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You Can Learn a Lot From a Little Neglect

It’s been a while since I shared some garden insights from working at Bettman. It’s certainly not due to a lack of gardening on my part. Far from it. I’ve added a few new gardens at Ault Park that required some heavy editing and the addition of many new plants: all chosen with pollinators in mind. 

My work at Bettman has, for the most part, been cleaning walks (they get oh, so slippery in the shade garden) weeding and more weeding. The prairie is a hot bed of weeds waiting to emerge once the soil is disturbed: AKA me digging and adding new plants. I’m at the park weekly, but not almost daily like I was in previous years. I’ve carefully planned gardens that, I hope, can do without constant supervision on my part.

I did add a generous amount of annuals for that instant punch of color. Zinnias, Lantanas, Victoria Blue Salvia and Upright Verbena are my go-to annuals. With what has been a rather hands off approach to gardening, they are thriving. Lesson learned: selecting plants that are ideally suited for your garden space is the easiest way to garden and not exhaust yourself in the process. When the heat settles in and summer activities move into full gear, we don’t always have time to work in our gardens: no matter how much we wish we could. This hot, dry garden is the perfect place for my sun loving, water conscious plants. 

Soil preparation has saved me uncounted hours of labor. When the shade garden was established, it was a flurry of editing, weeding and amending the tight, waterlogged soil. Now I can easily spot-water the more water-hungry plants: the amended soil allows water to soak in quickly and deeply around the plants in need. The amended soil also makes weeding a breeze. Tight, dry clay grasps weed roots, making weeding a chore. In the amended soil, a light watering is all that’s needed to have the weeds lift with ease.

A little chaos is a good thing. I tend to design and plant with a more natural feel. While I enjoy and admire formal gardens, in an area like Bettman, set in the woods and part of the space being a prairie of sorts, trying to control nature and establish a tight, clean garden is futile. When prairie plants pop up unexpectedly, I welcome them. When new plants and native plants grow together I let them be. My job, in tending the prairie inspired garden is to eliminate invasive plants, kill the poison ivy and keep aggressive (even if native) plants in check so the space doesn’t become a mono-culture. 

The more low-maintenance gardens I have means the more new gardens I can create! And who wouldn’t want more gardens in their life?  ~~ Jennifer

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