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Garden Design Tweaks to Tackle this Fall

Pacific Northwest Landscape Design Ideas

Fall is the Perfect Time To Reflect And Make Plans For Future Garden Design Projects

As we head into fall and wave goodbye to summer, it's the perfect time to assess your garden and reflect on what worked and what didn't. While there's much to learn from observing what's working well and plants that are thriving, it's equally useful to learn from what's not. By recording your findings, you'll be able to refer to them as you make plans for the coming season. The notes and photos you take now will be invaluable as you plan future garden projects. Each project promises to move you closer to creating the garden you see in your mind's eye.

Burnt Foliage Signals Need to Relocate
Burnt Foliage Signals Need to Relocate


A walk around your garden will reveal plants sending out distress signals: maybe some are a bit crispy around the edges because they'd prefer more protection from the hot afternoon sun; or others selected for flower aren't blooming to their potential; and some plants are leaning toward to the light because they're not getting enough of it. Also, don't forget those that went into meltdown, looking like an unsightly hot mess when we had our summer heat wave. These are just a few of the telltale signs to be on the lookout for.

Me? I've got my eye on more than one area that's ready for rehab. For instance, I have a lovely hydrangea that struggles year after year. It's getting too much shade and not enough moisture. This year, I vow I will either move it or remove it, and fall is the perfect time to tackle that job. In its place, I'll select a plant that's better-suited for that position, and rest assured, there's a plant for just about every spot, no matter how challenging.

removing a large phormium
I blogged a couple of weeks ago about removing this very large New Zealand flax.


And now that my garden is getting on in years, I've got a number of plants that have reached the end of their useful life with me. Even though I specifically selected them for their slow growth and they performed fantastically and beautifully for many years in my garden. But the fact is, they just aren't cutting it any more. They're too big, too shapeless, too … meh. I garden in a small 50 x 100 plot and I ask every plant to earn its keep: time to be ruthless.

Wondering where to begin to assess your garden successes and opportunities? Here are some things that I think about as I review my garden. You might find these to be good guidelines for starting your own review.

  • Step 1: Have a System for Tracking Goals and Projects
  • Step 2: Identify Plants That You Need to Move or Remove
  • Step 3: Take Note of Combos That Worked and Those That Didn't
  • Step 4: Repeat What Worked Well
  • Step 5: Dream On and Have Fun


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Step 1: Have a System for Tracking Goals and Projects

Take the extra moment and make notes during the gardening year of things that you notice about your garden. Both good and bad—things that are making you happy as well as things that are driving you crazy. Take visual stock of what plants thrived and which ones are looking a little distressed. Which plants failed to grow as well as you'd hoped they would (i.e. sparse blooms, fruit etc.). As you do so, have a plan for how you'll retrieve your thoughts later when you're ready to act on them. Write it down, or better yet take a photo and save it where you easily refer to it later.

Step 2: Identify Plants That You Need to Move or Remove

Did you have some plants that didn't do well because they were in the wrong spot? Note what planting location you used and why that worked or didn't work (i.e. was a full-sun plant located in a partially shady spot or vice versa?).

Fall is a good time for planting or transplanting many plants, so this is a good time to move plants to a more optimal location.

Alternatively, it may be time to remove a plant that has worn out its welcome. Maybe it's not sparking joy anymore, hasn't thrived, and/or has outgrown its position. For any number of reasons, it might be time to say goodbye. And that's a-okay and all part of the process.

Step 3: Take Note of Plant Combinations That Worked Well and Those That Need Improvement

Record which planting combinations succeeded and which ones didn't.

Do a little research on the plants to see if you can uncover why they weren't compatible together. It's good to remember that just because plants look great next to one another at first, they won't continue to thrive if they have different needs and resource requirements.

Step 4: Repeat What Worked Well

Pile on top of your successes and expand upon them. Make a list of plants that grew well for you and consider adding more of it. Or you could use that plant as a springboard for additional ideas for other plants with similar needs. Likewise, you might want to make a list of plants that didn't do well for you. You might want to cross them off your "gotta grow it" list and steer clear of it next time you head to the nursery.

Allium 'Millenium'
I've always been a fan of Allium and have several varieties in my garden. This year I added Allium 'Millenium' to my collection. I loved it! It had an exceptionally long bloom season and I'll be planting more of it!
I still really like Agastache 'Blue Boa' but I've learned that some other varieties that are derived from different species are much more drought-tolerant. I'll be expanding my repertoire to include more of those.

Step 5: Dream On and Have Fun

I recommend spending a little time writing down your inspirations and ideas for "what's next". What projects do you want to try next year? What vision do you have for your garden? What are your hopes and goals?

As you review the season, you'll likely find some aspects of your garden venture that did really well, and others that could do better next time. That's not only okay, but expected! Garden-making truly is an iterative process, and no one gets it perfectly right the first time. The longer you garden, and experiment, the more you will learn, and the better you'll get at it.  But that's part of what makes gardening such an enjoyable endeavor year after year. There is always be more to discover as you grow as a gardener.

So don't lose heart if some of your garden plans didn't unfold exactly as you'd hoped. Take your lessons learned into consideration as you plan for changes, next steps and improvements. They'll be a useful guide for you, and when reflected back on, can be a sign of your growth as a student of gardening (which at the end of the day, we all are).


Fodder for Fall Landscape Design Ideas for Northwest Gardens




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Published September 18, 2021


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