August 31, 2011

Garden lessons learned: summer 2011

Aside from a handful of extremely hot and humid days in July and a few dry weeks, Wisconsin weather has been near perfect this summer. I’m grateful for this.

Now we’re traveling down the path toward autumn, and it’s time to reflect on gardening lessons from the summer of 2011.

Among them (some personal and some universal):

1. Cover bulbs with lava rocks and plant onion sets among the annuals. I’ve tried so many techniques over the years to keep rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks out of my plants (with mixed results). I wondered why I kept finding lava rocks in a couple of the garden beds. And after my Hyacinth bulbs were upended for the fourth time, I decided to stack lava rocks on top of them. Lo and behold—no more digging! So I bought a bag of lava rocks and plan to top all my bulbs this way. And I’ve known for years that onion sets repel critters but I’ve never planted them in pots among annuals before. The pots looked a little silly at first, but as the annuals filled in around them the onion greens were barely noticeable. These two tricks—lava rocks and onion sets—really work!

2. Resist the urge to water plants every day during a dry spell. With the exception of potted annuals and bright sunny gardens, most plants survive just fine without water for a few days. Then when a drought hits, they've developed deeper roots to handle the shortage of rain. Granted, we didn’t have a severe drought in southern Wisconsin this year. But even if we had, the plants—especially the native perennials—fare better with staggered watering. Because of my hectic schedule this summer, I watered infrequently out of necessity. And most of my plants are fine, albeit slightly stressed.

3. Take stock of color. My garden has plenty of color except for a very short stretch in mid-August. My solution: I’m planning to plant annuals or perennials that will bloom during this time. I haven’t decided which ones yet, but thanks to all the great suggestions from gardeners, garden bloggers, and Blotanical members, I have some great ideas. I’m also adding a few garden decorations. I tend to be Spartan and naturalistic in my garden design, but these light touches will bring pops of color—even in the depths of winter.

4. Take time to simply sit on the porch or in a quiet place, suck in the fresh air, listen to the critters, and relax. Even if you’re extremely busy like I was this summer, you can spare at least 30 minutes a week to simply enjoy your garden without rushing around and toiling. I learned this lesson years ago, but I had to make a special effort to practice it during this particularly hectic summer.

To help me with Nos. 3 and 4 above, my husband made this sweet garden bench, which we placed at the end of our wooded path. It’s perfect for reflecting on nature’s beauty at any time of year.

What about you? What garden lessons have you learned during the summer of 2011? Please link a recent post about your summer advice, reflections, or ideas to the Garden Lessons Learned Mr. Linky meme below. Happy (almost) autumn!


  1. Great idea to add the bench ~ I hope you get lots of time to use it and admire your beautiful garden. You're so lucky to enjoy perfect weather too. We've had the hottest August on record and not much rain. Having said that, I'm still not ready for it to be over!

  2. so sweet of your husband to make you that bench. looks so relaxing to sit there. happy gardening!

  3. The bench is beautiful--how sweet of your husband to make this! This is a great post; I think we all are always learning something new. I'm lucky not to have too many problems with squirrels or other critters, but the lava rocks and onion sets sound like a great tip. As for mid-August blooms, I have the same problem, but I usually have zinnias blooming. This year I planted zinnias, cosmos, and nicotania in early June, and they're full of colorful blooms right now, the perfect solution for the late summer doldrums.

    I'll have to think about other lessons I've learned and try to join in your meme in a couple of days.

  4. I couldn't agree more with #4. I don't know that I relaxed once and took in my garden once this year. Too task oriented. Great list!

  5. You are the first blogger I've come across that has said their weather was good this summer! Love the bench - it looks inviting. I think every gardener should have a favorite spot to sit and look over the garden. Enjoy it!

  6. What a great idea for a meme. I hope to put a post together in the next day or so and join...I've certainly learned a lot this summer about surviving an extreme drought! Your bench is so inviting; what a thoughtful gesture by your husband.

  7. @Kathleen: Some people might say it was too hot, but I love summer weather so I was happy. :)

    @Angel: Yes, it was very thoughtful. It's the perfect item for that spot.

    @Rose: Thanks! I have Zinnias and Cosmos, too, but only on the sunny side of the house. I've found it a little more challenging to find reliable bloomers for the shade. I do hope you'll join in the meme. Maybe you'll be the first one! ;)

  8. Wise and well said! The biggest threat to my bulbs is my dogs who ocassionally dig holes and uproot my daffodils. I love to just sit in the garden and relax. It's where I have my breakfast most mornings and on days that aren't too hot, we like to chill out in the hammock. :o)

  9. @ONG: Thanks. Part of the reason I like to garden is the connection with nature. But I have to remind myself to slow down to really soak it in.

    @Holley: I'd probably be happy in Texas (with the exception of this extreme summer), because I love summer weather. So days on end in the mid-80s is perfect for me!

    @Cat: I would be pleased to have you participate! I'm hoping people will join in and even link posts they've already published. So many lessons we can learn from each other!

  10. Lovely bench and space to sit and this idea and thx for letting me know about the was busy again so behind reading blogs. I also need to take more time in the garden to just sit...I don't water perennials here in summer. They fend for themselves and seem to do well. Let's see what fall brings in the garden....

  11. What I Learned is is wonderful theme and meme. I will have to think about it because gardening for what seems like forever, makes it difficult to think of an original learned item. It is more like stuff I do and not sure if there is a lesson in that. I do a lot that as a Master Gardener and designer, would never tell another person to follow my lead. Like how and when I split up perennials for instance. So some serious thinking to do. The sitting is one that I have to admit almost never doing, unless it is at a computer.

  12. We work so hard to create this thing of beauty and forget to sit and enjoy it ourselves! How silly are we? The bench is perfect. I love that it is at the end of your garden path. I love the red color too! Thanks for hosting this party :) I am your newest follower.

  13. @TS: I think we're cut from the same cloth. That hammock sounds mighty inviting! Thanks for joining in the meme!

    @Donna: Thanks for joining in! I thoroughly enjoyed your post about summer waning. Your photos and your description are beautiful!

    @Donna: Thank you! I do hope you will join in and maybe share some of the wonderful knowledge you've learned over the years.

    @Kathe: Welcome! You are right that we prepare and prepare and don't spend enough time enjoying. And isn't that the point?! I enjoyed reading about all the progess you've made with your garden. It's beautiful!

  14. Your delightful thoughts and photos ... good stuff! I take the good with the bad in loving/learning. One thing I know through trials/ tribulations and sweet dreams of spring and revamping, I still drag feet/heart/hands, hating to say goodbye to summer.

  15. The bench is lovely, and I agree, with the excpetion of July - it's been a pretty good growing season. Looking forward to autumn, and the crispness of the air.

  16. I am very glad you shared the tip about the lava rock. I am always looking for ways to keep the critters away from my bulbs. I usually surround them with granite chips in the ground. That works very well, however I like the extra protection of the lava rocks on the top. And I really like your bench photos. They inspire me to remember to sit and savor the garden. Thanks for hosting!

  17. Wonderful idea!

    My husband and I take walks almost every night around the garden after tucking the kids in bed. Sometimes I enjoy it & sometimes I just see what needs to be done!

    Hope I can join in later this week.

  18. I whole-heartedly agree with all your points, but especially that last one. Good grief, what are you doing all this work FOR, if you're not going to sit and enjoy it?? Took me a while to get it, though.

    Now, every weekend, I spend the first part of each morning on the patio with a cup of tea, a notebook and my camera. It's really made a difference to how I garden. I think about the critters I've seen and think about how the changes I'm making will affect them, not just me.

    BTW, I came over from Michelle's blog, The Sage Butterfly. Glad to find such a lovely place!

  19. Love the bench, and I love the ideas. Never thought about the lava rock, or the onions...hmmmm great ideas.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  20. Very useful post, Beth! Thank you!

  21. @Joey: Me, too! But now I'm trying to prep for the cooler weather and pulling out the sweatshirts and sweaters!

    @David: You've certainly had a good harvest in your garden! I simply feel like I can't complain--at least here in Wisconsin. We're fortunate we had great weather for the season's recreation all summer!

    @Sage: Thanks for joining in and for sharing such a beautiful post on your blog! Granite chips--that's a great idea, too!

  22. @Julie: Evening walks in the garden--sounds romantic! Yes, please do join in!

    @Sharie: A cup of tea, a notebook, and a camera! Sounds like a great way to start the day! Thanks for stopping by and I hope we can continue to compare notes. Cheers!

    @Jen: Thank you! It will be interesting to see what the bench looks like through the bare trees this winter...and with snow surrounding it. Brrrr...

    @Dona: Thanks for joining in the meme! The post you selected to link to is so wise!

  23. I finally got my lessons learned post together. Thanks for hosting. This is a great meme to learn from others, too. Although I seem to usually learn the hard way!

  24. That looks like a lovely place to sit and admire the view.

  25. Sorry my post is so late, but better late than never :) It's up now! As a newbie gardener I've learnt so much, mostly from all the wonderful Garden Bloggers I've "met" online! Thank you to all of you! My garden is what is is in no small part thanks to all of you! xxx

  26. Great idea for a meme ... I should have put "Green Place" rather than my name for the link. Don't know if you can change that. Glad you had such nice weather this summer!

  27. @Holley: Thanks for joining in! Your post was lovely! It will be fun to do this each season.

    @Janet: I hope I won't be too lazy now that I have such a comfortable place to sit in the woods (I do have tendencies to take it too easy). :)

    @Christine: I'm so glad you shared the South African perspective. How delightful to experience springtime and summer virtually through your blog! It's beautiful!

    @Sheila: What a wonderful format for your "Lessons Learned"! I was able to change the Mr. Linky text. Thanks so much for joining the meme!

  28. Hi Beth, I've written a post for this meme, but can't add my URL to the link box above. I get an error message. It doesn't matter, I just wanted to let you know I've done the post, really.

  29. Hi Lyn: I believe you! I tried a test and it seemed to work. Did you add your name in the top spot and then your Web link to the bottom spot? Gosh I'd love to see your post. I'll head over to your blog.

  30. Thanks for commenting on my post - I look forward to exploring your blog!


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