Too many people expect to have a picture-perfect landscape. They’re fooled by garden photos and publicity into thinking such gardens really do exist. You know those ads on television with the awesome, colorful gardens? And the calendars and book pictures of gorgeous landscapes in full bloom? Well, if you are expecting your garden to match, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Oh, you certainly can have a lovely garden. But it won’t be perfect. Not even if you use the most expensive products on the shelf. And your garden won’t have everything in bloom at the same time and remain in bloom all year long. Often those awesome photographs are taken at botanical or private gardens that employ a bevy of full-time gardeners who spend every day poring over every inch manicuring each leaf and flower. Even so, there are areas in these gardens that look better than others at different times of the year, so photographs are limited only to the best sections of the best-looking gardens. In most other cases the sets and photographs are stuffed with blooming plants – most still in their pots – freshly imported from carefully controlled greenhouses. Sometimes the pots are hidden behind the foliage of some of the true resident plants. Sometimes the plants are set into the ground. Often the potted plants are just grouped and the pots are hidden behind other objects. Look carefully and you can sometimes spot a plastic pot in the picture-perfect landscape.
There was a very popular calendar issued a year or so ago that had twelve months of gardens decorated to perfection. Yet something was suspicious. Looking closer you could see spring and autumn blooming plants blooming side by side in the same picture. And on close scrutiny, a shot of a gorgeous pond revealed plastic pond lilies growing in non-existing colors! This was a popular calendar being distributed by large nurseries and plant wholesalers! Is this fair to create such a bogus set of expectations? If artificial photos are distributed to professionals in the green industry, why shouldn’t gardeners everywhere feel duped into thinking perfect gardens really do look like this?!
You can have a lot of success making gardens and individual plants look great by simply spending a lot of time doing manual labor. Hand pulling weeds avoids chemical burn to other plants. Judicious pruning creates a lovely, natural looking shrub rather than buzz-sawing the thing into a crooked cube or bulging globe. Hosing off pests, hand-picking larger pests or using insecticidal soaps seem to keep pest populations down to manageable numbers. Deadheading (cutting off spent blooms), pulling out dead foliage, raking and cutting back dormant plants, will keep your garden colorful, neat and clean. This is, admittedly, a very labor-intensive way to garden. But it works. And with a good garden design, you can build your landscape with attractive low maintenance areas to make your beautiful garden fit into the time you have available to keep it looking great.
Also be aware that photographers will shoot the best parts of a garden from the most flattering angle. Just because a garden looks marvelous in one shot doesn’t mean the rest of the garden is equally good-looking. In most cases, the photo you are looking at is the absolutely BEST part of the entire landscape. There may be some very dreary areas you are not being shown. No gardens look perfect all over. Not all the time, anyway. So be fair to yourself and your garden. Just like the shots of the glamorous celebrities you see in magazines, photos of many glamorous gardens are ‘made up’ to be stunning. I’ll bet if you searched your landscape at almost any time of year you could find at least one plant – even a weed – that would make a good photograph.
Remember that a beautiful garden is one that fits your lifestyle and taste. It doesn’t have to look perfect. Perfect gardens are perfectly phony. Nature’s greatest beauty is in her variety, variation and imperfections. A garden is a living thing and living things are in a constant state of change. Expect that the showiest plants will need to go through a rest period. Bulb foliage will have to die back after the flowers bloom. Even ornamental grasses can look a little scruffy in the winter and often show better after being cut back. Like all living things, plants need their rest period, too. If you let them follow a full and natural growth and rest cycles, your plants will look their best when they’re ready to put on their flowering displays.
The real trick to having a great-looking garden is to diversify. Plant your plants so groups of them come into flower at one time making a colorful focal point. Then when the show is over, these plants can rest up while another area of the garden colors up. Use colored foliage for those periods when blooms are sparse. And hide fading foliage behind later flourishing plants so the resting plants won’t be noticed. If you have limited space for growing things, consider adding another attention-getter like an ornamental fountain, sculpture or some decorative furniture to attract the eye when the garden is not at its best. Planning your garden out this way will give you an attractive landscape year round.
Don’t be fooled by garden photos or unrealistic, enhanced gardens. Not even the experts have perfect gardens. Just focus on enjoying the best parts of your garden when they are on display. And care for the rest so it will reward you later with picture-perfect areas – when the time is right.