Tending the garden
I would prefer to call the removal of spent flowers anything but a graceless and graphic “deadheading.”I don’t know the etymology of the word, but ever since Tracy DiSabato-Aust published the definitive “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” in 1998, it is as firmly rooted in the horticultural vocabulary as the word “pruning.” She also popularized “deadleafing” for tidying up dead leaves. These are just a few of the words for techniques used to take care of a garden – I don’t see any of them as separate actions. I don’t say to myself, “Today I’m going to deadhead.” I’m with DiSabato-Aust when she declares, “Let’s not think of it as maintenance but as gardening!” That’s what it’s all about.There’s a female black-headed grosbeak in the serviceberry eating berries. Neither it nor any of the other feasting birds seems to care that they aren’t ripe yet. While I’m watching the dinner party, I notice that the rosebush next to it has finished blooming and since I know that it might re-bloom in late summer and that the fruit or hips aren’t particularly interesting, I make a mental note to clip them and keep the bush from dissipating its energy on seeds. Removing a nearby perennial pea vine threatening to pull down a yellow Asiatic lily with its weight, reveals the creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens, all done blooming, vigorously sending runners shooting in all directions like crazy. It was such a delight in late spring, flowing around the serviceberry, cheery golden flowers held aloft over lustrous leaves. I’ve found I can keep it in bounds by grabbing handfuls of the old flower stems and yanking them out by the roots. It feels crude, but it’s easy and works, not just for buttercups, but for other energetic growers like mints, lamb’s ears and snow-in-summer that I love for their robustness and ability to fill in bare ground graciously and make me look good.As I watch the birds or wander through one part of my garden or another, I revel in the continual changes. They may be in slow motion – not that slow, it’s July already – but they are inexorable. Sometimes I wish I could make a particular scene last forever, but trees and shrubs grow, flowers come and flowers go. My goal is to keep successive waves of opening blossoms looking as fresh as when they first came into bloom while they cycle through their prime flowering into seed production and to encourage flowers at the expense of seeds. But if the overall picture is lovely, I might leave well enough alone. If nothing obvious sticks out to spoil the scene, I might abstain from grooming even if it would coax more blooms for a longer time. Why gild the lily?Speaking of lilies, they are one of those wonderful plants that cleanly drop their petals and don’t need tidying. But since mine don’t have rich soil and I want to encourage stronger, bigger plants, I cut off just the flowering part of the stem. By fall, the leafless dried stalks pull out easily, but I leave them over the winter to mark the lilies’ location until the new stems are up. Carelessly damage the growing point of a lily, and there won’t be any flowers. I’ve had good luck with lilies in spite of growing them lean, but Colorado garden literature sometimes suggests treating them like annuals. Could it be that in our climate, they actually need to be grown lean to survive?When I wander around admiring my garden I invariably take along my trusty clippers and a small basket. I constantly want to touch my plants with my fingers as well as my eyes and when I can’t spend hours on my knees in the garden at a time, or even when I can, clipping off a wilted blossom here, a broken stem there and dropping them in my basket fulfills that need. As often as not, I return to the house with a full basket stuffed and a happy frame of mind. Maintenance-free gardening? Preparing soil, planning and planting are just the beginning: The real joy comes in tending the garden.Anna gardens with her husband, Gerry, in Basalt. You can get in touch with her at email@example.com
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