

    Yes, this is what I understood as well. So I had done some cursory pruning in late fall. But watching some online Japanese maple “experts”, there is a lot of varying opinions. One liked pruning just as they are about to leaf out, as they said the trees are in active growth, and thus encourages growth and healing. The funny thing was one of the reasons I heard to do it in the winter was to avoid sap flowing - well, I guess this is speaking to our warm weather this season - to my surprise I noticed sap flowing on all the cuts I made! All good. I think the advice that is best for me is work on heavier, structural pruning in the winter; and regular maintenance pruning throughout the rest of the year.

  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    20 days ago

    "The funny thing was one of the reasons I heard to do it in the winter was to avoid sap flowing - well, I guess this is speaking to our warm weather this season - to my surprise I noticed sap flowing on all the cuts I made! "


    Oh yea, don't prune maples in the late winter/spring...that sap is a mess (and it can attract insects). Best time for maples is complete dormancy or later in summer. Ask me how I know LOL! Lesson learned on that one, although it is kinda cool to look out the window and see your 50 foot tree raining sap LOL! No harm done, though, it doesn't really hurt them, its just really messy.


    Different woodies have their own optimal time for pruning, you just have to learn and don't panic if you prune during a "not best" time -- they'll be fine.


    Unless they're oaks. ALWAYS prune oaks during dormancy, never prune during the growing season unless it's absolutely necessary. It's because of oak wilt -- and that can be (usually is) deadly. I did panic last summer when my neighbor cut off a large branch on one of my oaks down by the road that was close to his property -- sh*t!! Oak wilt is in my area. I'm sure I looked like a fool standing next to the road with a paintbrush duct-taped to a pole, sealing the wound off with latex paint. At least the paint was brown... LOL! The tree is fine, I think it was past prime wilt transmission season but still...never prune oaks during the growing season.

  • LaLennoxa 6a/b Hamilton ON
    Original Author
    17 days ago

    Yes, it seems two of the recent concerns with the timing of pruning seem tied to the transmission of disease and recovery from the wound. Prior to my latest interest in pruning as an art form along with maintenance; before pruning was all about keeping my crazy larger trees from growing any larger than they currently were. At least with that there seems to be consensus to prune in the winter dormant season - as opposed to when they are actively growing and pruning at that time makes them grow even more aggressively.