Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 23, 2016

The Garden Media Group predicts that one of the new garden trends for this coming year is “tidy gardens.” In essence this is the de-cluttering of the garden and coincides with the U.S. shift to urban living, with many moving away from suburbia and back to living in cities. This population shift brings with it smaller houses, yards, and gardens, a trend we have been seeing for a while.

The Garden Media Group (GMG) points out that tidy does not mean sculptured hedges and immaculate garden spaces. Tidy translates to simplified, less cluttered gardens that require less input. GMG notes that an important part of achieving a tidy garden is getting things under control.

Crowded gardens are cluttered gardens. If your perennials have grown too big, divide them and share them with other gardeners. Too often shrubs and trees are planted too closely together when young and become crammed together as they grow and mature. Sometimes judicious pruning done properly may help, but this locks you into repeated pruning in the future. Simplify by removing some of the plants to make more room for the others.

However, it is extremely difficult for gardeners like me to remove a plant. It is a bit like choosing one of your children over another. One must harden one’s heart and decide which plants are not contributing significantly to the overall beauty of the landscape or garden. It could be the ones beset by insect or disease problems, or those that have outgrown their space, or mature plants that are past their prime. Of course, GMG suggests keeping the plants you love the most and the ones that are flourishing in your garden.

When establishing a tidy garden, GMG recommends keeping things simple by using a “restricted palette of plants and hardscaping.” The smaller the “palette” or number of different plants is a hard precept for avid gardeners to follow. Gardeners like me delight in a diverse mélange of garden plants. It helps to think of a landscape and garden like a home. A crowded and cluttered home takes more time and effort to keep neat and clean. The same goes for a crowded, disorderly garden. Gardens are probably more enjoyable when they are not a chaotic jumble of plants.

Gardeners wanting to create a tidy food garden should look to the many new dwarf varieties of edibles available on the market. Plant breeders continue to develop bush vegetables that take up less garden space and can be grown in containers or raised beds. Many can also double as ornamentals. In addition, there are compact berry bushes that can be grown in containers on the patio or planted in the garden where they take up much less room than the large leggy berry bushes of yesterday.

There are also beautiful new compact ornamental plants, including the new flowering shrubs that are smaller and more prolific bloomers than their predecessors and the increasing selection of dwarf conifers that do not require frequent hedging to keep them within their allotted space.

Whether your goal is a trendy tidy garden or just one that does not require as much work, take some time in the coming fall and winter months to take a critical look at your garden and landscape. Decide what plants should be removed and what ones should be replaced, but keep in mind the words of the French poet and theologian, Francois Fenelon, “Exactness and neatness in moderation is a virtue, but carried to extremes narrows the mind.” He has a good point.

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