A Prisoner of the Garden

There are times when I envy people without gardens. They never have to feel guilty because they’re behind with the weeding, or get anxious on hot summer days because the garden needs water. They can go on impromptu trips without elaborate arrangements to keep plants alive in their absence. They can spend all day in front of their computers, not once thinking about plants. How liberating that would be!

Face it — we gardeners are prisoners of our gardens. It’s almost 8 p.m. and there is a near-gale blowing, thrashing plants around and ripping leaves off the maple trees. The garden is not an inviting place right now, and I would rather be inside, but there are 82 pots (OK, maybe not quite that many) that need watering, not to mention 11 blue poppy plants that wilt in a pathetic, guilt-inducing way if their water needs aren’t met. It’s a good thing plants can’t vocalize.

It’s especially bad at this time of year — the dry and rattling end of summer. Sometimes I tell myself that it’s natural for everything to turn brown in late August, and so it is for the natural landscape. But gardens are by nature unnatural, collections of plants from all over the world whose needs are quite different. If I let my Himalayan blue poppies wilt and brown now, I may as well kiss them goodbye.

Getting back to the topic, it’s impossible to be a gardener only when you feel like it. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, sort of like parenthood. Once you’re really involved in it, to quit is to invite disaster, shame and guilt. But if you weather the bad patches when it all seems like too much, there are rewards.

I just spent a couple of hours yanking out masses of periwinkle and digging out a couple of clumps of lemon balm. They were taking up space that could (and will) be occupied by more interesting plants — Lamium “Pink Pewter,” plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and a yellow Liriope muscari called “Ingot.” I’m hoping these plants will mingle happily, with the periwinkle as a charming variation in texture and colour, not the dominant thug it was before. A note here:  in civilized beds, avoid regular Vinca minor altogether and opt for one of the variegated types; they are far less vigorous and not apt to get out of control. As I’ve so often done, I chose the quick, cheap and regrettable solution to lots of bare ground when I began gardening here, and now I have no bare ground at all and too much that’s occupied by thugs.

Another Saturday almost over, and I haven’t left the garden. Wandering through it earlier I saw so many things that need to be done that I will surely be spending a lot of my spare time here for many weekends to come. I just might make a few trips to the closest plant nursery, but not, I suspect, to the mall.

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