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Thursday, April 7, 2005 04:34 am

gardening 4-7-05

art1972

Crocuses in bloom are a signal to gardeners that we may now begin the search for our first plant purchases of the year. Most of us will go to the garden center, wander the aisles, and find a plant that we can’t live without. At home, we’ll head out to the garden, plant and shovel in hand, looking for a space in which to put the new purchase. Spontaneous plant purchases often result in a mixture of plants with no continuity, leaving the garden without a good overall design or visual interest.

Each garden bed should have a design theme, such as a cottage garden, or a goal, such as attracting butterflies or birds. A theme or goal will influence your plant choices and help prevent you from straying into the “hodgepodge” zone.

The time you take to plan and draw a design is time well spent. A plan will also reduce costly mistakes, prevent incorrect placement of plants, and result in fewer pest and disease problems. A design may consist of a simple sketch on paper or a formal drawing to scale. Be sure to draw plants at their mature size. Do some homework and research the characteristics of each plant: flower color; blooming time; foliage color and texture; mature height, spread, and shape; and pest resistance.

Selecting the right plants to fit the needs of the location is critical to the success of your landscape. It is also important to know the conditions each plant prefers, including hardiness, heat tolerance, amount of light, and soil and moisture conditions. Fit your plant selections to the site rather than altering the site to fit the plant. Plants with similar needs should be incorporated into the same planting bed.

Hardiness refers to a plant’s ability to withstand cold. Central Illinois is classed as plant-hardiness zone 5B.

Before selecting your plants, learn everything about the site in which you intend to set them. Site conditions include the amount of light, soil type (clay, loam, sandy), soil pH (acidic or basic), the water-holding capability of the soil, and temperature extremes for the area.

Place plants in appropriate light situations. Full sun is six or more hours of sunlight each day, part shade is three to six hours, and full shade is less than three hours. If the area is in part shade, is it morning or afternoon sun? Afternoon sun is hotter than morning sun.

One of the best ways of preventing problems is to purchase healthy plants. Look for plants with properly colored foliage, and inspect them for signs of insect damage, insect eggs, and disease.

A well-planned landscape can enhance and sustain the quality of your environment. Plants not only add aesthetic beauty to the landscape but also attract wildlife, help protect water quality, reduce soil erosion, improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and reduce heating and cooling costs. Properly placed plants also have economic value and can increase the property value of a home.

Spring floral show

“Teddy Bears Picnic” is the theme for this year’s spring floral show at the Washington Park Botanical Gardens conservatory and exhibit hall.

The show, which runs through Sunday, April 10, is geared for children. A wide array of plants and tropicals — including bromeliads, and anthurium, and Easter lilies — will be in full bloom.

The conservatory is located on 1740 W. Fayette St., east of Chatham Road. Hours of operation are noon-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

View a list of upcoming activities at the Washington Park Botanical Gardens Web site, www.springfieldparks.org/garden/default.htm.

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