Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gardening by Neglect ~ Random Reflections of the Growing Season

Every year I buy a few plants at the end of the season. I troll the home improvement centers for the bargain racks, the"buy it or we trash it" sale at the back of the garden center.  I know it's risky planting trees or perennials in July; the plants take a lot of watering and tender loving care to survive the hottest part of the summer.  But these plants are, after all, survivors.  They have usually had all their top growth die off and are struggling to produce new shoots from the root ball.  I snatch them from their impending doom and say, "Hey, this one wants to live!!  I'll save you, little tree! You can come live with me, scrawny scabiosa!"  Then , if they survive the hottest part of the summer and endure throughout a winter, I deem them worthy of living in my garden.  I call it "Gardening by Neglect."

When we bought this corner lot, it had a four century maples and a few tiny foundation plantings. Over the last 16 years we have planted screening trees, ornamentals and shrubs, and converted hundreds of square feet of perfectly good lawn into expansive borders and flower beds.  The good news is that we can no longer see nor barely hear the car wash behind our alley, we have shaded the house from the hot afternoon sun, we have perennials and re-seeding annuals that bloom in succession all around the house, there are four magnificent rose bushes that border our patio with majesty, clematis climbing all over everything, and bees in abundance.  The bad news is how much weeding and mulching and feeding are required throughout our extensive growing season in this part of Missouri.. Honestly, I just don't have the "spark" anymore to keep it up like I used to.  That  is why I call my technique: Gardening by Neglect.  In other words, if it survives, it survives.  If it doesn't, it doesn't deserve to live in MY garden.  It's a lot like my greenhouse technique.... which means that my houseplants have to be incredibly tenacious to survive my episodic, spasmodic care.

Another thought has perplexed me lately, though.... and that is the tenacity of undesirable plants. I hesitate to call them 'weeds' because one woman's weed is another woman's focal planting. We have a yard FULL of wild violets and clover.  Now, those of you who have battled violets know that they spread tenaciously by bulb.  There are no weed killers known to be effective against them and the recommended treatment is 'pulling."  Yea, in your DREAMS.  Of course, like eliminating any successful invader, if you leave one single bulb, you have lost the battle.  These amazing plants have given me a new respect and possibly a new definition of what exactly is a "weed":  a plant that can grow anywhere, in any light condition, with or without water.  A desirable, on the other hand, must be planted in EXACTLY the right spot with precise amounts of light and water and food. The violets, by contrast, live under shrubs, in full sun, on the dry slope and the bogs, in clay or loam.  They grow literally everywhere, in the cracks of the sidewalk, under the porch, in every lawn and planting area.  Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  The 'lawns' I have over-planted with Dutch Red-Clover and now require no more than one or two mowings a month and, now that the clover is established, very little watering.

A lawn care specialist stopped us the other day as we pulled up alongside our front curb and told us he could take care of our weed problem!  I almost ran him off the block!  What, kill off my clover?  You can call them weeds if you want to, but I call it my lovely, gently waving meadow.  Hey, we live on a corner and nobody has to worry about my meadow encroaching on their boring single leaf lawn.  So do not judge.

I also have learned through observation, that the flower bed always looks less weedy on the other side of the fence, but, if you slow down and walk the neighborhood, as I do every morning with my two dogs, those borders look a lot different upon closer inspection.  The nearer I get, the more weeds I see.  And I do mean, WEEDS.  No one, in their right mind, wants mulberry, black walnut, red bud or elm trees growing up between the zinnias nor do vetch or crab grass belong in the mulch! I am satisfied with a smugness that consoles my urban conformity.  And justifies my claim to having an English cottage-style garden, seemingly random, care less and care free.  Some might just say messy.  To each his own.

So, taking a much more relaxed, laid back kind of attitude works for me.  Sometimes.  Most days. After all the rain we are getting this week I think I will probably have to spend a day or two ripping out the red buds in the seams of the patio and whack along the fences and maybe even 'weed' a flower bed or two.  I'm actually concerned about too much water at this point.  My neglected garden does NOT know how to handle that!

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