Midwestern gardeners had a challenging year in 2012, but we’re starting afresh now: A new year brings new possibilities and new resolve. Of course 2013 will be a better year in the garden! But you really don’t have to change much; a few smart choices will make any garden more beautiful and inviting. I’m starting here:
1. Plant Shrubs
Hydrangeas, viburnums, boxwoods, witch hazels, hollies, azaleas and other shrubs make a garden more interesting— and add up to less work. Shrubs give a garden structure, help define and frame spaces and vistas, add a lot of bloom and texture, and in general make it more attractive through all four seasons. Many shrubs provide important shelter or berries for birds (and the bugs they eat). Shrubs make flowerbeds look lusher, give them rhythm, and create a green backdrop for annual and perennial flowers.
Organic mulch is good for any garden. A 2-in layer of mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil temperature from fluctuating too much, maintains moisture in the soil, and improves the soil’s structure as it decomposes. Mulch also makes flowerbeds look tidy. Compost and leaf mold are my favorite mulches, but hardwood or cypress mulch, which cost about $3 a bag, works just fine. One 2-cu-ft bag will cover about 12 square feet of flowerbed.
3. Grow Your Own
Even if you only have a pot of parsley or a window box crammed with ruffled lettuce plants, cultivating a crop automatically makes you part of the local food movement. Above all it gives you the deeply satisfying experience of eating (and sharing) the freshest food you can imagine. Start with transplants; it’s hard to go wrong.
You don’t need a compost bin to make compost—you need a lawn mower with a bagger. The first time you mow in spring, catch a bag of clippings. It will be a mixture of grass, autumn leaves and litter from the winter, and that’s just fine. Dump the clippings in a corner of the garden. They should be loose, not packed down. Now forget about them for a while—you’re making compost. After a couple of months you can use it as mulch, or turn it into the soil when you’re planting.
5. Take a Seat
Comfortable garden furniture is a great investment. To really enjoy a garden, pull up a chair. Plant a couple of shrubs on either side of a bench to create a little bit of shelter and a sense of privacy. It will encourage you to sit for a while and bask in what you have created. Resist the temptation to jump up and pull weeds! This year take time to enjoy your garden; it’s a good habit to have.