Garden Makeover

Garden Makeover

There comes a time in the life of a landscape when normal seasonal care won't do. Plants no longer fit together, and some may have reached the ends of their life span. Something major needs to be done, but you don't have to rip out the whole thing and start over. Here are two of your many options.

Every garden plan, and especially a garden remake, needs to start with the bones: hardscapes and long-lived structural plants. When you can create a new design around existing trees, you have instant atmosphere. John Galbraith, owner of Medford's Galbraith and Associates, suggests adding shade-loving understory plants like Western sword fern, campanula and compact Oregon grape, which has a bushier appearance than the woodland species. Or try a low-growing skimmia, a broadleaf evergreen with interesting flowers and berries.

"I've seen that work out in some older gardens," says Galbraith.

Gardens can take on a whole new look when a photinia or Portuguese laurel hedge is "trimmed up" to tree form, he says. These plants can reach 20 to 30 feet in our climate. He advises gardeners to raise the leaf-bearing branches to about chest-height and retain the best-looking branches. "You'll end up with something that looks good year-round, and you've got a great place to light up at night."

Prune these plants in late summer, so they can recover and put out some green growth before winter. Never cut the branches flush to the trunk. Cut instead on the branch side of the collar — the place where it swells out a bit — for the best recovery. The trunk bark will then grow over these wounds.

Cynthia Care, owner of Jardinducare in Talent, offers a permaculture solution to gardening woes. Permaculture is a method of planting that mimics nature and allows gardeners to grow a lot of food in a small space. Older gardens are ideal candidates, in that you are already familiar with the space and its microclimate, the first step in permaculture.

"You're relating respectfully to the garden and creating a self-sustaining direction, so you don't have to add so many amendments," she says.

Trees, especially food trees, are the upper layer in a multistoried garden. Under the trees are the ground cover, herb and shrub layers. "You aim it south, so you get a certain amount of sun on all the plants," she says.

Many food plants will thrive in these conditions and in our climate. Most fall into the category of Mediterranean plants, such as artichokes, grapes and olives. These plants thrive in dry summers on thin soils. When a permaculture garden matures, the result is a tiny forest, one that produces a lot of food, says Care.

Other plants, such as yarrow, are grown to attract beneficial insects, and kitchen and medicinal herbs and craft plants are a part of the scene.

The idea that we can produce food without as much work should be appealing to today's busy families. To learn more, Care recommends "Gaia's Garden," by Toby Hemenway, a book that has just been reissued with color photos.

If you'd like to learn locally, Care is teaching a two-part introduction to the technique from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 6 and Oct. 20 at Ashland's North Mountain Park Nature Center. The class provides the tools to start planning and is appropriate for all gardeners, even beginners. Each session costs $10. Learn more by calling the park at 541-488-6606.

A mature landscape is not an obstacle to the garden of your desire. Rather, the path to a new look is often previously paved and planted.

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