Lessons learned: The Boswell Garden at the Chelan County Fairgrounds

By Connie Mehmel
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Boswell building garden.
Perennial plants outgrow their space in the Boswell Garden at the Chelan County Expo Center in Cashmere. WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners, who planted the garden and continue to maintain it, ultimately replaced the perennial plants with annuals. – Provided photo/Connie Mehmel
Connie Mehmel
Connie Mehmel – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

The Boswell Garden at the Chelan County Expo Center in Cashmere is a small garden space at the entrance to the county fair. It borders the Boswell Building, where flowers, fruits and vegetables are displayed.

Master Gardeners initially planted the garden area with perennial flowers and shrubs, including spirea, gaillardia, lavender and several ornamental grasses. This approach gave the garden structure and some color throughout the seasons, but as time went by the flaws in the plan began to show themselves.

What have we learned over the last several years? Perennial plants live for a long time and save the work of replanting every year. But as long as they live, the plants continue to grow, needing frequent maintenance. They often outgrow their original space and eventually compete with each other. This became a problem in the Boswell Garden, which is narrow (about 5 feet wide).

Ten years after planting, despite regular pruning, many of the flowering shrubs had spread onto the walkway. They were obstructing visitor traffic and giving the garden a messy appearance. We decided the time had come to remove the large perennials and switch to annual flowering plants.

Unlike perennials, annual plants die in winter and need to be replaced the following year. A gardener has the opportunity to change things, introducing new colors, shapes and sizes. Many annuals have the additional benefit of a longer flowering period than perennials. For example, zinnias and marigolds will bloom from early summer through late fall. With this in mind, we decided to redesign the Boswell Garden.

In 2022, we began converting the garden to cut flowers, emphasizing old favorites that are usually entered at the Chelan County Fair and new introductions that may become favorites. We concentrated on varieties that work well in bouquets, both showy “focal” flowers, like dahlias, and “filler” flowers, like asters and celosia. Removing old, flowering shrubs and ornamental grasses was heavy work, but the change to colorful, long-blooming annuals was well worth the effort.

The moral of this story is don’t be afraid to make bold changes in your garden. If you find you have planted something that isn’t right for your site, you may be able to find it a new home. I once had a Japanese maple in the wrong place and was able to sell it to a young couple who came to my house and dug it up, solving my problem and saving my back!