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The Right-Size Flower Garden; an Interview With Author Kerry Ann Mendez

The Right-Size Flower Garden; an Interview With Author Kerry Ann Mendez

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART’s In the Dirt Editor
Photographs, courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez and St. Lynn’s Press

Kerry Mendez

The Right Size Flower Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, $18.95) is the latest book by Kerry Ann Mendez, a writer, garden consultant, designer, and lecturer. A “passionate perennialist,” Kerry writes about “time saving gardening techniques and workhorse plant material, as well as organic and sustainable practices.” Her website is

What made you write the book?

I was living in upstate New York, had extensive gardens, and though I loved them, they demanded a lot of time and energy. I found myself becoming a slave to my gardens. I was losing the joy of gardening, and feeling guilty about not being able to keep up with everything that needed doing. One day I thought, this is backwards. I need to right-size these gardens so that I control them, and they don’t control me.

What does it mean to right-size a garden?

It means taking a fresh look at your space what does and doesn’t work in your garden, keeping what works and getting rid of what doesn’t, and doing it without guilt. Remember, plants are not children or pets! Take out what’s troublesome and replace with something that’s easier to maintain, provides longer color, and requires less water and fertilizer. Or put garden art or a bench in its place. Or remove some gardens altogether and let them go back to lawn, or even better, turn them into a sitting area or a ‘quilted tapestry of groundcovers’.

It’s turning your landscape into a space that is the right size for you, the way you live, and the amount of time you have.

Who is the book for?

At first I had baby boomers in mind, those of us who are slowing down, whose joints don’t cooperate like they used to, but as I was writing I realized it was for anyone who wanted gorgeous gardens that required less input from us and, at the same time, were much more sustainable and eco-friendly. That isn’t just baby boomers; it’s young people with families and no time and limited discretionary income. Creating a right-size garden means gardening for how we live our lives and caring for the living world around us. Choosing the plants, design solutions, and tools that are right for us, brings back the joy, so we want to – and can – garden all our lives.

Name your 5 “desert island” plants.

1.  ‘Rozanne’ hardy geranium (Geranium). Beautiful blue flowers that keep coming, drought tolerant, doesn’t need to be fertilized. One plant can cover up to three square feet, so it’s a great groundcover. Needs afternoon shade in hot areas.

2.  ‘Mercury Rising’ tickseed (Coreopsis). Flowers are red with yellow centers. Consistent bloom without deadheading, July through October. Well-behaved, it stays in a tight clump, and doesn’t become ratty-looking. It’s great in containers.

3.  ‘Blue Fortune’ hyssop (Agastache). An easy to grow nativar (a hybrid of the species). It has low water needs, doesn’t like to be fertilized, and produces nectar for pollinators from July through the fall. Sun lover.

4.  ‘Bobo’ hydrangea (H. paniculata). Gets only 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. White flowers in July turn pink in autumn. Good for an urn or a small space. In USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 and colder, move to an unheated garage for the winter.

5.  ‘Forest Pansy’ Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). A native tree with colorful red leaves, and pink flowers in spring. Grows to 20 to 30 feet in height in warmer zones.

Do you really spray paint your plants?

Yes, occasionally. But I use floral spray paint, not regular paint. Spray-painting the dried flower heads of astilbe, allium, white hydrangea (H. arborescens), and others that have blooms that dry on the plant is a quick and cheap way to add color to the garden that will last all summer. Try it!

The Right Size Flower Garden
By Kerry Ann Mendez
2015, St. Lynn’s Press

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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