Limited engagement

Gotti Kelley

The great blue heron visited our fishpond again, stalking the remaining goldfish, who are aware of the lurking danger and are staying low. The heron flew off, petulant, with huge wings — this time he could not outwit the fish.

It’s the beginning of another trial-and-error episode of gardening, having planted several promising redbuds, Japanese maples and Cornus kousa dogwoods in an area where three 80-foot maples stood, now felled by superstorm Sandy. It takes years for trees to grow to a respectable size, and I miss the shade these tall, stately trees provided. So I had to adopt the Jenny Craig option and go slim with young trees.

However, I do look forward to the brilliant fall color of the Japanese maples and the dogwood flowers that will come years from now. I added a red bush shrub, its branches to be densely covered next spring with a riot of fuchsia-colored florets.

A row of sturdy, rose-flowering spirea is attempting to fill in some other existing voids, again presenting a different garden view and enhancing the interest level.

Small is good — I have developed a great respect and appreciation for dwarf grasses and sedges, which are undemanding and pull out a veritable fireworks of cool color.

The sedges Carex Everillo and C. Everest, the hook sedge Uncinia “Belinda’s Find,” the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa Fubuki and the blue fescue “Beyond Blue” are some of the smokin’ new cultivars and look marvelous.

Sedges are appealing, low-growing and clumping perennials. They add color, texture, form and movement, and are great in containers, in rock gardens or near a water feature. Their average height of 14-18 inches does not overpower other perennials, and the colors are exquisite and long-lasting.

Another delightful small addition to the garden is the creeping woolly thyme, growing only inches tall in full sun. Two years ago, I bought a six-pack and put the little plants below two rose bushes. Their soft, dusty bluegreen foliage has now spread to a 10-squarefoot area, a delightful groundcover complementing the yellow roses. A garden near your house brings it closer to your lifestyle — and further from the eyes of hungry critters who are trying to outwit the pesky humans around them.

Don’t forget to spray deer repellent onto your prized hosta — the application is good for six to eight weeks and will deter any unwanted noshers. Be vigilant in checking for other invisible armies of tiny invaders.

You don’t want to prepare a feast for slugs and assorted hungry insects, so protect your plants from turning into a pin-pricked, ravaged leftover smorgasbord by applying the proper sprays.

What to do now:

 If you are not already keeping a garden journal, consider starting one to compare your annual plant performance.  After blooming has finished, dig and divide irises, lily of the valley, oriental poppies and bleeding hearts.

 Deadhead spent flowers — it will encourage fresh growth and give you a tidy garden.

 Perennials will benefit from a good haircut. Side shoots will grow on many perennials and form more flowers.

 Remove “suckers” on your tomato plants and keep plants in line with a little cutback. You can expect bigger fruit.

 Check your roses for disease and pests; use basic preventative sprays.

 Remove spent rose blooms and use a rose fertilizer monthly. Again, keep a tidy bed.

 A good summer pruning in July will benefit your Autumn Clematis and other fallblooming shrubs.

 Pinch back herbs and make delicious soups with the trimmings.

Happy gardening! Gotti Kelley, a past president of the Navesink Garden Club, also serves on the board of The Garden Club of New Jersey and Central Atlantic Region of National Garden Clubs.