Garden Resolutions for 2019

It’s that strange time of the year when every day seems like a Sunday, and there’s plenty of time to think about what you’ll change for the year ahead. For gardeners, the failures of the previous season have faded enough and it’s time to stiffen our backs, page through the seed catalogs arriving daily and make some garden resolutions.

Here are five I’m pondering for the year ahead:

light on house plants
My house faces south but a number of large trees affect the light on the boulevard in summer. Knowing your light helps gardeners choose the right plants.

Watch the sun, know its path. Gardeners in the North especially face extreme differences in sun paths and sunlight between the shortest days in December and the long ones in June. In my new urban garden, I’m planning a boulevard native plant garden for the front. But as I stood in the yard in September, removing sod for another project, I could not help but notice that the area seemed shadier than I’d thought. The trees from nearby yards and the planted median in front of our house were throwing a lot of shade in a full-south spot. Maybe all those grasses and coreopsis and coneflowers I had planned might not work? So starting this month, I’ll be watching the sun and shade patterns on that stretch of lawn. By May, when I plan to plant, I’ll have a good idea of where the sun falls and for how long. Knowing how much sun you have and when it hits is vital to making plant selections.

Mexican sunflower big
I may have let these get a little out of control. I am standing on a raised bed and still are shorter than the plants.

Plant BIG plants on the edges. Last year, I grew Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) in my backyard. If you have ever grown them, you know how big they can get. And, while I loved the bright orange flowers (see the photo at the end of the post to see why) and the incredible privacy they gave us, it started to feel claustrophobic by fall. I still plan to plant them, but only on the edges of that yard. A gal’s got to breath.

Work on that second (and third) crop. While we don’t have a long vegetable growing season in Minnesota, it is possible to get more than one crop of many short-season vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and radishes. Last year, I harvested all my ‘Minnesota Midget‘ melons by early August—leaving a big hole in a section of the vegetable beds. I ended up adding herbs that I purchased to the bed, but paying more attention to timing and planning for second or possibly third crops is a good goal for 2019. Speaking of timing….

Hold off on seed starting. I’ve gotten a lot better at this as I’ve matured as a gardener, but you really do not need to start a ton of seeds for Minnesota before late March or even April. Tomatoes, for example, can’t be planted outside without protection before Memorial Day (or the first week of June) most years. So, unless you plan to use row covers, cold frames or other season-extenders, starting seeds with the proper amount of time between germination and planting out will result in stronger plants. Check the back of the seed packet, count back from your last frost date (early to mid-May in most of Minnesota) and plan from there.

morning glory on fence
Growing flowering vines, like morning glories, on a trellis and fence increases privacy.

Grow up! As an urban gardener, my space is limited and growing plants on trellises and climbing apparatuses is the best way to grow more. I have a number of trellises in the garden, and by the end of summer, my back fence is covered with flowering vines. But I’ve got my eye on a couple of new places where I can grow vining crops. As the famous garden writer, Katharine White said, “onward and upward in the garden!”

Whatever your resolutions or plans for next year, I wish you a happy, productive and meaningful 2019!

monarch on mexican sunflower
Why let a sunflower get so large? Because of monarchs, of course.

Garden Planning with Pinterest and Paper

We’ve been in our St. Paul house about 20 months now, and I’m finally getting ready to tackle the landscaping and gardens (or lack of both) in the front yard.

This is a big project: it will likely involve removing and replacing sidewalks and it will definitely require rerouting water to correct issues we have with icy areas and sloping walks.  I did the design and the installation on our backyard myself, but this project requires a skill level and muscle beyond what I have. I know from previous garden installations we’ve done that it really helps the landscapers if you can provide them with a good sense of what you want done, what plants you like and what your vision for the project is. Then, they can add to that or let you know what is not going to work. It makes for a happier and probably cheaper project.

So, I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks trying to get what is in my head into a form that is shareable, and to do that I’ve been using both Pinterest and paper.

While I haven’t used Pinterest much in the past few years, I revived my account and created a board with some of the ideas I’m thinking about. One thing I’ve discovered is that the style of house we have is tricky to landscape well.  It has no front porch and the door to the front is flat—no roof over it, no stoop, no ornamentation. It’s technically called a “minimal traditional” house and was popular in the 1930s to 1940s when people were absorbed with other issues like the Great Depression and World War II. Keep the houses simple was the mantra.

The current situation minus about a foot of snow

Simple is good. Boring not so much, and that’s what we’ve got going now. The three shrubs in our foundation beds are ancient and overgrown. We’ve done some aggressive pruning to shape them and that’s helped, but they need to go. I replaced some of the perennials (mostly Stella d’Oro daylillies) with plants I like better, but the whole front bed needs to be redone. We planted a Minnesota strain redbud tree on one side of the yard about halfway to the street, and I would like to pull the front bed out to include that tree with a path to the back fence through the bed.

I’m also interested in creating a pollinator garden, and likely will put that in the boulevard area of the yard. I have a pollinator plant Pinterest board as well.  St. Paul has a few rules about boulevard gardens — the main one affecting me being that plants cannot be more than three feet tall. I can work with that.

Rough draft of pollinator garden idea plus some plant pictures.

For both gardens, I’ve created a notebook, where I’ve done some clunky drawings as well as pasted pictures of designs and plants that I like. The notebook is really helpful because it’s a physical object I can look at in quiet moments and page through. To me, it seems more concrete than the Pinterest board, where everything seems possible. It’s a great way to create rough drafts of ideas. I can also give it to the landscaper when the time comes. I’ve been reading some design books as well, and found a few good ones at the local public library. A couple of the designs spoke to me, so I copied those pages and pasted them in the book, too.

These designs won’t work for my house, but there’s something in the ideas that I find appealing.

So far, I’ve only given slight thought to budget—though that will be ironed out before we contact landscapers. For now, it’s mostly about dreaming and letting my ideas find some shape, whether on paper or on the internet. Let me know in the comments how you like to capture ideas for your garden.