Many people dream of having acreage in the country that they can turn into their botanical gardens, but the adage “be careful what you wish for” applies here. Large gardens can turn into unkempt jungles in the space of two growing seasons, leaving the caretaker in need of a stiff drink and a masseuse. Learn how to break down the care of a large flower garden into manageable tasks.
Plant Flowering Trees and Shrubs
Trees and shrubs form the backbone of the large garden. After buildings and hardscaping, you should focus your efforts and budget on planting your garden’s foundation. Trees and shrubs require less maintenance than annuals and perennials, and the space they take up will make your garden look more substantial than it would with flowerbed after flowerbed. Plant the slowest growing specimens, such as a white fringe tree, American flowering dogwood tree, hawthorn tree, daphne, gardenias, and peonies first, and you’ll be patting yourself on the back after five years as you view these mature beauties that anchor your garden. As a low-maintenance bonus, slower-growing shrubs and trees require less pruning than fast maturing types.
Plant High Performers
When your landscape measures an acre or more, typical flower gardening chores such as pruning and fertilizing can become overwhelming. And forget about insect and disease control, unless you relish the idea of prowling your grounds every week with a giant backpack sprayer. A reasonable approach to nipping maintenance chores in the bud is to choose flowers that thrive without the constant presence of the gardener’s shadow. That doesn’t mean that dahlias and delphiniums are off the menu; you can plant these needy beauties close to the house where they’re more likely to receive attention.
For an easy succession of blooms, you could start with mass plantings of daffodils, which will naturalize and spread over the years. Include hardy summer favorites such as coneflowers, daylilies, yarrow, coreopsis, and blanket flower. Finish up the gardening season with the fall blooms of sedum, black-eyed Susan, and asters. The garden in this photo features rose 'Super Excelsa,' daylily 'Jack Russell,' and euphorbia. Plant the flowers close together and in large drifts of 12 or more for maximum impact.
Consider a Wildflower Meadow
Sometimes, a compromise between a manicured flowerbed and a swath of lawn is necessary. A wildflower meadow will attract bees and butterflies, give you armloads of native flowers for the vase, and require less upkeep than either a conventional flowerbed or a lawn would. Planting a wildflower meadow does require more thought than randomly sprinkling some flower seeds across a stretch of land; at the least, you will need to prepare the soil by tilling, achieve even distribution using a seed spreader, compress the seeds into the soil, and irrigate until the seedlings are about six inches tall.
Ideally, your flowers would be drought-tolerant enough to thrive without supplemental watering, but most ornamental plants will need an occasional drink in summer’s hottest months. Setting up a drip irrigation system will deliver water right where it’s needed: at the root zones of your plants. Soaker hoses also save water in large landscapes. If you have the occasional thirsty specimen planted throughout your flowerbeds, install a rain barrel nearby. This will give you a water supply for hand watering with watering cans when needed.
If you’ve been accustomed to buying bagged mulch in the past, get to know your suppliers that provide it by the truckload. Depending on the plants, you should keep at least 1 to 3 inches of mulch around, but not touching, your plants. This improves the appearance of your gardens, enriches the soil, keeps roots cool, conserves watering, and suppresses weeds. In large country gardens, money is wasted on fancy dyed mulch. Contact your local utility company, and you may find that they provide free or low-cost wood chips from tree trimming, which makes fine mulch.
Coexist With Wildlife
Wildlife is a double-edged sword in the large garden. Everything from deer to rabbits to skunks come to visit, dig, and consume ornamental plants. On the other hand, wildlife is meant to be viewed and enjoyed, and the wildlife you wish to attract, such as birds and butterflies, is part of the chain of life that includes animals that exhibit nuisance behaviors.
As a rule, plants that are safe to consume by humans are also relished by deer and rabbits. This includes roses, hostas, tulips, pansies, and daylilies. Keep these plants in your fenced areas, if you have them. Flowers that deer avoid are often those that are poisonous or have odoriferous foliage, including foxgloves, poppies, marigold, yarrow, bugbane, lavender, and soapwort.