‘Keeping garden’ is just as important as keeping house
Rain, real rain, enough rain to soak the ground under the trees! Enough rain to trigger the rain sensors and shut off the sprinklers. All the plants look invigorated and I am too. When it is hot, I’d rather gaze at my garden from a comfortable chair in the shade than work in it. The longer I look, the more jaundiced my eye becomes and the more dissatisfied I am until I question my ability to make a good garden or why I even want to. Now I am in love with my garden again and eager to start on all the housekeeping that needs to be done.Weeding takes up only a small part of my time in midsummer. Most of my weeds have shed their seed and departed, leaving only brittle skeletons behind. While the pressure to water is off briefly I ought to tinker with my irrigation system.I have neglected two of the easiest and most leisurely tasks, deadheading and deadleafing. Removing individual discolored or dead leaves from a plant is appropriately called deadleafing. However “deadheading” is a gruesome misnomer for what is basically birth control, snipping off spent flowers to prevent seed formation in favor of more blooms or fresh leaves. Both usually enhance the appearance of the plant. Grass and bindweed are perpetual nuisances but mostly at the interface between cultivated and uncultivated areas. I dig up encroaching grass in earnest only once a year, in the spring, although grass stems get pulled when they flower (more birth control). I can’t help but admire field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, one of those incredibly adaptable plants like dandelions and thistles. Spiraling tightly and elegantly around the stalks of its neighbors, it is so adept at insinuating itself that sometimes I don’t notice it until a tendril pokes out of the top of a currant bush or a sunflower starts to look unnaturally leafy. Left unimpeded it can form a rug that smothers everything in its path. Horrors! Every gardener loves to hate it. The instant I spot it, I yank it up. Gerry does the same in his vegetable garden now, though for several years he kept a spray bottle of the herbicide Roundup handy to zap this hydra luxuriating in his rich soil. Unlike other weeds, bindweed never goes into the compost, but into the trash can, and sometimes I just throw it on the asphalt driveway and watch it roast in the sun until it crumbles. Take that! There is a splendid specimen in a downtown Basalt motel planter full of enough pretty little funnel-shaped flowers to seed the valley…Like the set change between acts in a play, the garden character changes as one group of plants exits and another steps into the limelight. Every year I consider getting rid of the vexing plants which go dormant in mid-summer, leaving my border in a mess and big gaps to be filled. The oriental poppies, so gorgeous in bloom, collapse into heaps of coarse, yellowing leaves. For a month or so, the perennial or everlasting sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) nicely hides the poppy’s decline, throwing out three- to four-foot long tentacles, weaving around, over and between everything it encounters, clinging with its intricately curling tendrils. It masks withering bulb foliage, naked delphinium legs and ratty spring blooming perennials alike with upright, long-stemmed sprays of clear, white or rose, pea-like flowers. In late July the stems and leaves closest to the ground start yellowing and withering and the tendrils loosen their grip. No amount of faithful deadheading can stop it from dying back. The stems come out easily if I grasp them one at a time at the base. It’s time to get tough and yank it all out. While I’m at it, I gather up all the leftover bulb and poppy leaves that are now exposed.Good grooming is as important to my garden as it is to my person, but sometimes I just cannot leave well enough alone. I just hate it when I break a flower while I’m fussing around. If a sunflower stem kinks while I’m freeing it from the embrace of bindweed, it is bad enough, but at least I have plenty of sunflowers. If I mash the catmint while replacing a broken spray head, I can cut it back and it will regrow in a few weeks, but If I snap the buds on a lily or crush the lavender while I try to deadhead that last flower that is almost out of reach, that’s it until next year. So don’t get carried away with your clean-up. What a shame, for a plant to have survived foraging deer, voles and chipmunks, poor soil and who knows what else only to get done in by a house-proud gardener!Anna M Naeser’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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