In display gardens, it pays to be ruthless

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Those of us who volunteer to care for public display gardens have had a challenging summer battling heat and drought. Keeping our gardens filled with color and looking sharp was not an easy task when temperatures climbed into the high 80s and 90s.

And the weather prognosticators were dead on when they forecast a dry summer. In our OPC patio garden in Rochester, a weather forecast of “chance of rain” was a heartbreaker. Week after week I watched the dark clouds of small storm cells pass overhead, depositing nary a drop of rain on our parched flowerbeds.

So now it’s time to take inventory and begin planning the garden for next year, and I’ve begun making lists of flowering annuals that melted in the hot sun or succumbed to disease.

This is also the time of year when we have to make tough decisions as to what goes when it comes to shrubs and perennials. While some gardeners find it difficult to turn their backs on plants that don’t perform well and are willing to nurse them for several seasons, those of us who oversee display gardens have to take a tough stand.

I was thrilled when the Gaura, the dancing butterflies, over-wintered in the pink garden and quickly doubled in size this spring. But in spite of the heat, they continued to thrive and over powered colorful annuals that shared their bed, so they to will have to go. But we have a place for them to play in another area, so it’s a change of position, not a loss.

A hybrid tea rose that produced a few lovely blooms but failed to flourish in the stifling summer heat has to go. If it neighbors had struggled, too, I would consider giving it a second chance but it stood out as a weak sister – not the look we want. It’s toast.

A large stand of daylilies is also on the ditch list. The evening after they burst into bloom, the deer devoured every last blossom and bud, leaving us with a sea of green leaves for the rest of the summer. The leaves began turning tatty several weeks ago and we don’t have the manpower to tidy them up – so out they go.

Hostas have also been banned from the display garden. They, too, have been ravaged by deer and once mowed to the ground, they turn into an eyesore that is painful to view. Change is good.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at