change is a constant....!

woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)December 3, 2013

I needed to make space in my tag binders (where I keep the plant tags for things I plant in the garden) in order to make room for the tags of plants that I planted in 2013. So I went through the backyard binder (still need to cull the binder for the front garden....) removing tags for plants that had died or were removed for various reasons. I was quite surprised by the volume that got removed!

We moved here in late 1999 and started the garden in 2000. Aside from the mature white ash, a young red oak, two middle-aged white pines, a scruffy spruce that is a naked pole for 20' or so, a cedar clump (one trunk;5 tops) in the front garden, and a old-ish pussy willow tree by the shed, we planted everything that is in the garden.

It took a while to figure out what would grow in the tough conditions under the pines, in the 'wet corner', and under the oak. Some things survived for a couple of years, looking hopeful for long term survival, and then up and died - sometimes for no obvious reason. Some things, like most of the perennial geraniums and all of the Lady's Mantle, were removed because they were a bit too happy where they were and their expansion ambitions were at odds with my plans! Ferns have done well in quite a few locations - but I realized from this exercise that I have lots of ferns that I now have no idea which ones are which! Some are obvious (e.g. Maidenhair, Autumn fern) but I can't tell most of the green ferny-looking ferns apart! I have several varieties of Japanese Panted Ferns - I know that they are JPF, but I don't have a clue which one is, say, Ursala's Red. Ditto hostas - some are sufficiently distinctive to be easily recognizable but most of the big blue ones and many of the solid green ones look pretty much alike to me.

For the most part I don't particularly care about variety names as I choose most plants because they suit my plans for the size, color, type of plant etc. that I want for a particular area and seem to have a reasonable chance of surviving the conditions there. Mind you, the large amount of culled tags say I've been opptimistic about the survival element! Some of the culling though reflects how my tastes and plans for the garden have changed over time, as well as how the conditions in the garden have changed as the trees grew. Initially there were some areas where there was enough sun to plant a couple of sun-lovers. Not now!

It's going to be interesting to see the extent of the cull for the front garden tags.... A lot of the changes in the front over the years reflect changes in my plant preferences as, once the old spruce that dominated the front yard was removed after the first year here, the conditions have been pretty constant re full sun.

Do you operate a revolving door of plants or is your garden more stable? (Before doing this cull of tags, I would have said things were relatively stable here! I'd say about 75% of the plants I planted in the backyard in the first 5 years are gone now.)

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christinmk z5b eastern WA

Nice binder woodyoak! My plant tags are stuffed unceremoniously in a shoebox somewhere around here ;-P

Hummm...not so much.

I thought the difficulty in culling plants was something one got over with time and experience; that a developing discernment would make it easier. Well after more than 10 years of gardening I still haven’t hit that ore of wisdom. It’s still difficult for me to toss plants.

I tried fooling myself for awhile there that this wasn’t a problem for me anymore. But ripping out a few invasives doesn’t really count, does it? ;-)

I’ve got this feeling that it has to do with my being more of a collector at heart than a composer, though I have gotten better at arranging my collections more tastefully in the past couple years. Collectors have a different mentality or purpose- they want one of everything. So tossing a plant is kind of moving in the opposite direction…

Composers have the ability to look at the big picture. If something doesn’t match their ideal they have no problem in doing what it takes to make it happen. Plants are more mediums of their art and unavoidable causalities for the greater good.

Overall I AM trying to get better at ousting plants when they don’t work for me. I hate admitting it, but I’ve agonized (OK! There is a good deal of procrastination and sheer laziness mixed in, lol) over getting rid of a Stella daylily and KO rose for some time now. I don't much care for them personally, but they are useful and very floriferous. Plus I have no idea what I should plant in their place...

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 3:30PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

My plant tags can be anyway - in folders, in drawers, in boxes, in bags, in the bottom of my tool bucket - literally anywhere. Some I save on purpose (and of course forget where I put them) but most I save because I stick them in a pocket and then take them out when I do the laundry and throw them somewhere.

Personally, I prefer not to look at my collection of plant tags. I realize how many things I've lost - not culled on purpose, but lost - and then it makes my wonder about the greeness of my thumb. Better to keep planting along in happy ignorance.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 4:21PM
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My tags are in a crystal bowl by the back door. I, too, have noticed that many of the plants have died, either because they can't handle this location or climate (as promised) or they have a short lifespan.

I enjoy looking through the tags as a reminder of what didn't work and what the variety names are...senior brain causes much forgetting of names, even after years of growing a plant!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 4:46PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

This is very odd, but I've never even considered saving plant tags. It's actually kind of a good idea, but I know I'll never do it. I use the garden map method, so when something dies it's taken off the map, when I get a new plant it's added to the map. Same thing when plants get moved. After many years of gardening, I have no idea of the number of plants that have come and gone. I'm sure it can't be over a dozen - right? (HA!)

Yes, change in the garden will keep on happening until the bitter end, but I must admit I really don't acquire all that many new plants each year the way I use to. Maybe I'm becoming more satisfied with what I already grow or I'm less likely to purchase on impulse or I've learned from some of my expensive mistakes. I'm not sure, but something has changed with me.

For me, the biggest adjustment has been changing light conditions of which I had no control over. At first it was diminishing sunlight as trees matured and then back to blazing sun as all the trees came down for various reasons. Last summer was the first year I had very little space available for shade lovers. Some plants simply had to go because I no longer could provide the conditions they needed. But the tradeoff was worth it. I'm more of sun-loving-plant person anyway.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 5:36PM
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I originally designed my garden beds with curb appeal in mind. As the years passed, the design became a bit less flexible once I decided to have a cottage garden bed on the west side of the house and a hosta/full shade bed on the north side. A mixed bed evolved in front of the house once I laid a granite walkway between the edge of the driveway and the (seldom used) front door step. Nearly all the plants in these beds have tags.

The butterfly bed, full sun bed & other beds gradually ended up looking as I originally envisioned them but nothing equaled the impact that winter sowing had on my garden plans. Suddenly I had thousands (!Yup!) of free perennials grown from seed that needed permanent homes. Nearly all found homes in those beds or were given to friends/neighbors. Every plant was tagged with botanical/cultivar name.

I shopped for named hosta cultivars via the online Hosta library, then visited O'Brien Hosta in Granby, CT to make my selections. While modest at 30+ named varieties, I & the pollinators do enjoy all my lovely named cultivars each year.

Some named fern cultivars have thrived planted among my hostas while others have not. Lenten rose has definitely been robust planted at the northeast corner of my garden. Lady's mantle has its good years as well as its less-than-stellar years. Overall, I'm glad I planted it. 'Jack Frost' brunnera is another shade lover I'd give mixed reviews.

Have I lost named cultivars of various perennials? Show me a gardener who hasn't. Do I tag my plants? Definitely, with either the commercial tag or my own hand-printed stake. Why does it matter? Those who will come after me may or may not be interested or concerned with what's growing here, but whether they are or not, they'll have the information they need to properly tend my garden once I'm no longer around to tell them what needs to be done.

Do you operate a revolving door of plants or is your garden more stable?

Just like life, a garden doesn't just become something and then remain static. It evolves over time as nature commands or demands. The peonies my brother planted more than 30 years ago come up every year and bloom... as do the Hellebores/Lenten roses, Daphne 'Carol Mackie,' rose of Sharon, butterfly bushes & blue mist shrubs I planted less than 6 years ago.

I certainly wouldn't argue that change in a garden is a constant.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 7:35PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Woody, great topic. organized people! LOL! I'm with Dee. Not sure where most tags are or if I've even kept them. Dee, have you "lost" plants because they died, or did you buy too many that you forgot where the heck you put some of them?! That has happened to me!

I do tend to keep track of trees and shrubs, but not perennials so much.
It was a bit problematic when I had a garden tour this year and people were asking "what daylily is that?" Ummmmm....a short, red one......."which hosta is that?" Ummmm...a green and yellow one........etc....etc.....there was genuine disappointment that I couldn't share with them exact names. I'm like CMK though in being a collector, so I have gobs of daylilies, hosts, etc. I'm sure at one point or another I had a tag in the ground but spring raking always takes care of that! I buy plants I like and I hadn't expected to actually NEED to know specific cultivar . It just never occurred to me to keep track of them.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 8:04PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I fall into the collector camp- and also have trouble culling the herd! but I try to stick with perennials that act that way and don't die off in a year or two or need constant replanting. Even with the hardier perennials I do have a bunch of lonely, plantless tags. I try to go through them all every couple of years and list them in a notebook but usually only the impulse nursery buys get listed, the catalog buys have a packing order and usually I keep that and a couple notes on location and then pop the tag in next to the new planting.
I'm a big seed starter year round and my problem is finding spots for all the goodies to grow up. Beds are always getting widened a bit to make room for a couple dozen transplants. Sometimes big clumps of established plants are cut back to just one small division for space reasons.... things are always changing and besides the tag count, old pictures also show that.
Also I tend to let annuals go wild while the perennials grow in and then miss the annuals once the space closes up.... then I widen another bed so I have room for annuals again.

I guess in all my babbling what I'm trying to say is YES there's always changes around here and if there wasn't I'd be bored.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 8:05PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

If my garden ever reached the point where it was 'finished', it would clearly be time to move on to somewhere else and start over! That's not going to happen.... If/when EAB has I it's evil way with our white ash that might prompt significant changes to the backyard, although I have been trying for the past few years to plant in such a way as to minimize the impact that the loss of the ash would have.

I'm not normally an organized, tidy sort of person :-) so the tag binder is a bit of an aberration! I'm not quite sure why I started it all those years ago.... But it has become part of my winter review and assessment of the garden that helps me plan for next year. I don't like the look of tags in the ground so would never bother doing that. While doing the cull of the tags I realized that there are a few tags for plants that I don't remember seeing in a while but am not sure whether they are dead or just hidden by vigorous neighbours, so I'll have to explore for those ones in the spring.

I'm definitely in the 'compose' rather than the 'collect' camp. One of my house-and-garden fantasies is the win a lottery and buy a suitable property to build this house and garden again - but better by doing/fixing all the things that siren't quite the way I want them to be!

In the early years of the garden I did a fair bit of seed-starting but have not done that for at least five years now. There is no room anymore for large volumes of plants. I'm much more selective about plants now since additions usually mean deletions too. But one always needs a dose of the new, so winter is a time to consider what has outlived its time....

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 8:53PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I started to say my garden has been mostly stable and as I thought about it, I would have to say it has been constantly evolving. I started with a pretty clean slate, ripping out every shrub on the property and installing new shrubs and many of those initial shrubs are still here. But I've moved a lot of perennials and some of the shrubs, sometimes multiple times, (g) and every year or two I've tried to complete a project that also changed the garden. And now I'm planning to renovate beds again next spring.

What has been fairly stable, are the plants themselves. I move them around but I usually keep everything, with some notable failures, as with Lobelias and Astilbes that I learned the hard way need more moisture than I have. Or Salvias, etc, that need better drainage. And with a healthy dose of new additions most years. But this year, I suddenly was ready to pull out a lot of plants I've had from the beginning and want to start over. One month I just loved the look of them and the next month I just had to take them out. :-) Why does that happen?

I do keep every plant tag, but I rarely look at it again. I keep them all in a couple of plastic shoeboxes. I keep a spreadsheet instead that keeps up with what's in and what's out. I'm curious to take a look at how many of my initial plants are still here.

I'd say I have areas that are stable, where I am happy with the way it has worked out and I look forward to that every year. I have a 5ft wide alleyway that I redid along the garage, that I planted all at once and I haven't touched it again for 5 years until I had to rip out a few overgrown items this fall. Then there are other areas which I'm still not happy with and I keep adding and deleting and a couple of those beds have looked pretty different from year to year. But I would like to stabilize at least half of the garden. I do have one bed that I plan to always be changing. It's my 'free for all' bed, where I don't have to follow any grand design, I can just do whatever I want from one season to the next and pull out everything and start over any time if I want to. I have a lot of fun with that bed.

But there is that old saying, 'the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.' So change is going to happen even when you're not planning on it. Like Kevin's fence.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2013 at 9:46PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

LOL, thyme! By "lost", I did mean the plants died, but now that you mention it, I have wondered where a few plants I bought went to! But again, they most likely spent a few too many months in the pot ghetto and gave up the ghost, never to be seen again!

PM2, like you, my first thought is usually that my gardens are fairly stable. But then I come across those odd tags here and there and realize just how many plants I've gone through, how many have died, how many I dug up and gave away, and it hits me that my garden isn't quite as stable as I thought it was!

I've got some big changes planned for the coming year, so my garden will be changing on purpose. I'm switching over to more shrubs and lower-maintenance plants. I just don't have the time anymore to devote to the garden and it's showing. In order to attempt any kind of effort at keeping my yard tidy I am going lower-maintenance!


    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 9:16AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Dee, you'll love having more shrubs in your garden. Most are three and four seasons of interest. There are just so many great ones to choose from. And are you near Broken Arrow? They have a great selection.

Woody, good luck with you ash tree. At least you are aware of it and it won't come as a shock if you lose it. It really is such a great idea to keep all the tags in one place especially as you say for a winter review. I found some tags in my desk once and there was one for Jeffersonia. Damned if I had any idea where I even planted it, and I haven't found it in the garden yet! Must be one I "lost". Too bad since it really looks like it would be a cute woodland plant to have in the garden.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 9:12PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Thyme, I AM close to Broken Arrow! I've done lots of shrub shopping there for a couple of friends over the last two years. I think this spring it will be my turn!


edited for dumb grammatical error/typo which I saw the second I hit the "send" button!

This post was edited by diggerdee on Wed, Dec 4, 13 at 23:02

    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 11:00PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Nice binder you have there.

I have mine in a folders. I never dispose of a plant. It either dies or it get relocated. Before purchased my present house I had a small suburban yard and when I ran out of space I went to pots.

Now I cannot run out of space because of the acreage if I do not like something I move it to another bed. If it is a plant that I do not like the looks I keep moving it until it compliments another plant or fill an area that I want filled until I can find something better.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2013 at 9:32PM
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I have a file with folders for each year. I take notes of things on paper like planting dates, bed changes, what dies, when weeds show up, what gets bugs etc. I staple plant tags for the year onto the back of a piece of cereal box and include that into the folder. I also start a lot of seeds, as I have really more vegetables than perennials, and all the seed packets are mostly stuck in an envelope in a separate place as they are emptied, but stored before that in the best conditions for seed survival . I too have senior brain, so I often can't remember the name of a plant or variety and it is good to have those reminders at hand. I make maps, too and the evolution of the perennial beds is easier to follow if I get them all out and look at them together if I want to reminisce.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2013 at 11:24AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Tags go into my 4-ring binders (punch holes in tags) along with a sheet of notebook paper where I note when and where the plant was bought and the cost. Included in the binders are perennials and unusual annuals started from seed.

Each year I page through the binders making notes about the growth and/or bloom of the plant that year. Very short notes:
"good bloom"; move, needs more sun; prune next spring after bloom; good growth; add contrasting companion next year; etc."

I also have detailed maps of each garden area which are updated in the winter from notes collected over the growing season and put in a file folder.

And notes on planters and pots for the deck and other areas with the plant selection and what I might do differently the next year or what I want to repeat.

I have removed some tags of plants that were removed either intentionally or due to natural decline but also keep some of those tags to remind me not to try that plant again as it didn't work.

I find that nowadays most of the plant tags that I add come from sale plants in the fall.

My beds are full and I am running out of space for new beds.
I'm thinking of ripping most of the plants out and starting again with something new but hesitating as which plants would I miss the least.

Maybe it would be easier to move!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 3:48PM
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Campanula UK Z8

hopeless, changes continually, cannot remember names and places (but I do get lots of surprises) - its all a bit of a mess. I think there may have been a 'plan' some time ago but now its just the willy-nilly method. As there are many veggies, I content myself with this as a reason it often looks insanely chaotic. When I run out of space, I poke plants in around the neighbourhood.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 4:54PM
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