Do you ever feel like the summer is too short? That the time to enjoy the garden has gone before you are even fully aware that summer is here at all? In northern New England, as in many other places around the world, these feelings are all too common. However, take heart; there are plenty of ways, if not to prolong the summer, to prolong the enjoyment that you can get out of the garden.
1. Find a sheltered spot for your delicate plants. Whatever your zone (To find out what this means and what your zone is, click here.) you can stretch it a little if you plant your plants in a sheltered spot. Find a south facing spot, or one that is protected by a fence or wall or hedge, and you may be able to grow things that you couldn’t grow out in the open. If you have boulders for the plants to cozy up to, even better. The stones will absorb heat from the sun and radiate it at night, keeping the surrounding area just a tiny bit warmer. Stone chimneys can also provide warmth for the same reason, even more if they aren’t well insulated. (Well, there has to be something good about an un-insulated chimney…)
2. Choose plants that bloom or add interest in the shoulder seasons. Just because it is early spring or late fall doesn’t mean you have to go without flowers. There are Witch Hazels (Hamamellis mollis ‘Arnold’s Promise’ for example) that can bloom as early as February, and plants like the Montauk Daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) that can bloom as late as October. And don’t forget plants like Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) that are covered with red berries in the winter, or grasses, whose plumes and seed heads add interest to the garden long after the plants of summer have retreated for the year. Or choose a tree with a weeping form, that look interesting even when they are without their leaves.
3. Add hardscape features to your garden that become focal points when the plants’ show is over. Adding an arbor or a trellis or a statue can make a garden look lived in and inviting year round.
4. Consider a fire pit. Whether built-in or portable, a fire pit can make spring and fall evenings a delight, and extend the time you can enjoy your garden dramatically. And think how wonderful it would be to cook up some s’mores over a fire pit after a day of playing in the snow!
5. Plant hardy or native plants. Plants that are hardier to lower hardiness zones than the one that you live in, or native plants that are well adapted to the area are always good bets. And there are some early spring ephemerals that are often overlooked. For a list of native plants in New England, click here. For a good list of perennials that extend the season, click here. Although from a Missouri source, the plants listed are very applicable in New England. Just don’t buy any Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria) unless you don’t want to grow anything else. It has been the bane of this gardener’s existence for a very long time. Just don’t do it. Back slowly away… That’s right.