Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Teacher in the Garden

       I love getting emails from my readers.  It’s the only way I know who’s out there reading.  Sometimes gardeners ask me for help in solving their gardening problems, and more often than not I don’t know the answer. Not wanting to admit my ignorance, I  look through my many garden books for the solution, something anyone can do.   
       I like to think of Weeds and Wisdom as primarily entertainment with a few bits of helpful information thrown in.  I would make a very poor teacher.  But now that I come to think of it, working in my perennial border is sometimes as difficult as trying to control a class of 3rd graders. 

       When school begins each spring, my students are on their best behavior, all arriving in class looking very neat and tidy.  The bright blue clumps of Chinese forget-me-nots along the front of the border look as if they were marching in uniforms.  The groups of daffodils are so attractive they  should have their pictures taken, and most of my other pupils are too new to misbehave.    

        As the school year progresses, however, all too many students start  giving me trouble.  Artemisia  is the worst.    As it turns out that genus contains more than 50 species, so I couldn’t even guess which one I have.  Their common names, Wormwood and  Mugwort, are so unattractive! The  rascal in my garden acts as if he were out on the playground, instead of in the classroom,  running roughshod over all his fellow students. Just look at how he is invading the astilbe that hasn't even gotten a chance to bloom yet.

       I’m sure all teachers have kids whom they consider dead-heads. Iris is the one that comes to my mind. She comes to school looking absolutely beautiful, her dresses so colorful, but after a few days she starts to look pretty drab, detracting from the other Irises. Of course  removing deadheads from the class is easy.  It’s when these girls start crowding each other that problems begin.  Rhizomes that start fighting for space  provide a perfect environment for diseases, which means they must be dug up after blooming and be replanted.  If I put them in a large circle with their stems facing out, they will all grow away from each other and do well for three or four years

Many Deadheads                                      Picked  Clean
I usually have a few pupils who  are true teacher’s pets, rarely giving me trouble.  One is Granny Bonnet columbine,.  Compared to the red and yellow blooms of the wild columnbine, the Granny Bonnet has a beautiful long-spurred hairdo of deep purple and white which fades to a gentle lavender as she grows older. I also have her cousin, a pure white columbine.  These girls can sit almost anywhere in the classroom without giving me problems. 

Granny Bonnet Columbine 

      Now you might think I’d consider Miss Peony a teacher’s pet after raving about her in my last column,  and she definitely deserves an A in almost all her subjects. If given the right seat (so her “eyes” are an inch below the soil) at the right time of year (late September) she will do her homework, producing handsome foliage and sweet smelling blooms that are long-lasting when picked for a bouquet. Where she fails is in deportment. 

      Such poor posture!  I’ve tried several ways to keep her upright.  Nothing works very well, but I’ve found that chicken wire does best.  Put over the newly sprouting stems and gently raised as the stems grow, the wire becomes invisible when the plant is fully grown. After a heavy rain, however, the blooms usually lean over so far they’re touching their toes.

      Another teacher’s pet you might not love as much as I do.  It’s feverfew. This pretty little daisy self seeds so readily that I often find new ones suddenly appearing under the apple tree or even in the vegetable garden, but if you consider that bad behavior, they can easily be removed.  Feverfew never seems to get sick and is always alert and attentive  throughout the school year.  If she looks a bit scraggly after a year or two, she just needs a haircut to continue looking well. 

       Below are  photos of some  more students  who usually behave well all through the school year.  

Lady's Mantle 

      It’s hard to believe that last one is a geranium, Its Latin name is Geranium himalayeuse Birch. It can make a perfect circle of flowers at least two feet across. 

      I haven’t mentioned the new students I add each year, the annuals. They are always a big help – tall ones like cleome, and short ones like alyssum, and some colorful zinnias in between.

       I don’t think being a teacher is half as much fun as being a gardener.  But by the time October comes, we gardeners are definitely ready for a vacation.!


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