Thomas J. Story
Imagine a garden that pumps out gorgeous blooms over a long season. All the flower colors you've ever dreamed of are here ― red, yellow, and apricot roses, orange and purple dahlias, candy pink phlox, blue catmint, lavender buddleja ― weaving a rich tapestry that's frequented by birds, butterflies, and bouquet makers. Imagine it's easy to care for, too, with soaker hoses taking care of watering a couple of times a week during the growing season, and only an occasional need for feeding. Sound too good to be true?
Bud Stuckey, coordinator of Sunset's test garden in Menlo Park, California, doesn't think so. More than seven years ago, he set aside an 18- by 25-foot section of the garden just for cut-and-come-again blooms. There, after tilling and amending the soil, he planted roses, perennials, and a smattering of seasonal tubers, such as dahlias and tuberoses. The payback for his initial efforts has been enormous: buckets of blooms daily, April through October, for six years.
The secret to this garden's continuing productivity is autumn renewal. Beginning each October, Stuckey follows this simple strategy ― cutting, pruning, weeding, mulching ― to freshen the plantings. Follow his program (adapt it to your garden's special needs and to your climate) for a robust flower bed next spring. Then, says Stuckey, "get out of the way and watch the plants grow."