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Get to know your plants and save time with the Know Maintenance approach

by Timber Press on April 2, 2014

in Design, Gardening

The dynamics sparked by modestly reseeding volunteers can create some of the nicest combinations. This Echinacea purpurea seeded into the plant community from another area, actually adding value to the composition and illustrating that sometimes your best contribution to the garden is to let your plants have some immunity from the hoe.

The dynamics sparked by modestly reseeding volunteers can create some of the nicest combinations. This Echinacea purpurea seeded into the plant community from another area, actually adding value to the composition and illustrating that sometimes your best contribution to the garden is to let your plants have some immunity from the hoe.

Roy Diblik wants you to get to know your plants. Understanding how plants grow and interact with each other in nature, he tells us, is key to creating self-sustaining communities, decreasing time spent on maintenance and allowing gardeners more time to use and enjoy the garden space. Roy calls this the “Know Maintenance” approach. It begins with perennials but is easily adapted to include your favorite annuals, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, trees, and containers.

It’s also an antidote to traditional gardening practices designed for specific kinds of plants and site conditions. “These well-defined cultural practices,” says Roy, “have been homogenized into common tasks that are now applied indiscriminately to all types of plants and landscapes.” The same techniques are applied to agricultural crops, commercial landscapes, and home gardens. Because of this, gardening has become “overwhelming to both the plants and the gardener.”

Read on to find out more about Know Maintenance and how it can save you time in the garden.

This “no cutting the corner” garden space serves a useful purpose and is a pleasant addition to the site, but it is not exactly knitted to it. The plants live confused with their role and relationship to each other.

This “no cutting the corner” garden space serves a useful purpose and is a pleasant addition to the site, but it is not exactly knitted to it. The plants live confused with their role and relationship to each other.

Imbalance in the garden develops when we don’t understand how individual plants live and flourish and how they relate to other plants. By coming to know our plants, we interact with natural elements. We become aware of our evolving relationships with other living things. We understand the custom nurturing necessary for the plant communities we have developed. In the end, the time we spend gardening becomes manageable, and both we and our gardens will develop, in the best sense, each time we enter them.

We must abandon the tradition that one method of gardening fits all plantings. We must be more creative with our thinking, our approach, and our participation. And we need to establish new gardening traditions, modeled after the knowledge, awareness, spirit, and joy we bring to each day.

Here are a few common actions or stances that are detrimental to healthy perennial plantings or that inhibit the plant’s full potential:

  • Rototilling every new planting space, regardless of site conditions.
  • Incorporating large amounts of manure and compost into every new planting space, without regard to plant selections (and preferences) and existing soil conditions.
  • Placing plants so far apart, they barely touch each other as they mature.
  • Applying 2 to 4 inches of wood-chip mulch annually, without considering the product’s source and its effect on perennials.
  • Deadheading immediately after bloom simply because that’s what’s “done.”
  • Staking, caging, or tying up any perennial that begins to lean.
  • Cutting back everything and removing all plant debris at the end of the growing season.
  • Watering too often and too much, or too little.
  • Using too much fertilizer and pre-emergent herbicides.
  • Planting only the newest selections, believing they must be superior.
  • Trusting that the newest market products will save time and effort.
  • Fearing all insects.
  • Following tradition blindly.
The lawn appears to be forcing the plants against the house. This tension creates more work; a lot of pruning and edging is needed to keep each planting group from infringing on the other.

The lawn appears to be forcing the plants against the house. This tension creates more work; a lot of pruning and edging is needed to keep each planting group from infringing on the other.

The Know Maintenance approach isn’t just a set of rules; it’s also a philosophy, a way of looking at the world and at ourselves. The following beliefs are at its core; they reflect the wholeness of your garden and your continuous relationship with it:

  • Beauty is in everything, everywhere, and always re-created. Sunrises, rainy evenings, grandchildren, dogs, a nice dinner, a walk, family, friends. That’s how we live.
  • Art is a habit we should never break. Painting the house, taking pictures on our travels, cooking meals, choosing a new sofa—all tap the creative part of us.
  • Community awakens us to our place. It’s our culture, where and how we live and relate to all our neighbors and friends. It’s the wonderful diversity of our lives.
  • Ecology is being aware that we coexist, living lovingly with others. It’s where we are—the sky, this moment, every leaf you’ll ever see—and it’s also places we cannot see: distant woods, snowy mountaintops, wide oceans, a village in Italy, a small park in Sweden.
  • Health is what keeps each of us living in the present and looking forward to tomorrow. We all try to make intelligent choices that will keep us well, physically and mentally. That same impulse should bring us into the garden, where we can savor the joy of simply being outside.
Here's your Monet moment: 80% Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland' and 20% S. xsylvestris 'Blauhugel' creates a beautiful Impressionistic color composition. The different percentages within the community create the tonal changes of color.

Here’s your Monet moment: 80% Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ and 20% S. xsylvestris ‘Blauhugel’ creates a beautiful Impressionistic color composition. The different percentages within the community create the tonal changes of color. Photo: Brent Horvath

The Know Maintenance approach is based on a single premise: we must have the capability to maintain what we plant. This requires that we know our plants intimately. But it also requires time, and we all lead busy lives. We need to figure out how much time we can give to the garden, and when during the day, week, or month we can give it. Here’s how and why the approach works:

  • The suggested 140-square-foot garden plans can be treated as building blocks or modules.
  • Only durable, selected plants that can be expected to thrive throughout a wide region of North America are featured.
  • The key plants are arranged in tested combinations that will enable them to live well collectively with minimal input.
  • Once you have lived with and cared for them for a few years, you can make changes—not because you have to, but because you want to.
  • As you come to know how each plant lives and grows, you will gain insight into how they might fit into your garden.

In each garden the plants are contributing to their own health and well-being. It all comes down to relationships and partnerships! So, start small. Be patient, be understanding, be thoughtful, creative, and caring. Sort out what makes sense for you. It’s all a shared, step-by-step exercise. Now, let’s get going—140 square feet at a time.

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Diblik-author-photo_Samantha-Carlson-THUMBNAILNoted plantsman and designer Roy Diblik has spent more than 30 years studying, growing, and enjoying plants. He is best known as the plantsman behind Piet Oudolf’s midwestern garden designs, including the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago. He is a sought-after speaker and regularly addresses audiences across the country.

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“A stunning guide to creating nature inspired gardens. Diblik, who supplied many of the plants for the award-winning Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago, offers up detailed information about 74 sturdy and appealing perennials in a photo-rich reference.”—Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune

 

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