Every garden, no matter how fantastic, will eventually need editing.
Gardens are in a constant state of change, which is part of their charm but can frustrate their caretakers at times. Editing is a process of evaluating how your yard looks as a whole and how each of the elements fits within the whole. In other words, taking out the ugly stuff and controlling the overly enthusiastic.
Late fall is an ideal time to contemplate the “bones” of the garden. And, no, this is not in reference to bodies being buried in the backyard. Bones are the structure or architecture of the garden.
It is easier to make decisions about the larger or more prominent aspects of a landscape when your eyes are not being distracted by a mass of purple petunias. Notice the scale of the area in relation to the house and to the hardscape. Occasionally concrete, gravel and pavers will dominant the garden at the expense of plants. This is like setting a beautiful dinner table and then serving a snack. A light snowfall will emphasis outlines and shapes, giving you a perspective on the design of your garden that you just can’t get in July. Think of how snow changes the Idaho desert: Sagebrush becomes a solid form instead of just a color variation.
Removal of shrubs, trees and perennials is often the best option when plants have become overgrown or past their prime. Just because those old junipers are still alive doesn’t mean they should be. There is something therapeutic about pulling out a misplaced or misshapen old shrub — just as it feels good to finally throw away that ugly jacket you paid too much for and so felt obligated to keep.
Removal is not the only tool in the box when revitalizing your garden. Changing its location can give new purpose to a plant that otherwise might end up on the compost heap. Perhaps what was pathetic in the shade will be spectacular in the sun. Moving a plant around, sometimes more than once, is a time-honored tradition among gardeners.
Some plants can be like some people: You love them, but they tend to draw too much attention to themselves. What you need to do under these circumstances is cut them down to size (plants, not people). Reducing the size of a plant by pruning or dividing, when done correctly, will improve the health of the plant and help it to play well with others (still talking about plants). Groundcovers are a case in point. Their ability to cover large areas quickly can also make them a nuisance over time. Using a shovel or just pulling out handfuls will help to reduce their territory.
It might hurt a little to remove or reduce some longtime residents in your garden, but this is the time of year to practice tough love.
After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at email@example.com.