Chesterton Tribune

Never too early to plan for garden

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January is for...just relaxing, and starting a garden journal.

We gardeners deserve a break. As much as we love the flowers and fruits of our labors, the digging, weeding and raking can get old fast, especially the faster we get old. Luckily, our climate affords us this much-needed respite.

But our hands need not be idle. Planning is a necessary part of gardening, and a gardening journal is a valuable way to guide us in the timing and execution of that plan.

Now some will argue that gardening shouldn't be a rigid, formal exercise that inhibits creative or spur-of-the-moment choices. I'll agree -- to a point.

Some basic planning will benefit every garden. God knows I've moved many of my plants so often they've yet to reach full maturity, even though they are beyond it. And with a freshly dug phlox on my shovel, I've even headed to the planting hole I THOUGHT I was going to put it, then stopped, dug another and planted it there instead.

But truth be told, these unplanned departures don't always result in the desired result: a pleasing combination of colors, textures, shapes and heights that bloom in succession over an extended period.

A great way to plan for the coming gardening year is to take pictures during the previous one.

How many of us think we know each plant as well as our own children, only to quizzically ponder a certain spot that's breaking ground early showing fuzzy, serrated leaves. (It might be pulsatilla vulgaris, a nifty white to rose-flowered early bloomer with a yellow eye.) By marking the name and location of each plant on its corresponding picture (especially bulbs), this can become the basis of a winter review of your existing garden plan.

The gardening journal is a key element in this, more so if you've taken the time to record things like when and where you've purchased special plants; how they performed; whether you've moved them and, perhaps the biggest help, what the weather's been like that season.

Weather information recorded since 1996 has proven invaluable to me in tending my gardens. Here are some excerpts from my journal:

Jan. 1, 2000: Cut up Christmas tree, put over tender plants and raked; temp 50 degrees

Feb. 26, 1996: Weather in the 50's and thunderstorms. Raked 90 gallons of hickory nuts. Ground still frozen.

March 9, 1998: BLIZZARD! Lost 35-foot pine tree Nancy gave us 17 years ago; had planned a shade border there.

June 17, 1996: First roses open, Sonia and Garden Party.

Week 4, July, 1999: In the 100's and just a sprinkle. Got lots of daylilies at Judy's, Coburg and Brookwood.

Sept. 9, 1997: Japanese beetles on the run. No real blackspot.

Oct. 29, 1996: 80 mph winds, heavy rain and temp goes from 70 degrees to 30 degrees. No power for 9 hours. Roses still coming.

Nov. 18, 1999: Still no killing frost; 70 degrees. Dug out rose Dark Lady.

Dec. 20, 1998: First real cold and measurable snow.

I keep my journal beside my bed; others may prefer the kitchen or home office. The point is to keep it handy so you can use and quickly refer to it. And don't just write about what you've done; include some projects you'd like to do.

Perhaps the most important thing about planning any garden is to be realistic. Once you plant it, you maintain it. Good soil, well-chosen plants and generous mulch cut down on the work, but there's still spring clean-up, fertilizing, deadheading, insect treatments and cutting back to be done.

A thoughtfully planned, well-tended garden, no matter how small, is far more satisfying than a big one that's diseased and overgrown.

Websites to Visit: If you've already seen enough dirty grey snow to last the winter, visit

The "New Daylilies" pack a wallop of color and a wallop of a price. Because there aren't many of each beauty available, stunners like Art Imperial, an opulent orange/red, and Counted Shadows, a ripe pineapple yellow with multi-hued purple eyezone, both sell for $150.00 each.

Tip of the Month: Save the rigid plastic stretchers in your next pair of shoes. I use them to mark where I've planted small transplants and tip cuttings until I'm sure they'll make it and require a permanent plant marker.

Editor's Note: Paulene Poparad is an avid gardener and current president of Duneland Garden Club. Her column will appear monthly.


Posted January, 2001