Anyone who has ever doubted the
ephemeral nature of gardens should go away on a two week vacation. It helps to
make sure that your friends and relatives are either away or inattentive at the
same time, and are therefore unavailable for even routine watering. When you
return, take a deep breath and confront your beds and borders. The results will
be eye opening.
Last year, during the drought, I returned to find
that a few plants were deceased and the rest were at least crispy around the
edges. This happened despite the lavish amounts of mulch that I had heaped
around everything before I left, and the limited hand watering undertaken by a
helpful neighbor. Ironically the plants that were not watered fared better than
many of those that were, and the common spurge succeeded better than anything
else. In fact, last year when I got home from vacation it billowed out of the
cracks between the bricks in defiance of the drought. This year when I
returned, it surged out of the same cracks in defiance of the perpetual
Of course this year the abundant moisture made
everything else grow too. Individual specimens of crabgrass were bigger than my
head. Of the intentionally cultivated plants, the roses grew exponentially,
reaching out to snag the car as it came in the driveway, and overwhelming
smaller accent plants. Being a lover or roses, I do not panic at this kind of
exuberance. Unfortunately, the rose canes that had grown by about a foot were
also absolutely naked because the leaves had been decimated by blackspot. I
have been fighting blackspot this entire damp season, and without my vigilance
it took a toll. If you like minimalism in the garden, the sight of my roses
after vacation would have done your heart good.
My garden also suffered on a small scale from animal
depredation. We have known for a long time that a groundhog goes in and out via
two large holes dug under sections of fencing at the rear and side of my
backyard. Arthur the cat had a face-off with this animal one evening as we were
eating dinner on our back porch. After a few tense seconds, both jumped back
and headed off in opposite directions. The groundhog is, apparently, as
undeterred by Arthur’s actual presence as he is by Arthur’s scent.
While we were away, the persistent pest ate all the tender buds that were on my
daughter’s ‘Green Envy’ zinnias. The interesting thing is that
he ignored the neighboring ‘Violet Queen’ zinnias. Scientists may not
have discovered it yet, but apparently groundhogs have some a primitive sense
Naturally, every shrub on the property responded to
the rain by sprouting large amounts of new growth. The weigelas, which are only
really attractive when they are in bloom, sprouted long, arm-like branches in
all directions. I know that weigela blooms on old wood, so if I cut these now I
will be reducing the number of blooms next spring. However, if I don’t cut
these back at least a bit, the bush in my front yard will engulf everything
around it, including the expensive tree peony that I installed last fall.
Simple economic considerations suggest that no $9.99 weigela should ever be
allowed to engulf a tree peony that cost nearly ten times as much.
So as I struggled last week to meet deadlines and
clear the mountain of work off my desk, the garden needed a lot of tender
loving care. The problem for me in this situation was "Where do I start?"
I started by making a futile attempt to convince
myself that even a little work will make a big difference. This strategy is
fine for day-to-day garden management, when things are mostly under control. It
doesn’t work as well when your property looks like a little piece of the
Amazon rain forest. In desperation I decided to start by dealing with the
things that bothered me the most. I spent my first twenty-minute session armed
with my loppers, trimming the most overgrown portions of the hedges. I am happy
to report that after a week of such ministrations, they look much better, and
my mental health has returned (at least as far as the garden goes).
I am hard at work now weeding out the beds, and this
exercise has made me realize that some things have actually improved since the
day I left on vacation. The Rose-of-Sharon tree that I transplanted and thought
that I had killed two weeks before I left has returned to life. By September it
may even bloom. My ‘City of York’ climbing rose has proven strangely
immune to blackspot, and has sprouted lots of leafy new growth.
‘Aphrodite’, a statuesque hosta in the front yard, has blossomed at
last, and its white flowers smell just like honey. The perilla that I used to
edge a raised bed in the back now look like small trees, and the potted
portulaca plants are blooming their heads off, despite the fact that they have
not been deadheaded in weeks. The whole landscape is green, and that makes me
realize that I should be grateful that everything around me is not on fire, as
it is in some parts of the country this year.
Now that I have begun the process of setting things to
rights, my customary optimism has been restored. If it ever stops raining, I
may even mow the lawn.Press
CHANGE IN THE GARDEN