Henry Homeyer: Preparing for garden guests

By Henry Homeyer
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Summer is the time for spending time in the garden – and for sharing your love of the garden with others. If you want to invite friends – your mother-in-law or perhaps the entire bowling team – to see your garden, here are a few tips.

First, cut the lawn. I know that doesn’t sound like a gardening tip, but your outdoor space looks neater and tidier if the lawn is kempt. I like to cut the lawn on the day of the visit, or the night before. Lawn is the background of the garden, and helps flowers stand out.

Mowing makes everything look better.

And if there are lumps of grass because the lawn was long when you cut it, rake them up. It really only takes a few minutes. You wouldn’t leave towels on the bathroom floor when company was coming, so do the equivalent for your lawn.

If you have as much garden as I do, you can’t make every bed totally weed-free. So here’s what I do: first, I get the tall weeds. Anything taller than the flowers or veggies is going to stand out, and by late summer, tall weeds are present.

Next, get weeds at the front of beds. Try to establish sharp lines for your beds. This can be done with a weeding tool, or even better, with an edging tool. Edging is tedious for me, so I only edge beds at prominent places, such as those in front of the house.

An edging tool is a steel half-moon on a 5-foot handle. You step on it to slice through the lawn, then tip it back, away from the bed. That lifts up a little soil (and weeds, if they are present) and creates a little moat once you lift out the soil that you just loosened with your edger. This moat or trench prevents grass roots from extending into your bed. The weeds sense a precipice, which could be the Grand Canyon, and the roots stop growing in that direction.

An edging tool helps create clean lines.

After weeding there may be some big holes in the flower beds. You have a few options. You could put in a piece of garden art or whimsy, or a pot of annual flowers. Most garden centers and nurseries are sold out of annual flowers by now, so you may have to move something from your deck or steps to the garden.

I’ve been growing impatiens in pots on my deck ever since the scientists told us in 2012 that impatiens was subject to impatiens downy mildew, and we could never grow it again. I fear that warning was a “Chicken Little” warning. I did see impatiens devastated by the fungal disease that summer, but I’ve been growing it without trouble since. I can move a pot or two into a shady place that needs color.

Brightly colored geraniums are wonderful for a punch of color for sunny locations. A friend recently gave me 3 pots of geraniums when she moved, and I love them. I set one in my front walkway garden, right in the pot. It picks up a temporarily tepid bed.

Staking flowers that flop is another tough task, but one that makes a big difference in the garden. Bamboo garden stakes and string help, but for tall heavy plants I end up using hardwood grade stakes. I run green plastic tie-up tape around the perimeter of a big plant to contain it. I put the tape about two-thirds of the way up the plant. It is good to tie up plants a week or more before a garden party, as floppy things need time to look good after straightening up.

A patio weeder is a handy tool to keep it clean.

Mulch is great, and it looks good so long as you don’t have bare oceans of it. There will always be spaces in the flower and vegetable beds, and mulch will fill in and prevent weeds from coming along. For flower beds I buy finely ground hemlock mulch by the pick-up truck load. An inch or two of this will keep many seeds from germinating, though it will not exclude grass shoots coming up from roots that escaped my weeding tool.

If you adhere to organic techniques in the garden, be advised that some bagged mulches have been chemically altered. Look for the words “Color Enhanced” on the bag, and avoid those bags. Who knows what they used to color the mulch, and I have seen some leach color in the rain.

Clean up walkways. Sweep them, and if needed, weed them. I have a 10-foot brick walkway to my front door. The bricks are set in sand, and ambitious weeds try to sneak in. Some gardeners take the easy route, and spray the weeds with herbicide. But then the brown weeds look awful, and they have to pull them anyway.

I don’t use chemicals, so instead of spraying I use a “patio weeder” to get between bricks. It is an L-shaped tool, thin and flat. It’s great for getting between bricks and generally very inexpensive.

Trimming around rocks and posts with a string trimmer really tidies things up. I now have a battery-powered one. It is so much easier to use than a gas-powered one, so I use it more. It’s a nice way to finish off cleaning up a garden. Then it’s just get out the snacks and drinks – which always improve your guests’ opinion of your garden!

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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  1. Marjorie Carey says:

    I use white vinegar on my walkways to get rid of weeds