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Careful Planning Is the Key to an Easy-Maintenance Flower Garden : Gardening: Preparing space, soil and watering systems before planting will make upkeep much simpler.

May 12, 1990|TONI CARDARELLA | Toni Cardarella is a writer for United Press International

If you want to plant a flower garden but think you're too busy to take care of one, then an easy-maintenance plan may be your pot of soil.

Easy-maintenance gardens are based on well-defined spaces and simple, effective designs. They are planned from the very beginning with easy maintenance in mind.

Once you decide on a design that makes good use of the garden space, you can begin to consider what you will plant. It does involve some hard work, but advance preparation is important: preparing the soil for ground covers, making use of edgings, installing various watering systems, mulching and planting trees and shrubs.

Plants should be chosen not only for their appropriate size but for their suitability to your climate, soil conditions and the level of attention you are willing to give. Also, the plants should be those that attract you.

"No matter how little care a plant needs, if you don't like it, you won't enjoy having it in your garden," writes A. Cort Sinnes in "Easy Maintenance Gardening" (Ortho Books, $6.95).

What you choose depends on where you live, how you want your garden to look, what types of plants you want and how you want to spend your maintenance time.

Selection guides are available to help determine your initial choices, but you might want to double-check your selections with nursery personnel, agricultural extensions, garden clubs, gardening neighbors or friends.

Sinnes recommends new varieties of old favorites because plant breeders are constantly working to develop new varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases and are more compact than their ancestors.

Depending on the climate where you live, there are many choices of flowers available. But Peter Loewer, author of "A Year of Flowers" (Rodale Press, $21.95) believes annuals are ideal for the easy-maintenance garden.

Annuals germinate, bloom, set seed and die in one year, while perennials bloom year after year.

"There are a number of annuals really great for beds and borders across the United States," Loewer said.

He suggests bedding begonia, edging plants that grow about nine inches tall, with shiny, bronze or green foliage. They'll grow in full sun or partial shade.

"Once they start blooming, they'll bloom all summer until the frost cuts them down," he said.

Loewer also suggests the Palm Springs daisy, which has lacy leaves and yellow, daisylike flowers that grow about two inches across. It originated in Morocco and is a "great plant" for summer across the country, he said.

Another daisylike flower, the cosmos, grows up to six feet and is great for cutting. The many-petaled flowers come in a variety of colors, including pinks, reds, whites and yellow.

Loewer also pointed to the California poppy and the sunflower, both annuals that will do well across the country.

The California poppy will grow about a foot tall and will bloom the entire summer. They can be perennial but most people grow them as annuals.

The sunflower, he said, will grow from New York to Kansas, and "no longer do you have to settle for plants 10 feet tall." It comes in several varieties, including Italian white, which is about four feet tall with creamy white flowers and black centers.

Impatiens, originally from China, India and Tanzania, is an annual recommended for summer. It reacts kindly to heat but likes a spot in the shade, he says.

Loewer, who has written three other gardening books and is the editor of the Garden Writers Assn.'s newsletter, cautions that "all gardening is difficult, but it's one of the most rewarding things you can do."

He is so convinced of gardening's advantages that he suggests it as the perfect hobby for politicians.

"I've never met an evil gardener," he said. "If every member of Congress had to be a gardener, we'd find things changing in this country."

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