Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

– Posted in: Garden Design

I loved Fran’s post about seasonal rituals. I celebrate many, one of my favorites being my wife’s family’s tradition of an outdoor Thanksgiving.  We-about 50 friends and relatives attend each year–have feasted on turkey and all the fixins’ on warm sunny days, in pouring rain, and with a foot of snow on the ground. Late November can bring just about any kind of weather to New England. Out there under the sky, gathered round the roaring bonfire, surrounded by loved ones, well, it’s pretty special. But more about that some other time. Today I want to write about another seasonal ritual. For about 10 years, in mid September, I’ve been hosting an open garden day for the Garden Conservancy. For me, it’s a chance to see my garden through someone else’s eyes, thus it becomes a kind of Horticultural Day of Reckoning.

With the garden all fluffed and buffed to a fare-thee-well–or at least as close to momentary perfection as I can get it-I have the opportunity to assess what words and what doesn’t. So, my preparations this year included acitivities such as using a come-along to yank out two large-8 feet x 8 feet-Miss Kim Lilacs who had outgrown their welcome, which provided a much needed sense of openness for a formal area flanked by big blue pots (you can see evidence of the craters the lilacs left behind in the photo’s foreground). I staked stuff until I thought I’d go nuts–a pounding rain the week before had flattened large swaths of the garden. And I planted a bunch of new things to fill in problem areas.

As always, I got a headful of ideas about what I might do to improve those spots next year. And that’s where we get to the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” part of the post. Wandering through the garden with various groups of the 150 or so folks who came, really gets me thinking about what do about, say, that spot where the petasites-the ones meant to hide the base of my sci-fi fountain-has given up the ghost early for the second season in a row. I coulda, woulda, shoulda fixed that!But all my tweaking to get the garden ready has hyper-energized my idea process for creating structure and planning plant combinations, so my imagination is in high gear. I’m thinking solutions.

I dream up all sorts of possible fixes, that I could do, would do and should do. Maybe pre-emptive staking instead of remedial staking , for example. So, as per usual, I’m out there now, trimming back trees, reinforcing patterns and altering bed lines that on second thought are perhaps too subtle, and I’m preparing new plant pairings. For me, fall is like a second spring, a new awakening in my understanding of and appreciation for the garden. I often just lay down here or there, and as clouds scud past overhead, I admire what’s there and think about what I can do to improve it.

That’s my fall ritual, that’s how I spend the drawing down of the garden season: With a new burst of enthusiasm, and a newfound sense of energy and purpose. And a host of new ideas to implement. All those couldas, wouldas, shouldas–I’ll get ‘em next year.

All of which sounds well and good, but if I’m honest with myself, I’ll have to admit that many of those great ideas-especially the plant combo ones, are likely to disappear from my cerebral tissues by the time spring rolls around and I can actually do something about them. I’m not nearly as good at remembering ideas as I am at thinking them up. Each year about this time I get another idea: Hey, what if I got a garden journal and wrote some of my good end-of-season ideas down? What a concept! Maybe it’s time to make room for another seasonal ritual–putting pen to paper. I could. Would. Shoud.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Nancy Bond September 26, 2008, 12:37 pm

That’s a great definition of gardening: coulda, woulda, shoulda… ;)

Hi Nancy–Yes, I think it’s a good conceptual definition, but one that should never induce any sense of the guilts. Hey, a garden is what it is, or could be ;).–Steve

Benjamin September 26, 2008, 12:59 pm

I’ve found myself just sitting down in the dirt for several moments, at various places, to get new viewpoints–and yes, to appreciate and enjoy what I have. The ideas take only seconds to come. Things will be moved. But I have to say having a lower perspective is refreshing, not just humbling. As I look up and watch the dozens of bumble bees on the helianthus there is no doubt we are reflection of each other, doing the same things. Anyway, my wife and I have talked about an impromptu party next week in the garden, our first. After a year, it’s finally ready, and this will force me to bury some cables, remove plastic containers, put away the wheelbarrow, and look anew at the landscape–a REAL garden not as much in progress as it is “done.” Wonderful. Terrifying.

Yeah, I especially like watching arrowheads of geese shoot across the sky as I lie on the ground. It is for sure a wonderful perspective. That clean-up stuff is really my big bugaboo. I’m great at moving projects along-slooowly-but not good at all at cleaning up as I go. But one thing.’m sure your garden isn’t done. They never are! Finished maybe, but not complete. Have a great garden party!–Steve

Les September 26, 2008, 2:23 pm

Don’t let that Elephant Ear/Burgundy Dracena combination from the first picture disappear from your cereberal tissues. The contrasting shapes alone are worth remembering, not to mention the colors.

Thanks Les, I like that combo too. I may indeed revisit it next year. Maybe a little gold moneywort tumbling out of the pot with the dracena would look good. Always tweaking!–Steve

Lisa at Greenbow September 26, 2008, 3:57 pm

I do have a journal and I do write down a lot of those end of season ideas. Then next year it is my ritual to transfer to a new journal what I think I might actually do. ha… Somtimes I read what I wrote the fall before and wonder “what was I thinking?”.

Maybe some day I’ll get organizized.–Steve

Jim September 26, 2008, 4:43 pm

Our garden tour here had about 2,000 people coming through my back yard, as counted by a neighbor that was on the tour also.

The week before, I go through the garden, trying to look at it for the first time, seeing how things are revealed as I do the Walk-through. It’s very helpful.

My coulda/woulda/shoulda list is pretty long after the tour. One of the biggest shouldas is better labeling, especially of the things that get the most questions.

I have the added pressure of 45,000 garden fans on the tour and trying to make the entire city look good!

Egads, 45,000 people! Now that’s garden tour. Those poor gardens must get loved almost to death. I hear ya on the labeling. It seems I answer the same few questions every five minutes. But unfortunately, to me those labels look like–and all to often are–little tombstones once winter arrives.–Steve

Kim September 27, 2008, 8:40 am

I’m sure NOT ONE of us other gardeners has ever been there – thought something in the summer or fall and then forgot it before the next spring came around. NOT! I do it every year. Maybe that’s part of the ritual – the cycle of discovery, what if, and forgetting. I don’t know, but if I did everything perfectly every year, it might seem too much like work. I like that “aha” moment of things I could do better next year. Some I remember, some I don’t. Some I remember the next year and forget the year after that. But you’re right about the garden journal. I could. I should. But WILL I? Will you?

Kim-I like that Aha! moment too. Maybe that’s why I forget more good ideas than I remember–that way I can have more Aha moments. And yes, it’s all part of the cycle, I think the “what if” part is almost as much fun as the “Aha”. As to the garden journal, well, it’s not the first time I’ve toyed with the idea. But in truth, I’m more of a fly-by-wire designer than a methodical planner. Reckon that may suggest something about the likelihood of getting a journal. Hmm…–Steve

our friend Ben September 27, 2008, 9:52 am

Whoa, outdoor Thanksgiving in New England. You all are brave! We try to head SOUTH for Thanksgiving and still have it indoors! As for your tour, I love the idea of the “Horticultural Day of Reckoning.” Nothing liek impending guests to make one see one’s home—or garden—as others might see it! Love the blue urns too. Thanks for another great post.

Thanks Elly-We do have dessert and coffee inside, but other than that…the trick is keeping the mashed potatoes warm. I get a new perspective on the garden while walking with someone else and imagining it through their eyes. Funny how that works.–Steve

Neil September 29, 2008, 9:12 am

Good morning Steve,

Quick question about the first picture. What is the plant with the big leaf behind cordyline?

Great topic!

Thanks!

Thanks Neil–The big leaf plant is an elephant ear, just the straight, most common species. Check GGW–I have more big leaves for you.–Steve

Neil September 30, 2008, 10:38 pm

Thanks Steve. I just brought home 22 pots of Tropicanna Black for 10cents each. Lucky steal at Lowes. It was on clearance.

Anyways, the foliage of the canna is burgundy or dark maroon. Will the shape of the foliage go well with the elephant’s ear? Then in front of this canna, I will put Variegatus Sweet Flag, hostas, pot marigold(calendula) and white cosmos. What do you think about my plans?

Excellent find on the Tropicannas! They should look fine with elephant ear, especially if you go wild and use that Xanthosma ‘Lime Zinger’. I like the rest of your plans, but I’d proablly use a colorful cosmos rather than a white one. I’d be inclined to go with some hot-colored Cosmos sulphureus selections to echo some of the calendula colors. Though I like white well enough in monochromatic schemes, I usually avoid it in any mixed color groups-I think it overpowers the other colors.–Steve