Book Giveaway! The Right-Size Flower Garden: Design Solutions for (almost) Auto-Pilot Gardens

– Posted in: Design

We’re busy, we’re aging, but we love gardening! Are you swamped with a job and family; or an over-50 gardener that doesn’t move at the same pace; or a city dweller with a passion for plants but little space to work with?

Kerry Ann Mendez

This isn’t as much fun anymore

I bet you fall into one of the above scenarios.  I fit two of the three.  Everyone loves flowers, but who can tend a garden that demands too much time and energy to keep looking beautiful? And how does one incorporate environmentally responsible gardening in this out-of-control picture?

I had always thought of myself as a low-maintenance gardener. My first two books focused on tough-love plants and practices. I was doing fine until August 27, 2011, when my husband had an accident and broke his neck. By God’s grace, he was not paralyzed, but his ability to help me with the gardens and lawn was dramatically impacted. He had to retire and I needed to get a full time job with benefits for the family, while also trying to run my gardening business. That abrupt bump in the garden path forced me to take a whole new look at what I considered to be low-maintenance landscapes.

Below are some of the steps I took to regain my sanity, cut maintenance time by 50%, and renew my passion for gardening.  Many more, including time-saving design solutions and exceptional plants are in my new book, The Right-Size Flower Garden: Simplify Your Outdoor Space with Smart Design Solutions and Plant Choices (St. Lynn’s Press, February 2015) (above).

First, repeat after me:  Plants are not your children or pets.

Black labs in garden

Plants are not your pets

You can ditch those that are too much trouble or never performed well in the garden.  Many of you reading this are women.  We tend to be nurturers and caretakers.  And that’s good, but we need to draw the line on needy plants!  No more making excuses for troublemakers that cause frowns – this only creates more wrinkles.  Grab the shovel, pop ‘em out, give ‘em to friends or the compost pile, and celebrate one less hassle to deal with.

Replace mixed perennial beds with flowering shrubs.

Fothergilla gardenii

Bottlebrush (Fothergilla gardenii) Photo (c) Bailey Nurseries

For years I’ve been a perennial collector.  I loved creating gardens massed with tried and true beauties as well as funky, unusual, eye-brow raising specimens.  Unfortunately the reality is that most perennials are more demanding than shrubs.  Perennials typically need more water, fertilizer and routine maintenance.   A single shrub that struts gorgeous flowers and flattering leaves, with little preening on my part, wins the beauty pageant! Plus one shrub can efficiently hold court in a space that would require numerous perennials.  I had a head thumping, “I could have had a V-8” moment and started replacing sweeps of perennials with flowering shrubs.  Oh what a relief it was!

Bloomerang lilac

‘Bloomerang’ lilac. Photo (c) Proven Winners

A few of my favorite spring blooming picks include Fothergilla (Bottlebrush); Azalea ‘Northern Hi-Lights’, Syringa ‘Bloomerang’ (a repeat blooming lilac), Cornus ‘Golden Shadows’ and Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’.

Little Quickfire hydrangea

Little Quickfire hydrangea Photo (c)Proven Winners

Summer champions include almost any hydrangea in the paniculata or arborescens groups.  If my arm was twisted for specific cultivars I would name p. ‘Quickfire’, p. ‘Little Quickfire’, p. ‘Limelight’, p. ‘Bobo’, p. ‘Tardiva’ as well as a. ‘Incrediball’ and a. ‘Annabelle’.

'Incrediball' hydrangea

‘Incrediball’ hydrangea Photo (c) Proven Winners

Before I mention a few other summer blooming sensations, I want to point out that leaving out bigleaf (mophead) hydrangeas was not a typo or a senior moment.  I am fed up with their blooming inconsistency in colder climate regions, plus they’re water hogs, (wilting in afternoon heat) and I’m into water conservation and saving money on my water bills.  Sayonara! [Editor’s note: Me, too!]

Lo & Behold Blue Chip buddleia

Lo & Behold Blue Chip buddleia (c)Proven Winners

'Sugar Tip' rose of Sharon

‘Sugar Tip’ rose of Sharon Photo (c) Proven Winners

A few other charming picks to grace the summer landscape include Buddleia ‘Lo & Behold Blue Chip’ (a sterile, low-growing butterfly blush that starts blooming earlier in the summer), Clethra (Summersweet), Physocarpus (Ninebark, early summer flowers followed by berries), Knockout Roses (especially the double red ones); Rose of Sharon ‘Sugar Tip’ (variegated leaves and soft pink flowers that don’t seed); and selected spirea such as ‘Double Play Red’ and ‘Double Play Gold’.





lespedeza bush clover

Bush clover Photo (c)Bluestone Perennials

And for the fall finale, flowering superstars are Lespedeza (Bushclover), Caryopteris (Blue Mist Shrub), and Heptacodium miconioides, commonly called seven-son flower.  Seven-son flower can grow into tree-like proportions (15’-20’) but can be pruned hard to maintain a more compact plant.  Others valued for their showy fall berries: Symphoricarpos (Snowberry), Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Viburnum nudum ‘Pink Beauty’, and evergreen and deciduous hollies.




Foliage rules.

'Electra' coral bell Photo

‘Electra’ coral bell Photo (c)Terra Nova nurseries

It’s all about the leaves.  Flowers are the icing on the cake.  Nothing contributes longer color than foliage.  Leaves come in so many colors, shapes, sizes and textures.  The combinations are endless.  And when you toss in contributions from stems and bark, you’ve got a psychedelic feast on your hands.  In an interview with Garden Gate magazine, I was asked how I was able to get so much brilliance from a small garden.  Easy peasy…leavesies.   They asked if I had a ratio for plants used primarily for their foliage impact versus flowers.  I hadn’t thought about it before.  My answer: almost two out of every three plants used had captivating leaves, in addition to their flowers.  Some outstanding perennials for eye-popping foliage include Heucherella (foamy bells), Heuchera (coral bells), Brunnera (Siberian bugloss), Hakonechloa (hakone grass), Sedum and of course, Hosta.

'Brass Lantern' heucherella

‘Brass Lantern’ heucherella

Focus please!

Another right-sizing strategy was actually the result of a garden design correction.  A landscape designer was strolling the property and commented “You have created an astonishing riot of color from plants but my eyes need a rest.  Build in some inanimate focal points that provide a break from plants and allow my eyes to take in a different medium.”   My translation?  More beauty, less plants, less work!  I’m all over it!  I dug out plants and put in decorative urns, water fountains, birdbaths, metal sculptures and other knick knacks.  I love recycling and repurposing objects.  I tried to sneak in a pink flamingo but my husband put his foot down.

statue with heart

Add objects of beauty and personal meaning to complement your plants.

If this post has hit a nerve, and you feel like I used to–that gardening isn’t as much fun anymore–then start now to right-size your gardens.  Remember, plants are not children or pets; you can get rid of some.  Move at your own pace, but move.  Remember, the turtle won the race!

Book giveaway! One lucky commenter will receive an autographed copy of Kerry’s latest book. Comment below, making sure to include a valid email address. Winner will be chosen randomly using the random number generator. You must be 18 years old or older and a resident of the U.S. Giveaway ends Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 11:59pm Pacific Time. We have a winner! Suzanne’s comment was chosen by the random number generator. Congratulations, Suzanne!

About the Author

Kerry Ann Mendez is an award-winning speaker, garden designer and author. Kerry Ann was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal award from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for “Exceptional teaching and writing that increases public enjoyment and appreciation of horticulture.” She has authored three top selling gardening books, was featured on HGTV and regional television shows, and speaks to gardeners across the United States. In 2015 and 2016 she gave more than 200 lectures in 17 states to over 20,000 gardeners. Her most recent book, The Right-Size Flower Garden, was released in 2015. For more about Kerry Ann, visit Perennially Yours, her website.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Ann February 13, 2015, 11:30 pm

I could certainly use this book. Over 50 and recently downsized to condo living.

LaJuana Dunn February 13, 2015, 9:17 pm

Love what I’ve read so far! Look forward to reading your book…it’s right up my alley!

Solducky February 13, 2015, 9:13 pm

Plants are not pets – a different take than usual! Good article.

Diane J Wulf February 13, 2015, 8:30 pm

Oooooh…harsh – “rip out the undeserving”. I recently lost my garden when I had to give up my house to deal with a cancer issue. My window box gardens have been a life saver and I’m looking forward to moving on to a new garden soon!

Patsy Bell Hobson February 13, 2015, 8:10 pm

What could be better that a autographed copy?

cathy February 13, 2015, 8:02 pm

sounds wonderful for an old gardener like me . my favs in life is gardening and reading about it . congrats on the book and keep gardening and writing

Sue Turner February 13, 2015, 4:54 pm

Congratulations on the release of The Right Size Flower Garden. With the winter we’ve had in New England, your book is a nice reminder that spring and gardening is right around the corner!

Rose Santuci-Sofranko February 13, 2015, 12:55 pm

Oh, thank you so much for the chance to win this beautiful book! God bless!

Diana Barnes February 13, 2015, 12:17 pm

glad you didn’t give up gardening!

Jennie Brooks February 13, 2015, 11:33 am

thanks for the low maintenance advice. i recently found myself realizing i may not be able to do as much gardening this year bc of other life demands. i had already researched drought tolerant veggies but hadn’t looked into flowering shrubs. thanks so much.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern February 13, 2015, 11:26 am

Right on sister! Love the advice in this book. I have been shrub crazy and have quite a few of these mentioned – Cornus Golden Shadows – ooh aah. I am in love with Heucheras, too. So easy, so pretty but I don’t think very deer resistant, not that I have to worry in my home garden. I think I have to read through this entire book for more great advice! Thank you.

Leona February 13, 2015, 11:15 am

Great ideas and a great idea for a book! Too bad Canadians can’t enter but I’ll keep an eye out for your book.

Kathy Purdy February 13, 2015, 12:12 pm

Sorry about that. The shipping charges can be more than the price of the book!

Erica Grivas February 13, 2015, 10:02 am

Great post – totally agree foliage and multiseason shrubs rule! Please count me in on the giveaway.

Cathy February 13, 2015, 1:26 am

I’m over 18 (way over) and a US resident, and have perennial plants originally from Chapman Street in my garden – Kerry’s former home – and I’d like to have her book in my collection also…

Ana Alen February 12, 2015, 11:26 pm

I enjoy funky garden art and knick knacks in my garden, but flamingos of any color is where I, too, draw the line.
Your moss covered garden statue is just so beautiful and calming, what a great gardeners companion!

Marie Hoffman February 12, 2015, 10:18 pm

Love the idea that plants are not our pets! I try, replant and try again, and just need to learn to let some of them go!

Ferne February 12, 2015, 9:56 pm

I am fitting into one of those categories all too well and hoping your book will give me some great ideas. Gardening on 3 acres while working full time is getting to be a little much for me, though I do enjoy it and working at a nursery puts a lot of eye candy in my reach daily!

Mary E Cafarelli February 12, 2015, 7:44 pm

As a “senior” gardener, I look forward to learning more about how to pare down my garden. I don’t want to give it up! It’s my peace, my beauty, my connection.

Alana February 12, 2015, 7:01 pm

I suffer from: a bad back, being 62, and working full time. Oh yes, and having mostly shady, and small, yard. Still, we persevere. I would find it difficult to get rid of any plant-they are living things, and my children. I am too soft hearted!

mary nahas February 12, 2015, 6:50 pm

Looking forward to your program at the Clematis Garden Club in April, but am disappointed the symposium in Manchester is not happening this year. I hope you will have it next year..

Renee February 12, 2015, 5:27 pm

agreed! I do use bulbs among the shrubs, though, for an early display of color — daffodils (in lots of sizes, colors and bloom times), Scilla, crocus, muscari. They don’t need much care beyond planting.

Sheryle G February 12, 2015, 4:22 pm

Love all the info. Now I will have to try a couple of these in my garden. But so hard to choose.

Judy Goodell February 12, 2015, 3:04 pm

I have looked forward to reading your third book ever since you announced you were working on it a year ago! I learned so many plant ideas from your other books, I am eager to hear about your shrub recommendations to make gardening easier and less care.

Carol February 12, 2015, 1:04 pm

I couldn’t agree more!!! I love perennials, but they are a lot of work. Thank goodness I have a small yard.

Carol Eichler February 12, 2015, 12:08 pm

Your comments are right on! I’ve started making the transition to shrubs myself (that said, I’m building 2 new gardens this year!) – maybe for different reasons. I’m retired so time isn’t the issue, I just don’t want to feel like my gardens own me. This winter I’ve found myself thinking a lot about how to garden less – rather than lusting after new perennials. But then…I’m finding a renewed interest in vegetable gardening. I think I’m hopeless!

Terri H February 12, 2015, 11:58 am

Thanks for the chance to win the book! I have found that I don’t want to spend as much physically hard work in my garden as I’ve aged.

Cheryl McFarland February 12, 2015, 11:55 am

I’m over 50 work full time and we are empty nesters doing the work all ourselves. I am all for the flowering shrubs and fruit bearing shrubs over the annuals and perennials. Plus we are a corner city lot and the shrubs give us the privacy and curb appeal. Definitly will have to prchase the book if I don’t win! Thanks for sharing. And the plant photos are beautiful.

Sheila February 12, 2015, 11:44 am

Much food for thought, and things to ponder on this frigid day. Thanks for all the tips! PS–Would love to win your book!

Martha Franks February 12, 2015, 11:25 am

Sounds like my kind of book. Pic of dirty you reminds me of me a few years ago. My garden is helped by my grandsons now and most of what I do is in big pots on the deck!

michaele anderson February 12, 2015, 11:22 am

Wonderful subject matter and you were generous to share as much as you did in this post.

Kathy Tyndall February 12, 2015, 11:06 am

Love the title and content of this book. If I don’t win it, I am going to buy it. It is calling my name!

Bonnie Houy February 12, 2015, 10:50 am

Because my hectic schedule over the last few years my garden has fallen into a state of neglect. This summer everything needs to be redone so I’ll need all the suggestions and help you can provide!

Valerie Lord February 12, 2015, 10:34 am

The subject of each of your books is always perfectly timed!! I’m turning 60 this year and looking to lessen the tasks in the garden. It’s small and shady, so I’m definitely going with Team Foliage!!

Kate February 12, 2015, 10:19 am

We are moving in the same direction, toward making things less labor-intensive. I grow many of the shrubs you mentioned, and love foliage plants. I mulch with shredded fall leaves like mad, so that I don’t have to weed in the warm months.

Maureen February 12, 2015, 10:17 am

Beautiful choices.

Anonymouse February 12, 2015, 10:14 am

I’m totally with you on the “shrubs instead of perennials” idea. I just bought a very large property that has way too much lawn and the only way I’m ever going to be able to get rid of some lawn and keep everything looking good is with lots of lots of shrubs!

Lynn February 12, 2015, 9:47 am

just I time as I took down a 70 foot Norway maple and redoing my garden now with lotsa sun!

Kathy Bouchard February 12, 2015, 9:38 am

Wonderful photos and suggestions for plants and inanimate focal points. I am planning to pull out and redo a border garden along a fence and I am also creating some new beds in a new area. I will take your tips to heart! Thank you.

John Manley February 12, 2015, 9:33 am

So happy with seeing what’s is in the new book! With this incredible winter weather, can’t wait for the spring and to implement some of these ideas!! Thanks, Kerry!

Lita Sollisch February 12, 2015, 9:31 am

The years are gaining on me fast. Your way sounds intriguing. I’ll have a go at it this Spring.


Deirdre Barnett February 12, 2015, 8:58 am

I love your book ‘The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top 10 Lists” and can’t wait to read this new book! Great advice for every gardener.

Suzanne February 12, 2015, 8:36 am

It’s always challenging to down-size one’s gardens…this looks like a great book to assist with the tough decisions!

paula-marie February 12, 2015, 8:27 am

I love perennials in my garden and have been slowly transferring my plants. Definitely not as labor intensive as annuals. I have been doing some reading on permaculture and how I can add edible perennials to my garden. I live in a mini home park and unfortunately there are a lot of rules on what you can and can’t do . I want to set up “guilds that are eye appealing and will not attract too much attention from by landlords. I believe if a guild is designed properly they are of it work???

Donna@Gardens Eye View February 12, 2015, 7:59 am

This book is very timely as I have just retired and am reworking many of my garden beds. I like many of the ideas and choices of plants mentioned and will incorporate them along with getting this book…..if I don’t win it of course!

Roberta Nunn February 12, 2015, 7:38 am

Great list of shrubs. I have a shrub border in a hard to mow area and love how low maintenance it is. I am looking forward to more ideas from your book.

Wendy Divito February 12, 2015, 7:31 am

A few years back I began having back problems. Didn’t stop me from gardening but slowed me down enough that over time every garden got out of hand. Live all your ideas. My favorite plant is azalea ‘cherry lights ‘ from the hi lights series, over 6 feet tall.

Mary Myers February 12, 2015, 7:22 am

need this philosophy for sure, and appreciate your shrub recommendations!

Kimberly February 12, 2015, 6:12 am

We planted Heucherella for the first time last year and I’m really enjoying them. Wonderful suggestions.

Joanne Toft February 11, 2015, 10:37 pm

I love the use of shrubs and large left plants. I was looking at the back hill in my yard and the flower shrubs would be perfect. Thanks – will have to check out your book for more ideas.

Deborah Banks February 11, 2015, 10:24 pm

Great list of tough and beautiful shrubs! A few you mentioned are not dependable here in z4, like Daphne Carol Mackie. I love your point that plants are not pets and to rip out the undeserving. Hard to do, but great point.