Can I improve this landscaping job?
April 1, 2022 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Now that my spring bulbs are coming up, I can see that the landscaper I hired to plant them last year did not do a good job. What can I do while I'm waiting until they can be moved in the fall? Right now, just looking at them makes me feel sad.

Last year, I hired a landscaper who was just starting her business. She was not good in lots of ways, cancelled appointments a lot, delayed and delayed, couldn't do parts of the job she agreed to (buying the plants because I couldn't go into stores - I had to order them online - or even advising me on what to plant - I had to google for ideas), ended up planting things super late in the year - I think some of the plants died for that reason. Now that the bulbs are coming up, I'm really not happy with the way she planted them. Also, she never split my very crowded irises, which is something I told her I needed done on the very first day.

I have no interest in complaining to her, talking to her, or leaving a bad review. This is about trying to make my flower bed look better.

The space is 18 inches wide and runs the length of my garage. She planted bulbs in a single-file line in the middle of the 18 inches going down the length of the garage - like a child's drawing of a garden. I am hoping this will look better when they bloom, but I expect it to not look good when the blooms are gone. Bulbs include tulips and hyacinths. There were also coneflowers spaced out between the bulbs - I suspect these died because they were planted so late.

(I may be overreacting and it's perhaps not as bad as I think it is, but I have been looking up images of flower beds to see whether the way she planted them is a thing - and I'm not finding anything that looks like that except drawings).

What can I do to make this look better? Could I plant annuals in front of the bulbs and then hire someone to move the bulbs for me in the fall? Any other ideas? Gardening is physically very difficult for me, which is why I hired her in the first place. I'm also really bad at visualizing garden stuff, which is another reason I hired her.
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You absolutely could plant annuals in front of them to disguise it some. The coneflowers are perennials, so they may start growing again and help make it look fuller. Someone could replant the bulbs in the fall or you could add to it so it's staggered instead of a straight line. Gardens evolve over time, so not getting it right the first year is OK. Take pictures so the next person you hire will have a visual of what you didn't like and ideas about how to improve it.

Enjoy the blooms despite the disappointment.
posted by XtineHutch at 11:00 AM on April 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Coneflowers are typically later to emerge, and new plants, depending on the size planted, can take a while to come up. Don’t despair yet. My three year old plants bloom in June (in 7a).

Tulips and hyacinths sound lovely! I like to plant in bunches, with smaller bulbs (hyacinths) in front of larger bulbs. I would pre-order more bulbs right now for fall, in a color scheme that you feel is aesthetically pleasing. I usually plant in bunches of at least five-ten bulbs for max visual impact in the spring (totally disregarding planting instructions, most of the time!) I also like to buy a mixture of bulbs that advertise “60 days of flowers” because different varieties will emerge at different times, and the bunching helps visually; although you generally don’t get to pick colors this way. Bulbs emerge/flower in a timeframe like this, from early to late: snowdrops — crocus — daffodils/narcissus —hyacinths—tulips — alliums/lilies —gladiolus/lilies. After the tulip and hyacinth leaves have yellowed, I would cut back the leaves and mark with a small popsicle stick to remember to dig/remove and bunch in one spot in Sept/Oct, ideally when your pre-ordered bulbs arrive. (You are pre-ordering now, for best selection, right?) You can hide the yellowing bulb foliage with annuals from your garden center, but the coneflower emergence should help with this also. Happy gardening!
posted by cybrbananapeel at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are going to move them, have them dug up after all the foliage dies off. Clean the dirt off them, and separate any smaller offspring bulbs they may have generated. Then store them in a cool dry dark place (basement or garage but not as cold as a fridge). Then, replant them in the fall in clumps as suggested. Meanwhile, use the area for annuals or start some perennials.
posted by beagle at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2022

Best answer: What you have there is an outdoor mini-modern-sculpture garden waiting to happen. Here's what I might do if I were feeling it enough:

Go to a place that sells large river stones. Pick through them and get, I don't know, maybe 7-10 large idiosyncratic ones that speak to me, either all in a similar color or in strongly contrasting colors. Then I'd line them up, spaced very regularly, either in front of or behind the bulbs and see what comes to mind.

Next, I might get some golden creeping jenny (yellow leaves) and put maybe 5 little plantings of that spaced regularly in front of the bulbs, maybe 4" back from the front edge.

Then I'd find six of something else I liked (snapdragons that will bloom later? My Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Star Trek version 6" tall action figures which have previously excelled at garden duty? Some pretty potted plants that had either matching or all different pots?) and space those sparingly, but close enough to look intentional.

Finally, if you have the time and/or budget, you can do something like ONE interesting whirligig, or, my favorite, a 10" wide 5" deep hole lined with leaves and some large rocks (for frogs and lizards to hang out). This is only if you're avoiding pesticides, of course.

The main thing is not to get it too crowded -- this is modern art, and the weird aloneness of the bulbs is now a feature, indeed the whole purpose, of the installation. A single line of bulbs down the center of an 18" deep bed? What is it saying? Let the masses puzzle it out -- you don't need to have a reason.
posted by amtho at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Certainly you can plant annuals to disguise the overly orderly row of spring bulbs. Marigolds and impatients are some of my easy favorites for quick fill and all-summer blooming. Then in the fall, rather than mess around moving the existing bulbs, I would just (hire someone to) put in additional bulbs, in clumps rather than rows, aiming for several clumbs of taller things in the back (tulips, e.g.) and shorter/smaller ones in front of the existing single file, not replicating exactly what you have already in terms of color and species mix. If the person who does your fall planting hits some of the existing bulbs, it's no big deal. Most people plant bulbs too thinly; I don't know exactly how long your bed is, but let's imagine it's 20 feet: you could certainly fit in a mix of a couple hundred bulbs.
posted by drlith at 2:16 PM on April 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Quick solution that's not wasteful (unless you've got it there already): mulch. Just mulch in a very neat rectangle.

Admittedly, a photo of what you have going on right now would be quite helpful.
posted by amtho at 3:34 PM on April 1, 2022

There are short nasturtiums in a bunch of sunny colors that you could plant now from seed with the end of a stick without getting down on the ground, and get mounds of growth around the bulbs as they finish. Cheap seeds, resilient growers, bright flowers, hummingbirds sometimes visit.
posted by clew at 6:21 PM on April 1, 2022

Response by poster: I unfortunately don't have a way to provide a picture - but it's really just a line of bulbs going down the center of an 18-inch wide area for maybe 20 feet, with a few wider spaces for the coneflowers. They are spaced 4 or 5 inches apart. Plus there are two places with a bunch of overcrowded irises.

Thank you for the wonderful answers - not just practical tips, but for helping me put this whole thing in perspective and understand that it's not a horrible disaster. (I really didn't need to include my list of gripes about the landscaper - I was just so angry, it was months of frustration with me not wanting to fire her because she was just starting her business, and I paid her at least $600 plus expenses.) My condo gives everyone a flat of annuals every year, so I'll plant those around the bulbs and hire someone when it's bulb-planting time.

If anyone is still reading this, how long should I wait for the coneflowers to come up before giving up and buying more? I'm in southeast Michigan, so zone 6.

(antho, I probably won't follow most of your advice on the art installation, but it really made me smile.)
posted by FencingGal at 8:01 AM on April 2, 2022

This year? When it’s still snowing in southern Wisconsin and my mom is skiing in Roscommon? I wouldn’t give up on coneflowers for some time- May, maybe later.
posted by rockindata at 11:39 AM on April 2, 2022

« Older Dispersed (primitive) camping in Oconee National...   |   Best parts about parenting a boy? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.