Saturday, April 3, 2010

Springtime Garden Lists

A sunny spring day in the messy garden

We are a very ordered society. We make lists for groceries, for tasks to be done in the office, for chores around the house and, well, for just about for anything. It is no surprise that our publications do the same. Either they are trapping us with our own machinations or just do it because they are made by people who themselves make lists. So what's the point? Spring is here and everyone has a list of things to do or to avoid in the garden. Bart Ziegler wrote a list of Advice for Novice Gardeners for the Wall Street Journal. I think his list is rather good, but certainly don't agree with it all. So here, rather than write my own list I shall examine another's list and gardener's lessons.

1. Yes it will get bigger.
This is great. People have no idea what to expect when they buy a plant. Rarely do they think that trees were once just a one gallon plant. Some people do research, most go to Home Depot or some other non-nursery see something they like and stick it by their front door. Then one day you drive by and see this massive plant encroaching on a house that they planted and could not bring themselves to remove. Get the idea.

2. If one is good, six may not be better.
I am not sure about his take on this one. His example and every other writer using this example is always the same. The reference is to pony packs of Zucchini that take over the world. Yes, this is true, but so what. If you have a farm you would plant more than six and if you had a family of twelve they would get their green vegetables (whether they liked them or not). The point here is that you should know what you are planting and the consequences. Don't be fooled by the pictures in those plant tags that are half an inch square and don't give you much to go on.

3. If the label says "can be aggressive," you've been warned.
I think this one is self explanatory...

4. Roses are red–and brown and spotted and buggy.
Sorry, here I disagree. I have over 50 rose plants and yes there are some brown spots here and there a few bugs also, but not a reason to avoid planting roses. Some of the new Knockout roses that Mr. Ziegler recommends are okay, but how shall I say this, they are not really representative of classic fragrant roses. They look more like machine made paper flowers stuck on plastic plants, by the thousands. My point again, know what you are planting. There are problem roses that require a lot of work and chemicals. There are areas of the country that are prone to bugs that have yet no assembled in mine. I don't use chemicals on anything! I once made a Pilgrimage to White Flower Farm in Connecticut only to discover their rose garden infested with thousands of Japanese Beatles that were devouring the plants. They certainly did not put this on their catalogue! Know what you are planting.

5. Keep it simple.
Nothing to complain here. Learn before you leap. Use more plants of the same variety rather than buy one of everything variety and plop everywhere. This will not look like much.

6. Start small.
His point is that gardens require time. Don't plant 200 plants and have time to take care of 2. We all love the idea of gardening and don't appreciate that there was a time when people had gardeners who worked in the garden for a living. Today we may want a wonderful look but fail to recognize what it takes in financial or actual labor. Worst yet the people who mow and blow for a living don't know much about gardens.

7. Befriend an expert.
Being a friend of many I know what this means: free advice which gardeners unlike most other professions often give. Remember if this is their profession treat them as such and offer to pay them.

8. Admit mistakes and move on.
See number 1. A poor choice is a poor choice. Plants are growing and living things, but all things die. Don't be afraid to remove a plant if it is the wrong plant for the wrong place. Compost it! You may feel better about it.

9. Don't be afraid to cull.
Here I could not agree more with Mr. Ziegler. You spend years filling your yard and then it gets full. What next? Divide and give to other gardeners. I said it before: Gardeners are generous by nature, but it part is because they over planted!

10. Relax—it's just a garden.
What can I tell you? Relax, it is just life. Some people live life finding fault and complaining about everything that happens to them. Others take life the way it comes, taking the lumps with the glory. Gardens offer similar approaches. You can have a 50 acre garden and a staff of 100 and be miserable that one rose has got black spot. Enjoy gardening even if all you have is in a pot!

I have been reading books by gardeners about their gardeners and have learned and laughed out loud at their stories. Two of my favorites are Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi, 1981 and Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine White, 1958. These two books tell garden stories of plants, catalogues, and gardening. They are wonderful time capsules of gardening done differently than today by very devoted gardeners. Check them out. You will be entertained and educated. I am sure Mr. Ziegler has book in him that has not yet come out. I suspect we all do.

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