Spaces and Spacing

by Betty Harris

Observation is vital to successful gardening because it shows you what works and what doesn’t and gives you ideas on what to try and what to try again.

My daughter in law asked what was wrong with her potatoes and when you should plant them and how long it takes for them to mature. Based on where she lives in Texas I didn’t know when the right time to plant was and suggested she look online for information for her area. She starts gardening in February and said she has gotten two crops on some vegetables already. When she asked about harvesting potatoes I asked if hers had bloomed yet and she said yes but they dropped the blossoms. So she had noticed this but thought that they should form seeds and retain them. Then she mentioned that the plants look a bit yellow and like they might be dying. So I told her it is time to dig around the based and look for potatoes. I didn’t say anything about the blossoms because as you may have noticed few people allow you to finish a sentence if you pause for a nanosecond to finish forming a response.

But we were talking about spaces and spacing, right? Drive around town and observe other people’s gardens and lawns. You will notice many places where plants look kind of sparse and widely spaced apart. Newly planted gardens often have this look if there are young plants that will quickly or slowly fill the space. You may also notice that some yards look overgrown, especially if there are trees with lots of undergrowth which is what nature does when we don’t interfere.

Around town you will see many ash trees and if you stop for a nanosecond you’ll also see that some of them are covered with seed pods. Anyone living within a block of these trees will spend next summer pulling up little ash seedlings from their lawns and flower beds. Those that do not pull them up because they don’t recognize what they are or are not physically able to bend and pull will find in a few years masses of undergrowth or overgrowth of seedlings and saplings in their yards and gardens. Watching this happen gives you some kind of understanding of how nature replaces growth that humans insist on preventing. When all this happens all the spaces between what you plant in your garden is taken up by seedlings and small trees if you don’t prevent it.

Depending on the stage of your garden and landscape plans and what seeds are allowed to sprout and grow you may have wide spacing between landscape plants and flower areas. Some people like to have wide spaces between garden plants. My personal take on this is that one needs some area to work around landscape plants or flowers at various times of the year but maybe not as much as one might think. In early spring when the tulips bloom there is lots of space around them. As other perennials come up which have died back in the winter they take over the area where the tulips have finished. I’m of the opinion that one needs enough room to work around plants to pull bind weed mostly or dig up perennials that have gone to seed and give these to friends or make new friends by giving them away.

But I don’t think we need to leave large walkways between landscape plants unless we plan to give garden tours where people will be traipsing through the landscape examining all the foliage. Denser planting like nature does, with some control for personal taste reduces erosion, keeps the environment cooler by shading the soil, beautifies the area and can provide food for humans and animals.

A Master Gardener friend in our town has replaced her lawn with landscaping that is mostly edible and the area around all these plants is covered with some form of ground cover such as various forms of thyme with different blooming times. So while there are larger spaces between her currant bushes so she can harvest the fruit the ground is covered with plants to keep it from drying out or eroding. It is also beautiful all year round because the thyme stays green in winter and does its job of holding the soil without any time off. Also it seems the thyme doesn’t mind being walked on for that short time that berry harvesting takes place.

I’m not a Master Gardener, I learn by observation and experimenting since plants and flowers are different here from where I grew up. When I bought this house my friends came over and brought me plants saying, “Here, you don’t have one of these.” Being gracious and thankful I accepted, not knowing what they were particularly. We were busy renovating the house and I was digging out the invasive plants where the new deck was going to be built so I cut a hole in the barrier cloth out front under the boring bark mulch and dug a hole and put the gift in the ground and watered them and waited to see what they were. If they turned out to be very tall plants and I had put them too close to the sidewalk I had to move them the next year. Over time my garden looks like nature’s play ground with few spaces between the plants and is a riot of color all summer. I don’t feel the need for lots of spaces between plants and prefer to have all soil covered with plants or mulch to keep the moisture in and the soil from eroding. Wide spaces in lawns are only needed if you insist on mowing, fertilizing, watering, mowing, fertilizing, watering all summer.

So depending on your own situation and personal tastes space plants for their benefit and your own and plan some spaces to sit and enjoy it all summer too.

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