Fill Gaps in the Garden

When your garden is at or close to its growth pinnacle, enjoy the impressive visuals and reward yourself for a job well done. Also take advantage of the opportunity to identify obvious bare spots that you prefer were filled.

There are a number of different approaches to gardening and I subscribe to many of them. In some areas I strive for simplicity and intentionally grow individual plants, well spaced, to accent there presence; my fruit trees fall into this category as they become focal points in various parts of the landscape. In other beds I hope for a mass effect with an explosion of different colors, textures, shapes, and sizes. In some gardens, particularly new ones like mine, it takes awhile before that goal to be reached.

At the peak of the season before plants begin their decline in fall, take the time to analyze your garden beds to determine if they’re meeting your expectations. Take pictures. View them from all angles. Be critical of your own design. Identify what you like. Make decisions about what you want to change.

I’m using this time to note specific gaps and holes in my beds that need to be filled with new plants. When I first planted my beds last year I had a plan and placed plants accordingly. Not everything grew as expected. Some died during the harsh winter. Some turned out better than anticipated. Overall, I’m pleased with the results, but there is always room for improvement.

In one bed friends helped me plant dozens of daylilies. Only a portion have made it this far, due primarily to poor stock from the online source and poor storage methods before planting, by me. Most of the plants that survived are doing well, but there aren’t as many as I’d like. An analysis of the site shows gaps that I want filled.

Lots of space between daylilies

Originally I intended the bed to be overflowing with daylilies. The bare spaces between plants now offer me other options. I can plant more daylilies to achieve the original plan, or I can mix it up with something different. The bright yellow Heliopsis nearby is doing great; it’s taller than the daylilies but maybe I can plant more of it as a backdrop. The Yarrow at the edge is doing great too; maybe I can add a few of those plants interspersed with the daylilies to create contrast. I can change my original plan easily.

Across the yard I have two daisy clumps that are doing amazingly well. They’re a Shasta Daisy variety that overwintered fine while the many echinacea and snapdragons that were planted in the same bed last year failed to return. Obviously the daisies like that spot so I’ll reward them by expanding their presence. I’m also thinking of adding other flowers from the same family like Aster, Chrysanthemum, and Calendula; I have a few mums and marigolds in other areas and may move them there.

Daisies looking good

In another bed my lilies are looking good too. Many of the bulbs we planted didn’t grow; same online source, same storage issues. I still want that bed to be filled with lilies so I’ll focus energy in that direction and plant more. I’ll pick up some end-of-season bargains at the nurseries and get them in the ground soon. I’ll also plant next spring. By seeing the gaps in the bed it makes me want to fill them with many more plants.

Plenty of room for more lilies

Another approach in each bed is to leave things alone. Most flowering plants will fill in over time. Daylilies and Daisies can grow quite large in big clumps. A bare space now may provide ample room for them to grow larger later. Other flowers self-sow and spread quickly. I’ve set the stage for the beds and letting them determine their own growth patterns is definitely an option. In one of my beds red Knautia is spreading rapidly, filling in open space, adding vibrant color to the area; I like the way it looks.

Gardening is a process. Planting according to a plan and then never returning to that plan may work for some people, but not for me and many other gardeners. While letting the flowers in a bed determine their own destiny may be an intentional option for now, without oversight and continual analysis a few plants can overrun and choke out the others, undermining overall intentions. I still like order and want my beds to fulfill certain visions I have for them.

Once you’ve identified an area that deserves new plants determine the best time for action. Not all plants should be planted in the fall after you’ve decided to fill in spaces. Spring may be a better time. Sure you have to wait six months or so before acting, but you give the specific plants a better chance at survival. Marking the locations for new plants becomes important.

Whether planting right after your analysis or waiting until spring, use the photos you took (you did take photos didn’t you?) as a template. Print the photo and actually draw the new plant on it. It helps to give perspective of how a new plant will look and acts as a treasure map if you have to wait through winter before planting. In spring you pull out the photo, observe where the established plants are in the photo, look for their new green growth in the garden bed, and put new plants in the appropriate spot marked on your map.

Whether changing a plan by adding different plants, expanding a bed with new plants, multiplying the plants already in place, or letting things spread out naturally, by pausing to determine the best course of action you will ultimately improve how your garden looks and how you feel about it. It’s often difficult to determine how a garden bed will look in the future and we often choose the wrong time to try and figure that out. When the other plants have reached their peak, it’s usually a good time. So look for the gaps and bare spots and decide if you want to do something.


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