Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mow Down Your Perennials (in the spring). Advice from an expert.....

Know Maintenance Gardening

March 1, 2018
Know More and Work Less in Your Perennial Garden
Kathy Renwald

It’s March. The Red Wing blackbirds are back. Snowdrops are up. People are REALLY thinking about gardening.
  Roy Diblik has been thinking hard about gardening. He’ll tell you what he thinks tomorrow night at the Royal Botanical Gardens in a talk he calls The Know Maintenance Garden.
  “I’m 65 years-old and I don’t care what other people think,” Diblik is saying over the phone as he wrestles with the watering system at his Northwind Perennial Farm in Wisconsin.
  He’s happy to be outside after a long winter, “deep in the chaos” of getting the farm running again.
  Diblik is a grower, a perennial plant expert, designer, speaker and authour. He’s provocative and blunt, and if you hear him talk tomorrow night, I’m sure he’ll shake up some tired ideas you have about gardening.
  “There are so many things that perennials can do to heal the earth,” Diblik says in a long, interesting monologue about plants. He talks about plants in a poetic way, how they like to live in communities, be close to each other and be social. When he designs a garden he looks at it like a universe he says, where the plants are in a happy relationship. “Beauty does not have to be expensive.”
  The work he has done in Chicago is a vivid snapshot of his style. His plantings around the Shed Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Louis Sullivan Gateway Arch evoke a gorgeous meadow in full bloom. The Gateway Arch picked up cues from the nearby Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I visited that garden two years ago and loved its texture and diversity. To look at the rich swath of perennials against the Chicago skyline was breathtaking.

  Diblik’s book The Know Maintenance Garden is theaccumulation of his life’s work.  As he describes it, we have to really know where we live, and what plants will thrive. The type of soil, the temperature extremes, the wind direction, how much shade and sun the garden gets are some of the key questions.  When designing a garden for clients he wants to know how they live and how much time they have to maintain the garden.


Though guided by sustainability and ecological concerns his gardens are also are beautiful and thoughtful.
  “Too many designers want to categorize and put things in a box, if it doesn’t work it’s discarded. They don’t know their plants.”
  Of course Diblik uses plants we know and use here in Hamilton, the durable coneflowers, daisies, asters and ornamental grasses to name a few. But he doesn’t restrict his designs to native plants, as long as they are hardy and their growth rate and cultural needs suit the garden, they are considered.
  Part of his “know maintenance” approach includes time saving gardening methods. Starting in early spring he recommends using a Dutch hoe to weed the garden. The Dutch hoe allows you to weed the garden fast and in an upright position. By August when the good plants have filled in, “observational weeding” takes over-that is simply pulling weeds by hand.
  In large perennial gardens he uses a mulching mower and mows the garden in early spring leaving the debris in place. New growth, including bulbs push up through the layer of healthy debris “like their ancestors did."


Diblik is encouraged by the direction many young gardeners are going, as they embrace urban agriculture. He sees empty city lots being used to grow food, and a healthy interaction between young gardeners and the land.
  “If you ever want to feel needed, plant a vegetable garden,” Diblik says with a laugh.
  His lecture Perennial Plant Communities; The Know Need Approach is at 7 pm at RBG Centre Friday night. Admission is $18 for non-members, $6 for RBG members. More info at