Many believe wholeheartedly that the time to plan your garden is in the depths of winter. Perhaps this is true in terms of the minutiae; but after years of implementing the overreach that winter weather inspires in the bedraggled, I cannot recommend it. No, the time to plan next year’s garden is now, before the current garden has left us and while the gardener remains firmly chained to its demands.
It is all well and good to plan a new bed while the seeds of crabgrass and plantain lie perfectly dormant in dead looking sod. You are being reasonable, you think. Till it, edge it, plant it, enjoy it. What could possibly go wrong? The soil will smell so good – so life-giving after a winter cooped up with scale-infested ficus.
Come March the deed is joyfully done (along with three deeds more) and then, everything unravels as beds of the previous year’s wise winter thoughts call for immediate assistance. Chaos reigns. The chastising begins. It’s only June 10th.
No, I say again. Plan now. Only now do you still feel the true weight of your workload, and only now can you make sensible decisions that involve adding to it.
For example, for over five weeks now I have kept a weeping nootka cypress sitting balled and burlapped in a seven gallon pot – all for lack of a decently dug hole. Each morning I throw yet another bucket of water on it, mumble embarrassed, empty words of promise and apology, and skulk away to easier jobs. The woman who performs this ritual every morning is not the same woman who will consider ordering sixteen chionanthus to line the drive next year. I have thus made a stern note in my journal to be read in January.
A friend writes me yesterday to remind me of the plant swap next weekend. I reply asking if I can bring my entire garden and let the woodland and meadow take back what is rightfully theirs. Are these the words of a woman on top of her workload?
And I could go on.
This is the mind and body you want planning next year’s horticultural feats. There is little point in creation if the maintenance is beyond your ability to cope. I liken it to preparing for a Christmas party with three little children underfoot. By the time you have artfully arranged the cocktail area, they have gnawed on the buffet candles and grabbed white tablecloths with grubby hands. Mother Nature is just as cruel and she never takes a nap during the growing season.
There are also practical reasons for beginning the planning process now. For the most part herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs are in leaf, and spacing considerations cannot be ignored or glossed over. You have a good feel for the walkability and flow of the garden (particularly in the early evening with a recreational beverage in hand), and see where a specimen shrub might make a strong impact, or where the limbing up of a small tree might create a new space for a bistro table and chairs.
Additionally, we are at the end of our struggles with the vegetable garden and our processing of the harvest, which gives us immediate, relevant insight as to our needs for next year. Perhaps it is obvious now that you only need four tomato plants instead of sixteen. In February you will dream of fresh salsa and start sixteen if you haven’t given it thought in October. With the bed space you can plant a cutting garden instead, or leave it as a nursery bed for new plants and tender starts.
Who knows? Next year may also be the year for an ambitious building project: a greenhouse, a potting shed, a retaining wall or raised beds. Figuring out where they might fit in the landscape – to enhance, not dominate – are thoughts for the autumn gardener.
All this to say, it’s time to have a pre-season meeting between yourself and your garden and make notes of the discussion. If you have time you can take advantage of the weather and implement some planting projects now, and then shift neatly into auto-pilot next January.
Take a walk.
Bring your journal.
Be stern with yourself.
The delights of the new season are only delightful until they tarnish the delights of the old. Creativity by all means, but creativity with reality in mind. Don’t let winter sway your feelings on the matter.