Reduced maintenance not the end of your garden road
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 8:01 pm
It’s taken the better part of 37 years, but I have now realized what a monster I have created out on Blythe Street.
From a bare red clay acre in 1974 there grew first a “stick” house, as they called the ones made from scratch back then. Then, in fits and starts, there came the birth pangs of what today is a heavily planted four acres, more or less.
As my plantophile mania increased, there ensued accompanying increases in land area and plants. Once I spent a few years ridding our woods of trashy understory such as honeysuckle and sawbriers, then the replacement planting began with more desirable things.
Meanwhile, our original acre continued to be stuffed, cheek to jowl, with yet more perennials and woody things. Now, there the ravishing monster stands, demanding constant attention just at the time the old 12-hour days have become six-hour days. It goes with the territory.
My New York son gave me a book a few months ago that is chock full of tips and advice on dealing with such a situation. The author is in the same boat and she speaks from first-hand experience in her own masterful garden, which has reached the same monster stage at just the time her joints and muscles are similarly disintegrating.
Right off the bat she utters what are the most significant words in the whole book, to wit: “Get out of denial.” That is, face the music like a real man (or woman) and admit you’re not what you used to be. From there, then you (we) must advance to stage two: take an honest look at your garden and make a plan — not necessarily detailed — on what to do to reduce maintenance.
I.e.: See that there golden rain tree that drops approximately three million seeds a year, of which three million and two sprout and must be meticulously hand weeded? Get the fool thing out of there before it kills you, no matter how enamored you are of it during the two weeks it blooms in spring. You get the idea.
Once your high maintenance trees and shrubs are gone, examine in like detail perennials that pay miniscule rent all out of proportion to their measly contribution. First to come to mind are bearded irises. Demanding endless weeding in the off-season, which constitutes fully 50 weeks of the year, their admittedly sumptuous flowers are too brief and too fragile and their foliage too ratty to abide.
Then go on from plant to plant, over the whole year through, until you have gritted your teeth and jerked out those things that are either too troublesome or contribute too little, or both.
But what about all those gaps? Well, therein lie some of your last opportunities to make of your garden more of what you secretly have wished it could be. Some of those aged specimens you hoicked weren’t (let’s be honest) the greatest things to come along since sliced bread. You planted them 20, 30 years ago, before you knew about better things.
Now you can plant those better things. Just try to forget you might never see them mature. It is at our descendants’ behest that we would even entertain such an undertaking. I suggest you start at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Defeatism in defense of melancholy is no vice.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 1.18.11