Go ahead, cheat; it is fun as long as you don’t get caught
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 8:01 pm
Cheating season opened a few weeks ago. Cheating is fun if you don’t get caught. In fact, not getting caught is the chief evaluator of a successful cheat.
By late summer, flower beds and borders are capable of declining into an ash heap of detritus and haulm left from the once lush freshness of spring and early summer.
The great Gertrude Jekyll, who gardened and wrote about it from her beloved Munstead Wood in the south of England, often carped of such a sorry state of affairs. It was her good fortune to be of the landed populace with enough wherewithal to afford an army of gardeners, undergardeners and assorted other peons. By such, along with her expertise, she avoided late summer dishevelment by cheating.
This garden cheating is innocent enough. It isn’t like West Point scholars cheating on Army exams. With our kind of cheating, though there are several degrees of it, no harm is done to anyone, except to the cheater in the form of puffed up pride over his (her) pristine September garden, when those of friends have gone to the dogs.
Jekyll’s favorite cheatery was dropping into rotten places in her “hardy flower border” late in the season potted mophead hydrangeas grown in an out-of-the-way place until called for. The pot was discretely hidden behind forward foliage, of course, so that no one could see it. I would say this kind of surreptitiousness could be classed as no more than a misdemeanor.
I have committed such this very season. Well, shoot, I have done it for years. Not with hydrangeas, but with a lot of other things. My latest flagrance was when a soured out spot showed up in my red border a few weeks ago. It was pure good fortune that we were on a trip about that time and visited a large nursery in Peoria, Ill., where they were featuring oversize pots holding several red geraniums at 80 percent off. My kind of bargain and just the right color. At our return home, the geraniums, pot and all, were placed just among the foliage of going-over rudbeckias that does sufficient duty in hiding the pot. They yet hold forth as we speak. Viola!
Of even lesser seriousness and just about on the order of a minor traffic violation (say a rolling stop and 1 mph travel through a four-way stop at 5 a.m.) is the habit of placing plants (shrubs or perennials will work) in the ground, pot and all.
This kind of thing should evoke no more than a smirk, just as the traffic miscue should get no more than a courtesy warning. Nonetheless, there are overzealous cops around that can get you a fine of nearly a c-note and a half for the little nothing and there are jealous Pharisee gardeners who would condemn your burying of the pot with the plant.
There is, in fact, a good reason for planting pot and all on occasion. Some plants are so greedy at the root they will turn your garden into a monoculture of themselves if let loose. Confined in a pot, they can’t help but behave. I have blue lyme grass treated thusly, and after five years or more it yet remains in a neat clump.
Sometimes you might buy, say, a perennial, late in the growing season and have just the spot for it to be placed the next year. It is a late bloomer and still to come to flower, but your chosen spot is presently occupied. The new plant can be plunged, pot and all, somewhere else until the favored location comes open later, then moved into position, sans pot.
I did this very thing a few weeks ago when I succumbed to a new rudbeckia, Henry Ellers, which features pinwheel yellow flowers on five-foot stems. The place I really want it is in one of our pastel borders (it is light yellow), but that particular place is still producing with a re-blooming summer phlox. I plunged Henry into my red border, still in the pot, where it is now blooming, and will move it in another month or so.
Felony cheating is another ball game, and seldom seen. However, a hypothetical case would be such as a person with unlimited wherewithal who could, theoretically anyway, redo a whole border with mature plants right in the middle of growing season. No fiddling with three years to wait on the run-up, no teensy mail-order bits being thugged out by neighboring plant Mafia, and bring on the party the next day. Now that is cheating of the first water.
In which case, I might become Chief Pharisee and jealous indeed. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s border. ...”
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Cheat and love it!
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.6.09