Book of Six © Six essential gardening tips

Right plant, right place.  Seems simple enough, and it is, as long as these six essential gardening tips are considered when creating your garden space.


There is a lot of talk about zonal denial, micro-climates, and changes in our zones due to global warming.  If you are a risk taker and know your garden well, then by all means push the limits with your gardening zone.  In my garden, Helen’s Haven, Zone 7b in Raleigh, North Carolina, I no longer take these risks.   I’m perfectly happy in the zone I own.  I know plenty of  folks that plant zone 8 and even zone 9 plants in our zone 7b gardens and are thrilled with their philbrookraleighyoest-13success, even if it may be short lived.   I use to, but don’t anymore.   I find it is even risky planting plants on the zone’s edge.  Ideally, I like to wrap a zone around a plant, putting me into choosing plants for zone 7a, but not always.  This year, I will be replacing a Clematis armandii, zoned for our 7b gardens. But, alas,  we had a particularly hard winter.


We need to accept the soil we’re dealt or be prepared to amend.  I have yet to garden in perfect soil, and still, I find gardening success.  I’m a heavy amend-er and believe in the power of mulch.  In our area of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, there is clay and sand.  In the heart of Raleigh, where I am, it is all clay.  As you move outside of Raleigh, you’ll find sandy soil.  So when I read a plant label that recommends planting in well drained soils, I know they are not talking to me.  But planting these plants in my garden is a risk I’m willing to take.  Why?  Because here I have some control;  december-25-2008-090I can amend my soil.  I have amended all my garden beds, one planting hole at a time.  Adding composted leaf mulch or other organic matter to the hole and blending it with the clay with some added insurance of a permanent clay buster such as PermiTil, I can make my sticky clay soil friable.  In any garden soil type, you cannot go wrong adding more organic matter.  Then top dress the garden beds with a lush, thick layer of mulch each year to moderate the soil temperature, suppress weeds, retain water and generally tiding up the garden.  By doing so, you’ll have a happy garden.


Full sun, part sun, part shade, dappled shade, full shade, afternoon sun, morning sun, winter sun, more sun.  Know your sun.  If the plant tag says full sun (6 hours or more a day) then that means it needs full sun.  Anything less, and the plant will not perform at its best.  However, having said that, you can use the sun requirements to “tame” plants as well.  As an example, I like Akebia quinata commonly know as five-leaf Chocolate vine.  This is an invasive vine.  However, I grow this sun lover in the shade where it is well behaved.  Remember this:  The north side will have the least sun, the south side the most.  The eastern side will have cool light, the western side hot.  Of course all this depends on what’s above and if it is deciduous.   There is nothing mysterious about this.  Take the time to identify areas in your garden and track each hour.    To see the effects of the suns angle, track around March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21. The results may surprise you.  Also good to repeat every few years as your plants (and your neighbor’s plants) mature.


The last thing I want to do is deny myself is a plant based on watering needs.  But I’m also prudent.  I garden water wisely.  By that I mean, I have my gardens grouped into three watering zones:  Oasis, Transitional, and Xeric.   I’m also fortunate in that I have most sun types covered in each of my helenyoestgarden-1watering zones.   When I garden shop, the plants watering needs are a high priority for me.   But because my garden is designed in zones, it narrows down where I will plant it in the garden.  This also makes my garden purchases easy.  I wont waste money on a thirsty plant requiring shade if the only area in my Oasis zone is sun.  Also, it allows me to have a mental map of my garden with me at all times.  I do not want to spend any more time than I have to on watering.  The thought of dragging a hose around, past 10 drought tolerant plants to reach one thirsty plant is not part of my makeup.  I’m way smarter than that.


We all have our critter challenges.  For some it’s deer, others moles, voles, and armadillos.  For me its rabbits.  Bunnies are my nemesis!  I have voles and moles too and once when a new development was going in two miles away, I saw evidence of displaced deer.  Then I actually saw the critter.  A sight common to many, but not to me.  That deer was so out of character in my garden, it might as well have been a kangaroo.  I’ve given up worrying about critters.  If I don’t have a chance at winning, I’m not going to play.   I do what and where I can, but I will not be a slave to sprays.  I don’t have the time or the where-with-all that requires an exact spray schedule.  I get no pleasure from it either.  These critter repellent sprays work fine, but need to be kept up.  When I look back at what I had to give up, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I first thought.  I can only have a few Hosta, because the voles love them.  I have voles.  But I also love Hellebores, so I grow Hellebores – the voles don’t bother them.   The bunnies will have to go elsewhere to Echinacea because I will no longer provide these favorites of mine as a favorite for them.  As for the Rudbeckia, I’m trying them in a tall pot this year.   I may try to put some Echinacea in a pot as well.


No doubt you’ve been on garden tours when the gardens look like they were just planted.   Pretty, maybe, but they don’t tend to leave you with that warm, comforting feeling a garden can give when well natured and mature.

Time can be a gardens best friend.  Time to care for the plants.  Time for the trees to grow.  Time for the shrubs to fill in.  Time for the seasons to come and go.

As I look around my garden, I realize nothing I do will make the boxwood fill in as I imagine they will to offer repose between the formal and causal – the boundary de-marking my garden between tameness and wildness.

Nothing I do will make the verbena hurry up and fill in the void at the mailbox.

Nothing I will do will leap the Rose of Sharon into adulthood.  Time fills all voids.  I must be patient and trust my  hard work will be rewarded with time.

So you see, understanding these six essential elements will give you what you need to garden successfully.   Plan and prepare with the right plant, right place in mind.  Do what you can and accept what you can’t and you’re good to go!

By Helen Yoest
Gardening With Confidence



  1. tina said

    You and only about a handful of gardeners are content with their zones and plant properly the first time around. I on the other hand am in total zone denial and try it all! When I lived in Fayetteville we had pure sand it seemed. No amount of compost would help it to hold water and nutrients. Urgh! Give me clay any ole day:)

  2. Actually, Tina I do agree with you. For me, I’m just tired of loosing plants due to zone. But, I have areas in my garden where I have lost enough to know my microclimate. lol In these areas I will experiment. However, I say to those just starting out, to lessen their chance for disappointments, stick with your zone.

    Also agree that I would rather deal with clay than sand. Not many of us are lucky enough to have friable soil without amendments. Maybe it is what I know, but give me clay any day! H.

  3. Great tips (as always from you, Helen).

    Labor Day will be our 4th anniversary for living here. My gardens have been mostly experimental up until now — learning how to garden with deer, full sun, erosion, HOA rules and other concerns.

    I am now ready to cull and edit and move almost everything around to work on improving designs. I just got a garden area approved by the HOA so that I’ll have room to put favorites while I rearrange the old spaces.

    Can you tell that I’ll soon have a blog story about this? LOL


  4. Racquel said

    I’ve given up on trying to grow outside my zone, too many heartaches. Great tips!

  5. Hey C.

    How fun to get some new garden space. BTW, I have not seen that rouge deer in a while. Mind you, my neighbors Hostas are looking a little chewed. Lucky me! H.

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