Saturday, October 4, 2014

Haste Makes Serious Waste

The Border before I ruined it. 

Two summers ago I wrote  several columns about a book titled “Gardening For a Lifetime” by Sydney Edison.  It was  full of wonderful suggestions for elderly gardeners like me who no longer have the energy to cope with all the work a large garden requires.  In my case, the large garden was a  perennial border 100 feet long.

I spent that summer and the next following Ms. Edison’s  ideas.  What an irony – working on making the border less work was far more work than I’d ever tackled in the past.

One of Ms. Edison’s first recommendations was to  replace tall plants that require constant work with slow-growing flowering shrubs.  Since my border’s tallest plants were white and pink phlox whose stalks had to be cut with a clipper each fall, they were the first plants that came to mind.  I could break off the stems easily if I waited until spring, but  by then the plants always had time to spread their ripe seeds around the border, usually in the front where tall plants don’t belong. 

When I discovered that the Douglas Library in Canaan was to have a plant sale in late May, I was inspired.  I dug up at least 8 or 9 phlox plants, a really heavy job, and gave them to the library for their sale.  My plan was to replace them with flowering shrubs,  but as many of my readers know,  I’m a parsimonious old lady, and most of my border has been created  with freebies from friends.  As a consequence, I was appalled by the prices of flowering shrubs!  It took me all of June to face spending  $40 or more per shrub, and half  of July to plant them all. 

Mrs. Edison’s second suggestion was to replace  misbehaving plants  with easy-care plants such as hostas or grasses that don’t require  constant work.   By then it was almost August,  not a good time to expect new plants to do well, so I spent the rest of the summer coping with my much neglected vegetable garden and raspberry  bed.

The second summer was even worse as I realized I hadn’t given a thought to the color, size, texture or time of bloom that  makes a garden beautiful.  The shrubs I'd bought hadn't grown tall enough to be seen and I'd forgotten half their names. too busy  getting them planted so they could cope with their new surroundings before summer's serious heat arrived.

I continued  working on the border, but all my digging and transplanting was no longer any fun. Was this day lily  the beautiful one with maroon flowers I’d transplanted or one of the common yellow ones?   Why had I  planted  that rosy red sedum behind that big stand of feverfew so it couldn’t even be seen?  And that new hosta, so close to a clump of wild blue geraniums that were now smothering it?

This past spring the border had hardly any color, just a lot of yellow.  Heliopsis, lemon lilies, a few daffodils and a lot of gray Artemisea which had happily spread in all directions. The border 
needed serious help, but I was too discouraged to face it. Instead  I spent the summer on the dozens of other outside chores on Locust Hill I'd been neglecting. 

In early September a gardening friend stopped by and when she noticed the border, commented on how nice it looked. Having deliberately ignored it all summer, I glanced across the lawn and much to my surprise, realized the border didn’t look half bad. There were lots of  blooming  blue lobelia, several pink asters, nice clumps of feverfew, astilbe and Lady’s Mantle.      

It was certainly nothing to brag about, but it wasn’t  hopeless.  I"ve  now  now taken a dozen photos so I know what’s where, so when spring comes I will be able to think about color, texture, size and time of bloom. I must admit Ididn't enjoy writing this sad tale, and I suspect  you didn't have much fun reading it. Hopefully my next column will be better!                      

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