Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With the Flow

Bronze fennel foliage, wet from an early morning watering, with Verbena bonariensis


There is rhythm to life in the garden.  Much like waves of warm briny water crashing along a sandy beach; so too waves of life appear in the garden, peak, and then quietly disappear.  Part of a gardener’s education, when working in a new garden, is sensing and recognizing a garden’s ‘waves’ of life.



Wisdom teaches us that much of our frustration and unhappiness is connected to our desires.  There are things we want that we can’t have in the moment.  There are things we love that we fear losing.  There are things we care about that we see passing away before our eyes.  All of these concerns can become causes of our suffering, to some degree, as we work with our gardens.


Japanese beetles have found the Zantedeschia.


But our feelings can shift when we take the broader view, acknowledge the rhythms and challenges, and plan ahead to address them.



When we plant early spring bulbs we know that we’ll be left with their foliage for a few weeks after the flowers fade, and then even that will yellow and fall away.  What will grow up in their place?


Daffodils and Arum italicum fade as Caladiums, hardy Begonia and ferns grow in their place.


When we plant roses, we can expect a glorious flush of blooms in May, followed by much that needs to be pruned away.  What happens if blackspot or Japanese beetles attack the leaves?  Will our shrubs bloom again during the season?

We can plan to have other perennials or shrubs nearby to take attention away from resting rose shrubs.


Crape myrtles have just begun to bloom in our area.


And what happens when a tender perennial fails to appear in spring?  Is there a gap in the border, or do we have something waiting to grow in its place?

We understand the larger cycles of the seasons and how they affect the life in our garden.  First frost claims much of our garden’s growth, and the beds lie fallow through the winter.


January in our forest garden


But there are larger cycles still, as woodies grow and shade out nearby perennials, or a tree falls and changes the light in the garden, or plants fill in, creating dense mats of growth.


Crinum lily comes into bloom amidst Iris, Thyme and Alliums.


Gardening teaches us flexibility and resilience.  Resistance to the cycles and happenstance of nature tightens us up inside.  We might feel anger at the voles eating through the roots of a favorite shrub, or the Japanese beetles ruining the leaves of a favorite perennial.  How dare they!

But these things are always likely to happen.  We can’t fully prevent the damages that come along when we work with nature.

I found a small Hydrangea shrub, that I’ve been nurturing along from a rooted cutting, grazed back by deer last week.  No matter how protected it might be, or how often I’ve sprayed it with repellents, a doe came along after a rain, and chewed away most of its leaves.



Successful gardeners learn how to ‘go with the flow.’  We do the best we can, follow best practices, and have a plan or two up our sleeves to work with the natural cycles of our space.  Even so, we learn the lessons of impermanence in the garden.


Working to thwart the voles, I am experimenting with planting Caladiums into pots sunk into the bed. I’m also doing this in another bed with tender Hostas.


Every plant isn’t going to survive.  But we keep planting anyway, trying new things to see what will thrive.

Some things we plant will grow too much, and we’ll have to cut them back or dig them up to keep them in bounds.  Weeds come and go.  Insects chew on leaves and voles chew on roots.



We stand by, observing this incredible ebb and flow of life, and take our place among the waves.

Gardeners feel the ebbs and flows, too.  We may feel energized in spring and plant lots of new roots and shoots, seeds and plugs.  But then summer heats up, the grounds dries out a little, and we are left scrambling to keep it all watered and tended.



Suddenly there is stilt grass sprouting up in our beds and pots.  The lawn is growing overnight, and the shrubs need pruning.

As our own energies come and go, we find a rhythm to keep up with maintaining our gardens while also maintaining ourselves.  We can’t stop the ebb and flow in our garden any more than we can stop the waves crashing on the beach.

But we can lighten up, enjoy the scenery, and take pleasure in the ride.



Woodland Gnome 2018

What I’m reading this week:                            

“Enjoying the simple beauty of plant against rocks, and cultivating the distinctive forms of alpine plants, is the heart of traditional rock gardening, ranging from gardeners who obsessively recreate the look of mountaintop, to those who carefully cultivate individual specimens of plants into breathtaking peaks of loom not to be matched by anything else in the plant world.”               

Joseph Tychonievich from Rock Gardening, Reimagining a Classic Style

(Thank you, Joseph, for your entertaining talk on Saturday morning!)

“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

10 responses to “Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With the Flow

  1. SW

    Your garden is just beautiful! I love the variety and colors! The Crinum lilies are one of my favorites for the garden. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you for visiting ❤ The Crinums are a fairly new addition and I am looking forward to seeing how they do as they establish and form larger clumps. I love the flowers, and I love that the deer ignore them!

      • SW

        I have divided my Crinums many times over the years and they seem to be very hardy and multiply fairly quickly. And your right, the deer don’t bother them. Wish all my floweres were that lucky! 😊

  2. Beautiful photos of your garden.

  3. Why are there so many pictures of Japanese beetles in the various articles from all over North America? They do so much damage everywhere else. It is rather disconcerting. I have never seen a real one before.

    • Tony, I’m amazed that there are no Japanese Beetles in your beautiful Santa Clara valley! That is a huge point in your region’s favor! These beetles are so destructive. Those were some of the first to show up in our garden this season. A lot of people pick them off and drown them in soapy water in a bucket. I didn’t come prepared for them, and so just picked them off the leaf. I’m sure they’ve found another place to dine by now…

      • They might be here, but I have not heard of them being a problem. There are a few problems that are like that. The fire blight that was so destructive to apple and pear orchards a very long time ago was legendary, but I only rarely saw it. Then, maybe only about fifteen years ago, it came back voraciously, and is now very destructive to flowering pears.

  4. The overnight marauding by deer can be such a heartbreak. Sorry about your hydrangea. 😦 Will it recover?

    • Thank you, Eliza. I certainly hope it will recover this time. It has happened just about every year since I planted the little guy. That is probably why it is still relatively small- under 18″ after several summers in the spot. I spray the Hydrangeas frequently, but a few of them still get targeted way too often. ❤

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