gardening

The Garden Goes On… And On

Gardens are collections of plants. No matter what the gardener does, plants grow, bloom, go to seed, and/or die, depending on the type of plant and whether it is getting the conditions it prefers. The gardener is a mere adjunct, trying with varying degrees of success to impose her idea of what the garden should be on a population of diverse plants. That’s the essence of gardening. It’s a constant struggle an intersection of plants, their needs, climate and weather, and the gardener’s desires and exertions.

Olympic Mullein -- gardener, look out!

Olympic Mullein — gardener, look out! Aaargh — too late!

Shortly after I retired at the end of March, I realized that as far as the garden was concerned, I was late to the party. Spring was early and warm, and growth was well under way before I had a chance to take a good look around. Too late for most pruning operations and moving plants around — two critical activities in this garden. Some plants — mainly shrubs — need frequent pruning, trimming and sucker removal. Others threaten to fade away unless moved to better spots, i.e., not overhung by trees or shrubs, in soil that isn’t full of maple roots.

I’ve spent the summer deadheading, watering, poking around and making plans for a grand game of musical chairs to be executed (what a word that is!) this fall and next spring. And a list of Things to Prune next winter. I’m keen to get going, but August isn’t the time for such exertions.

In the meantime, plants are going through their annual cycles, and so is the garden, which has entered what I think of as the brown season — late summer in a summer-dry climate. I’m getting tired of dragging the hose and hoisting the watering can. I know this happens every year. I know it will rain some day (and rain and rain some more). Hardy cyclamen will bloom. Mushrooms will sprout. Moss will green up. A few spring-blooming shrubs will send out a few flowers. The air will smell of coming autumn. But right now that seems far away.

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore — in September, after rain.

 

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Retirement: Week 1

April Fool’s Day. Is this a good day on which to begin something new, I wonder. Retirement, maybe? Quite possibly, since it’s viewed as a transition from Productive Person to Old Fool Fogey.

For the first month or so, I have no definite plan. The idea is to do whatever I feel like, with plenty of little rests between bursts of activity.

Day 1: the Spouse, the Dog and I went on a small ramble in East Sooke Park, one of the more scenic spots in a region that abounds in such spots. The Dog met a puppy that wanted to play and obliged politely, much to the puppy’s owner’s delight. Other highlights of the walk were a small beach of coarse sand and small pebbles, sightings of Erythroniums and Fairy Slipper Orchids in bloom, and the distinctive foliage of Rattlesnake Plantains (not in bloom). On the way back to the parking lot, the Dog was in her element, bouncing through a rather muddy field. A surprising amount of soil came home with us, leading to muttering about “spending my retirement cleaning up after that Dog.”

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Day 2: in the garden, edging, mowing and raking the remains of the two small sections of lawn that are frequented by the Dog. I’m hoping the grass that remains is a specially tough variety that will persist. Otherwise, replacement with some sort of gravel and/or pavement will be necessary. Even in its ravaged state, it looks much better after the attention received.

Day 3: in the garden again, yanking out snowberry suckers from one of the perennial beds and wondering why I ever planted snowberry. Yes, it’s a native plant and drought-tolerant, but it sends roots and suckers all over the place. They come up in the middle of perennials such as asters, necessitating surgical probing and removal which is probably temporary. Note to self (and others): if ever creating a garden from scratch, avoid suckering plants. Snowberry isn’t the only one here with that sneaky and annoying tendency. There are also Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), common lilac and the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), also known locally as the Tree from Hell. It forms weird brain-like structures underground at considerable distance from the parent tree, from which grow clumps of suckers.

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Day 4: grocery stores and banks. Tedious but necessary, and it’s a novelty to do this stuff on a Monday. Nice long nap in the afternoon.

Day 5: a cool showery day, perfect for distributing compost to various perennial beds. It’s verging on too late for this job, because plants have sprouted and leafed out to the point that one can’t just fling the compost around without worrying about crushing delicate new growth. So I deposit it unevenly and tell myself that as it’s absorbed into the soil, the benefits will trickle down, like wealth from rich to poor. (We’ll see about that).

Day 6: a morning walk with Spouse and Dog along the southward-facing bluffs by Dallas Road. Glorious day, cool enough that the sun feels good; not too windy. Dog wet and happy after romping in the waves; several walkers not happy about wet dog nose. Then back to the garden: potted up a couple of refugee plants, did some spontaneous weeding here and there, and removed a large foxglove plant that was impinging on a clump of asters and some feeble lilies. Foxgloves are another near-weed that does well here (and almost everywhere). This one was the standard magenta type, so no great asset. Away with it! Later: made some Root Beer Barbecue Sauce.

Day 7: another glorious summer-like day (will have to start watering soon, if this keeps up). Went downtown and acquired three books (A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and — with reservations — The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), and some tea (Murchie’s Raspberry and Ceylon Uva), courtesy of generous colleagues and coworkers. At home, stashed away items brought home from the office a week ago — photographs, pen-holders, three rocks (used to weigh down the pages of books being catalogued, or as paperweights) and scraps of paper with helpful or inspiring quotations.

Rocks & Quotes

The quotations: “Faith is the ability to live hopefully without answers.” (Mary Fisher, I’ll Not Go Quietly)

“You don’t want to sharpen the axe for your own execution,” and, “Uncommonness is a reason to prompt reflection and inquiry, not necessarily to exclude.” These two from cataloguer librarians, in posts to the Authorities and Cataloging (Autocat) email discussion list, which as a cataloguer I found to be an invaluable resource.

“Perhaps the greatest folly possible for a culture is to try to pass itself on by using principles of efficiency. When a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough to afford redundancy of nurturers, but eliminates them as an extravagance or loses their cultural services through heedlessness of what is being lost, the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide.” (Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead).

And finally, “The world is full of possibilities. Things irretrievably lost may not be lost. Believe in yourself. Trust your intuition. Stick to what you know to be true. True stature comes from within. Turn grief into music.” (Linda Zuckerman, quoted in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, volume 54, number 1 (January 9, 1995).

Forget-me-nots and Gentian

Forget-me-nots and Gentian

Re-Enchantment

The thing about a garden is that it changes, whether the gardener is involved with it or not. On a Sunday evening the garden is enchanting. Everything is orderly and peaceful. Weeds are eliminated, or at least not evident. Tall plants are staked, lawns are trim. It’s hard to leave it all and go in the house.

Over the course of the working week, visits to the garden may be hurried — quick sessions of watering, picking a lettuce or two or some herbs. Then comes Saturday. The gardener anticipates a return to enchantment.

The garden is fuzzy around the edges. Plants flop and lean; some have collapsed. Twigs and other debris from the midweek windstorm litter the grass. Bloom have become a mass of ugly deadheads. Everything looks like hell. And maybe the sun is hot and glaring or it’s one of those cold, windy days (so common here on the West Coast in summer). Suddenly a trip to the mall seems like the best option.

But you can’t just put a garden aside like a piece of knitting, to be picked up someday when you have more time or interest. There comes a moment when you have to decide to keep going or give up rip out all those plants and sod it over. Even giving up requires action.

The gardener needs re-enchantment. The only way to get it is to go out and start doing something, anything, however small. Pull that weed, set that stake and tie up the sagging plant. Get the watering can and go to the aid of the wilting. Clip that edge. Strangely, clipping the verges of the lawn next to perennial beds makes an astonishing difference. The garden becomes a garden again, instead of just a mess. Suddenly you want to be out there, working in it.  (Of course, it helps if it’s early evening, with the light coming in at the flattering angle, if the wind has dropped and coolness wells up around plants revived by dew or the attentions of the hose and sprinkler).

It comes down to this — a garden must be gardened in. That’s its real purpose — to be a place in which to garden. Have you ever tried just sitting in your garden, doing nothing? How long is it before you notice something — deadheads to snip, a leaner to prop up, or something that simply must be admired at close range? You get up and do it, and then the next thing and the next. By that time, it’s getting hard to see because it’s almost dark and you have to tear yourself away from your little Paradise.