Gardening for Life: Time to re-engineer?
By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
Jose German is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.
It happens to even the most dedicated gardener. You look out your window one day and it occurs to you: it’s just not what it used to be — the thrill is gone! Maybe you come across old photos of your yard and wonder, “How did I get from there to here?” Subtle changes occur in the garden over time, and you can end up with a landscape you never intended. It may be time to re-engineer your garden.
Re-engineering is a popular business term that can also be applied to the garden project you have been considering. This approach allows you to assess where you are currently and reevaluate your yard to see what you have accomplished over the years. It will also allow you to rework what is not doing well or what you are not happy with.
Think back to when you created the garden. Maybe you didn’t create it but inherited it from the previous owner. At that time, you were satisfied with the look of the garden but now you want to create something more connected to you, something reflecting your lifestyle and values. It may be time to re-engineer.
This is the perfect time to re-engineer your garden, make a plan, and put together a budget. During this process you will evaluate what is working, and what is not meeting your expectations. Visualize what you want to change. If you have a mature garden, the trees and bushes are now taller and wider than when they were originally planted, and that will affect the whole landscape. Plants that used to have full sunlight are now in shade. If plants need more sunlight, an easy solution is to relocate them to another sunnier garden spot. Bushes that were small and in balance with the other plants are now overgrown, have displaced nearby plants and, aesthetically speaking, may not look good. Pruning bushes or moving surrounding plants may be in order.
You may also find that some plants used to do well but, with the passage of time, don’t look so great. It may be time to do a soil test to see if the problem is soil-related.
During this process, as you re-engineer, you will evaluate what is working and what is not meeting your expectations. This requires an honest evaluation of how your garden looks and could also imply a challenge to your aesthetics. Pretend you are the new owner of your house and garden, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can. Depending on the size of your garden and how elaborate you want to make it, you can do the planning yourself or you can hire a professional to do it.
A DYI PROJECT:
- Make a list of the things that you want to change.
- A selective pruning of trees and bushes can make a huge difference in your yard. As bushes and trees grow taller and larger, they can also dramatically influence what can or can’t grow under or around them.
- Buy plants according to the location’s sun exposure and moisture level, and put plants together that have similar requirements, in terms of full sun, partial shade or shade, as well as moisture needs.
- Using native plants is a great choice, since they are adapted to our climate and are more sustainable than exotic species. In addition, native plants have a high environmental value because they support native wildlife.
- You can develop a color scheme of your preference and a blooming sequence that will ensure you have something blooming in your yard throughout the gardening season.
- Identify your local resources for materials and plants. Learn about host and nectar plants that are good for pollinators.
- Make a layout for your planting and plant according to the height and width of the plants. Taller plants should be planted in the back and lower plants in the front of the flowerbeds.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER AS YOU RE-ENGINEER:
- You may want to eliminate pesticides and other chemicals in your yard.
- You may not have time to manage a conventional garden.
- Perhaps you now have more time to tend your garden and want to expand it.
- You may want to repurpose the yard to create a sustainable and low maintenance wildlife habitat.
- You may want to add or expand vegetable beds, both for food production and for aesthetic reasons.
- You may want to reduce your lawn size, opening up space for flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees — almost any landscape feature has more aesthetic and environmental value than a large expanse of lawn.
- You may want to include a focal point to define the place. This might mean installing a birdbath, fountain or sculpture or planting a prominent plant that will catch the attention of visitors and passersby.
Re-engineering doesn’t have to be a major undertaking to be accomplished in one season. Once you have a plan in place, adjustments can be implemented each year until your landscape is transformed. Be open-minded and creative!