Reflecting on gardens of the past

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 17, 2016

A look back at past gardens aids in deciding what seeds to order this spring. - Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

A look back at past gardens aids in deciding what seeds to order this spring. – Carol Hegel Lang/Albert Lea Tribune

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

With the onset of a new year and thoughts about gardens past, I took some time to go back and look at photos from 2014. As I make my seed list, it is nice to see how some of the flowers performed in the past couple of years. The weather is different from year to year so if I compare flowers for a couple years it gives me a good idea of whether I want to order those seeds again. On the other hand, if I look back at only the past year and we had terrible weather the entire season it doesn’t give me a very accurate idea of how those particular plants performed.

Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang

Many of the seeds I plant year after year. While I have a pretty good track record on their performance, it is easy to forget how a garden performed two years ago. Hence the reason I not only journal, but photograph the gardens. For my perennials how they survived the winter, if it was harsh, tells me a great deal about the plants. Likewise, a very hot and dry or cool and wet spring and summer also affects the performance of plants.

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Dreaming about the gardens brings me great joy but in the midst of winter sometimes my mind seems to wander back to the previous year’s garden. It is easy to say I should have planted more of the zinnias when the past garden is still fresh in my mind, but how did those same zinnias do in 2014? Did I remember that we had a very cool and wet spring and that many of the seeds were drowned out or that the summer was so hot that I was constantly having to water the containers? Which plants thrived in this weather and which ones really lagged behind?

A sunflower was planted by either squirrels or birds right in the front of the oval garden that grew to well over eight-feet tall, crowding out many of the flowers planted underneath it. If I didn’t have the photograph to remind me that it was gorgeous I might pull up one that came up this year in that same spot. Sometimes I just let nature have her way and where the seeds sprout I let them grow.

Because it had been difficult to find browalia at garden centers for many years I forgot just how much I love the true blue color in the front garden where there is a cobalt blue gazing ball that makes the two pop. Last year I went with yellow calibrachoa in the container.  While it was very striking — when I see the photo of the blue browalia from 2014 — I have already noted to buy browalia if it is available this spring.

For several years I have planted Benary’s giant purple zinnias, and last year I had very poor germination of them due to the wet conditions in the garden at sowing time. When I look back at photos of these flowers I realize how much of an impact they have on the cutting garden and why I was not happy with the garden this last season.

Cleome from seed has always done well in my gardens, and when it self-seeds it seems to know just where it should pop up and surprise me. Last year I didn’t plant any and wouldn’t you know it didn’t self-seed very well and only one lonely plant came up in the garden. When I look at the photos of this garden in 2014 I love how it spread itself throughout the garden, adding not only height among the perennials but just the right pop of color. Guess I better plant some this year if I want that same effect in the oval garden.

This past season I planted my zinnia seeds along the driveway garden vertically so that I had short rows of plants, and I really didn’t like the appearance so I will go back to the longer horizontal rows for a fuller and more colorful look. If I had not had the photos I might have forgotten this dilemma.

Looking back at the 2013 photos I was reminded of the mandevilla that I had growing up the Victorian gazebo that performed so well. The newer variety that I went with last year was not as full and the blooms were not as large. Guess you know which one I will be looking for this year to plant there.

“Gently steed our spirits, carrying with them dreams of flowers.”  — William Wordsworth


Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears weekly. Email her at