Above: prepare for spring by cooking up new color schemes with the help of Gertrude Jekyll’s “Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden” Cornell Cooperative Extension photo).

By Susan Tito 

Mother Nature has a timetable that we all follow to ensure continuity in the garden, yet it’s good for your soul to shake things up and try something new, if for no other reason than to have fun.

Because a new year is always about beginnings — your yard and garden being no exception — I’ve come up with six suggestions (OK, I’ll say it, New Year’s resolutions) for 2020 that may inspire you to think about gardening in a different way. 

Winter is the perfect time to sharpen your gardening tools (Susan Tito photo)
Winter is the perfect time to sharpen your gardening tools (Susan Tito photo)

Make Time for Your Tools

Are your tools not working as well as they should? Perhaps they need a good sharpening. Winter is a great time to take care of this job. Your spades, pruners, shears and loppers all need to maintain a sharp edge to power you through your chores. Your local hardware store is your friend: There you can buy a file or a whetstone to get the job done. Not feeling up to the honing task? Many hardware stores will do the job for you. 

Treat Yourself to a New “Toy” 

Peruse catalogs, such as from Gardener’s Supply Company (gardeners.com) for ideas. You’ll find all the standard tools and gadgets, as well as some unusual ones in an array of shapes, sizes and functionalities. Give yourself permission to buy an item, such as a tool storage caddy or garden kneeler, that may make your work a lot easier. 

Gardener’s Supply Company has an array of indoor growing setups to check out.
Gardener’s Supply Company has an array of indoor growing setups to check out.

Plant Something Different

Are you primarily a vegetable gardener? Consider adding some flowers. They will attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, which feast on some of the pests that plague your crops. Want to keep everything edible? Choose flowers such as nasturtium, marigolds and calendula— all of which are great in salads. They will make your vegetable garden ever more beautiful — and tastier.

Conversely, if you have never planted veggies, resolve to plant at least one variety. If you’re tight on space, a container planting might work. This year I am going to experiment with growing cucumbers in a container in my flower garden. And if at first I don’t succeed, I’ll…

…Try, Try Again

Sometimes things go wrong in the garden. Maybe the plant material you purchased was inferior or you didn’t follow directions to a tee. Failures happen. Accept it. If you know you did everything right, there’s no harm in duplicating your efforts to see if you get a different outcome the second or third time. But also know that garden failures teach us great lessons, such as recognizing when we should…

…Throw in the Trowel

Sometimes we think we did everything right but didn’t take into account certain factors. This could be as simple as planting a shrub that demands well-drained soil in a site that is overly moist. No matter how much we want that shrub to succeed, it just isn’t going to work. That’s when it’s time to abandon the original plant and try something different. Educate yourself, and you’ll make fewer mistakes. 

Read a Good (Classic) Gardening Book

Techniques have improved a lot during the past 200 years, yet there is still garden wisdom to be derived from the great horticulturists of an earlier time, one of whom was American president Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson experimented with flowers and vegetables on his Virginia estate and kept meticulous notes about his successes and failures. His Farm Book and Garden Book are still in print, and make for a fascinating read. 

Along the same lines, British horticulturist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932) gained renown for her creative plantings and inspirational use of color in the garden. She has written several books that are as enlightening today as they were when she tended her own beautiful garden. I highly recommend “The Gardener’s Essential” and “Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden.”

It is only fitting that in recommending resolutions, I quote Ms. Jekyll, whose advice we all should take to heart:

“…it seems to me that the duty we owe to our gardens is so to use the plants that they shall form beautiful pictures; and that, while delighting our eyes, they should always be training those eyes to a more exalted criticism; to a state of mind and artistic conscience that will not tolerate bad or careless combination or any sort of misuse of plants, but in which it becomes a point of honour to be always striving for the best.”

Her words are as applicable today as they were in the early 20th Century. Happy New Year!

Susan Tito
Susan Tito

Susan Tito is a freelance writer and proprietor of Summerland Garden Design & Consulting (summerlandgardendesign.com). She earned a certificate in ornamental garden design from the New York Botanical Garden and is a member of the American Horticultural Society and Garden Communicators International. She can be reached at stito630@gmail.com.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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