New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Looking in my garden notebook, I see lists of Things To Do, compiled at various times over the years, usually in the fall or winter. Try growing delphiniums in big pots. Replace old lavender plants. Divide Stipa gigantea. Acquire Nerines. Rescue Digitalis ferruginea — again.  Gratifyingly, quite a few of these items have “Done” scribbled next to them. Others have become old friends as they reappear in lists year after year. For example: Prune old apple tree to stop branches from rubbing garage roof. That one was on the list for 2008 and it’s back for 2012. Right after “Acquire new pruning saw.”

But can these lists of specific garden tasks be called “New Year’s resolutions?”  I don’t think so. Resolutions are characterized by a goal more elevated than merely getting things done. Their ultimate purpose is to make one a better person. While it’s true that pruning this and dividing that may make the garden better in small ways, New Year’s resolutions for the garden ought to have a more widespread and long-term effect.

So here is a short list of worthy intentions for gardeners:

1. Keep up with basic maintenance — weeding, deadheading, edging, watering, mulching.  Especially deadheading and edging; they can make the difference between a slovenly patch and something that looks like a garden. Doing this stuff keeps the gardener connected to the garden, which is important.

2. Pay attention to what’s going on in your garden. Really look and see — not only the plants you have introduced, but the entire scene, including animal inhabitants such as squirrels, birds and raccoons. They are part of the life of your garden, so come to terms with their presence.

3. Try something new — a new plant, a new technique. Growing something from seed, for example, or from cuttings. Try air-layering or grafting. Turn something into a bonsai or a standard.

4. Don’t give divisions of vigorously colonizing plants to other gardeners without a clear warning. Give away some really good plants occasionally, rather than those of which you have a surplus because of their spreading habits.

5. Make a decision about whether to get that maple tree removed, and do it. Think hard before planting an eventually large tree in a small garden.

6. Fight bindweed. Always.

Worthy goals, all of them. In the end, though, it does come down to the list of specific things that Must Be Done. Such as: Finish cutting down last year’s perennials before they start sprouting out in the spring. Cut down the very dead looking clematis that is uglifying the cotoneaster by the front steps (it’s not dead, of course, but is doing a great job of looking that way). Surgically remove the lowest limbs of the sideways-spreading magnolia and hope that makes it look more tree-like. Top the rampant hollies on the west side of the back garden. Think about repotting and dividing the potted delphiniums before the dreaded vine weevil (a common pest of plants grown in pots) shows up. And fight that bindweed.