Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Secret to a Successful Garden

Everyone wants to know the secret to having a beautiful garden. Is it a special fertilizer or a good sprinkler system? Perhaps it has to do with how the plants were raised or a special planting technique. Or maybe it is just for people that truly have a “green thumb.” Some of those things might contribute, but they are not the secret. I’ll tell you the secret if you’re willing to listen.

The secret is: “Right plant, right place.” Now you might think that’s intuitive, but you’d be surprised at how many people try to override that concept. I’ve done it myself and watched healthy plants fail. Sometimes you can catch your mistake soon enough to move the plant to a more suitable place. This year my rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) finally bloomed because I found the right spot.

Zephyranthes atamasca was finally happy
when I found a wet spot for it
Light and moisture are the two big concerns in choosing the right place. Sun-loving plants need sun. Your first clue on lack of sun is usually failure to bloom (or bloom well). Did you have one that was blooming when you got it and now doesn’t bloom at all? Evaluate how much light it’s getting and compare that to what is recommended for it. If your research says that it needs “full sun,” then it needs to get 5-6 hours of direct sun.

How’s the moisture level? Some plants can die from being too wet because their roots aren’t adapted to deal with it. On the other hand, some plants are quite happy even in occasional standing water! Know the moisture level requirements and the tolerance of the plants you’re using.

Mix the two concepts (light and moisture) together and you might get a magic combo: part-shade plants that can take more sun as long as they get plenty of water. Or you can find plants that can take a drier environment when protected from the hot afternoon sun. You have to know what they can take.

Coreopsis auriculata thrives again
Once you’re got the perfect garden, here’s another curveball: Places change over time. Failing to notice and react to changes in conditions can make it seem like you’re not a successful gardener. A change in water flow might cause an area to retain more water, killing established plants.

Or an area now has more shade than before because the trees got big and plants are no longer blooming. My side patch of coreopsis is thriving again after I thinned out a few trees that had grown up. A successful gardener is alert and reactive to such changes.

So now you know the secret. How to implement it? Be willing to do your research, say no to plants that have no place in your garden (unless you want to treat them as annuals!), and be alert to changes that require corresponding changes on your part. And pass the secret on ~


  1. Hello Ellen!
    Wonderful post about good gardening! And your Atamasco lilies, my word, if I had a wet spot, I would have them, I love them. (I see them at Panola Mountain in April/May.) My husband is wonderful with plants and flowers, and I think some people have a knack for it. A big part of it I think is that you have to PAY ATTENTION, like you say, noticing how conditions change.

  2. How timely! Just this evening, I rescued a couple clumps of rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora, I think) from the yard of a house being demolished down the street from us. I know that it's not the best time of year to be moving them, but I figured they'd probably get scraped away if I didn't take action.

    So now I have to try to figure out where to plant them - right plant, right place - in our "new" yard. Luckily there were enough plants that I can afford to experiment a bit.