Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Garden Vision

Lilac 'Little Boy Blue' (also sold as 'Wonderblue,' 
a shorter variety that gets only 6 feet tall)

I don't know about other gardeners, but I've been through various phases in my life as it relates to my yard.  I've been through the "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm going to throw some stuff in the ground and see what happens" phase.  I've gone through the "I know a little bit, so I'm going to try all sorts of stuff and see what I like" stage.  I've been bitten by the "I love this plant and I must try to plant as many varieties of it as possible" mania.  I've "gone organic," I've created a "square foot garden," I've done the "front yard cottage garden-cum-Victorian border" thing.  I've even had the "how the heck did I end up with so many plants crammed into this small yard?" epiphany.  Now I'm coasting through the "working full time with tween/teen kids suburban garden upkeep hit-or-miss marathon."  I've kept elements of my previous garden incarnations, though.  They all have influenced me in some way as a gardener.  I don't know that I have a gardening philosophy as such - it's more a loose collection of garden ideas that have stuck with me while other interests or fads have been left behind.  Here's where I am in the garden looking forward in the winter of 2013:

A garden is an open-ended project, a love affair that changes over time.  Enjoy the ride, and embrace the changes.  Stasis isn't an option - stasis is dead.  My yard won't look like a picture in a magazine, posed and retouched and enhanced and almost plastic.  Living systems change and grow, and sometimes wither and die in their season or through accident or infestation, so we should work with them, not against them.  It's good to have a vision, but keep it real.  (Same thing with marriage and children, I might add.)

Oriental lily 'Bergamo.'

Find what you like and what grows well for you, and use it generously.  I still have quite a number of the plants I've loved over the years, often multiples of each kind.  Peonies, irises, daylilies, daffodils, tulips, nicotiana, zinnias, hosta, ornamental grasses, columbine, shasta daisies, poppies - if it's a good thing worth using once, it's worth using with judicious repetition.

Use as little chemical intervention in the garden as possible.  I'm not 100% organic in the yard - we had to resort to some commercial weed killer in the front yard to get the upper hand on a huge ground ivy infestation.  But we're mostly organic in the yard, and have healthy soil full of worms.  We can't control runoff and wind-blown chemical spray from our neighbors who do use commercial lawn services, though.  We don't live in a bubble.

Provide some habitat and help for local birds, animals and insects.  We don't have a wild yard, but we have a patch of wild plants at the back of the yard, in the "Four Corners" area where our yard meets three neighbors' yards.  All over the yard I plant flowers that attract insects and hummingbirds.  I've got a bluebird house, and a continuously-stocked bird feeder and hummingbird feeder.  Every little bit helps.  I love watching the birds, and having the hummers buzz us on the porch when I put up a fresh feeder of nectar.  (I also love watching Molly the cat chatter and twitch at the window at those feathery, tasty morsels so close, yet so far away.)



Crocuses - such a joyful pop of color after a dreary, gray winter.

Plant what you like, not necessarily what's popular.  I don't care about "garden fashion," "IT plants," "must-haves," and being trendy.  Some new things are fun to try each year, but a garden of novelties and "standout personalities" can become a visual cacophony.  If I try something new and I like it and it grows well, it can stay.  If I don't like it, there's no point in growing it any more. Someone else will grow it somewhere else.  Good for them.

Milkweed.  I've let it grow in the wild part of our yard, for monarch butterflies.

Nothing tastes as good as home-grown food.  I try something new in the veggie patch every year.  I want to grow and preserve more of our own food, so that's something I'd like to learn more about this year.  It's easy to start strong in the spring, then slack off in the high summer and lose produce to bugs and weeds and neglect.  I always seem to be working on consistency in tending my vegetables.


Work a little, often.  Just doing a little weeding every day makes the chore much more do-able, especially with a large yard.  Same thing with dead-heading, and edging.  A little every day keeps any one thing from becoming an overwhelming mess or problem, or a backbreaking weekend-long chore.

Don't be afraid of bold color.  Have fun with your palette.  But don't forget to have places where your eye can find "rest" too, with neutral or muted colors to give your eyes a break, or greens to punctuate the color theme.


The crabapple tree in our old yard.  Soooo fragrant, I really miss it.

Stand back and LOOK at the garden at least once a week.  I'm good at close-ups.  Witness how many hundreds of pictures of individual flowers I have on my computer.  But I have to remind myself to stand back and look at the garden as a whole, checking for balance, symmetry, and health, for places that draw the eye and places where the eye can rest.  Rhythm, fragrance, texture, sound - it's the little things that make the big picture special, I think.


Ask for help with the big things.  I'm not 25 any more, by a long shot.  I've got a husky teen and a strong tween, and they can lend a hand once in a while.  Safety Guy helps with the mowing and with hauling baskets of weeds to the compost bins.  Princess likes to help weed or harvest vegetables (sometimes - it depends on her mood, you know!).  My husband is always willing to pitch in if I need a hand with something heavy or strenuous.  Many hands make light work, right?  And we all enjoy the benefits of the garden.

Pay attention to your yard.  Look for the microclimates, those pockets or patches of ground where certain conditions will allow specific plants to flourish.  Too dry, too shady, too whatever is just an opportunity to try something different.  Really make a habit of looking closely at your plants.  You'll also be able to catch problems while they're small, rather than going out one day and saying, for instance, "Goodness, didn't I have a shed in this corner, instead of this monster trumpet vine the size of an elephant?"  Or, "Didn't I have a bunch of nice tomatoes coming along here, but now I've got great honking big striped caterpillars eating my plants?"

Put a comfortable chair or two around the garden, where you can just sit and enjoy it.  I have my rocker and some Adirondack chairs on the back porch, and a bench on the front porch facing the sunset.  Different views, same result:  peacefulness.  Make places to just rest - after all, to my mind that's one of the main benefits to gardening.  After all that work, rest, peace, and satisfaction.

Stokes' aster.