How To Grow A Garden (Or, Something Other Than Weeds)

Tips from local landscapers on how to make your summer greener.

For those of us who were not blessed with a green thumb, but still enjoy getting our hands dirty (and showing off the results), summer is a great time to perfect easy gardening strategies. Go for container gardens, advises Mount Kisco-based landscape designer Jan Johnsen. “Plant a large pot of heat-loving succulents and make it a centerpiece in a garden bed,” she says. “Or, buy some great colored coleus and plant them into any pot for an added punch of color. The foliage color stands out all summer and into November.”

Jan Axel of Delphinium Design in South Salem also endorses container gardening—particularly with annuals, dwarf vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, and herbs such as basil and oregano. “It’s fun to have a little vignette in a pot,” she says, “and if you’ve never planted before, this is a good way to learn garden maintenance.” 

For annual flowers, be sure to use as many as you can fit. “Stuff them in there—then the pot will get
really full and people think you are brilliant,” Axel quips. For sunny areas, Axel recommends easy-to-grow specimens like verbena and petunia (pick similar colors like pale blue and dark blue for a sophisticated look); for shady spots, she likes torenias combined with little ferns; unusual begonias; sweet potato vine; salvia; and fuschia plants. Window boxes, too, are an easy way to break into summer gardening, she adds. Follow the same approach as with containers. 

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For newbies, shopping for plants can be
intimidating. Local landscape architect Paul Keyes recommends sizing down: “Ask the sales person where they keep the small pots. You’ll likely find rare and unusual varieties at a deep discount and they are easier to transport and plant—and in a few years will reward you with lots of flowers and foliage.” He also favors farmers markets and nurseries over big box stores. “Small, family run places are great resources for finding interesting plants and getting advice,” he says. Keyes also recommends local farms like Hilltop Hanover Farm, Muscoot Farm, and Mobius Fields as great resources for learning more about gardening.

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