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.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Bonnie February 19, 2015, 4:40 pm

We are SO excited to have Kerry speak to our garden club about “right sizing” our gardens. Wish I’d right-sized years & many thousands of dollars ago!

Cody Taylor February 18, 2015, 6:28 pm

i really enjoyed this post and though I’m still young I can relate to this through my parents who are both almost 70 and still trying to do the work of people half their age resulting in exhaustion and unfinished projects.

Jeannie Carney February 18, 2015, 6:16 pm

Thanks for your practical tips, based on your own experience. Looks like a book I need!

cathy kemp February 18, 2015, 1:00 pm

you have so many great ideas and im glad its focused for we that get around or no time

Dee Fedor February 18, 2015, 12:54 pm

I too am over 50. I still want lots of blooms, but not so much energy! Love the pictures and ideas!

Daffodil Planter February 18, 2015, 12:36 pm

I like these ideas! Echo that Bush clover is a super late summer addition.

Karen Frantz February 18, 2015, 10:42 am

It is like you see into my home!!! With health difficulties and 22 grands……. I need to rethink gardening!! This looks like the answer!! I may just have to go buy the book!!

Joanne Watts February 16, 2015, 11:20 am

Looks like a great book..

louise Hartwig February 16, 2015, 7:33 am

I still love my garden but realize the time has come to simplify. Birthdays have a way of dictating what we need to do. I have a reputation to live up to so can always learn from another gardener.

Nicki wiederstein February 15, 2015, 11:40 pm

Nice writing an pics. I like your ideas!!

jan February 15, 2015, 9:45 am

I am that older gardener – bad knees, arthritic hands, suffering perennials. I would love this book!

Cathy McEneny February 14, 2015, 9:25 pm

Hot and timely advice as I was just contemplating donating most of my perennials to a plant sale this spring. Too needy at my age!
Love my caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’.

Sandy Wood February 14, 2015, 5:36 pm

Bushes are a good idea.. Do you tell if the deer like them?

Shelia Light February 14, 2015, 2:30 pm

Very good advice. I’m ready for a less demanding garden. The suggested plants are spot on for making a beautiful garden with less demand on “old knees”.

Modern Mia February 14, 2015, 11:58 am

Oh, I love this post. I’ve added a few new plants to my “list of replacement plants” for when we start revamping the garden this spring. With 4 kids under 9, I refuse to give in to “needy” plants.

Sharon Reilly February 14, 2015, 11:55 am

Since moving to Northern, I’ve struggled to maintain a nice garden. The weather and deer have gotten the best of me. I look forward to this book to provide some very NEEDED guidance!

Pat Vasil February 14, 2015, 11:38 am

I need this – spend summers in PA and trying to get a garden going.

debra February 14, 2015, 9:53 am

Shrubs and grasses are the way to go for mass plantings. Best wishes to you and your husband and your garden endeavors.

Renea February 14, 2015, 9:03 am

Wow!! Thank you for the solution!! This will definitely define the space where hubby removed some dead bushes that I’d yet to figure out what to do with it!!
It’s on the side of the house I don’t really have time to tend to daily

Joanne Watts February 14, 2015, 7:21 am

Looks like a great book..Would love to win..

teresa speight February 14, 2015, 12:59 am

Wow…the ideas that you mentioned surely hit home. The flowering shrub is worth its weight in gold!