Spring in the Garden of Good and Evil, Part 1
I bought a container of bright fuchsia Pinks from a display in front of the grocery store this morning. It was a whim purchase, since I have other yard issues at the moment, and really don’t need to be buying random plants. I must have looked like I was going straight home to create a personal botanical garden, because a woman several cars away from where I was loading my groceries into the trunk ran over to me, and said, “You must be a gardener.” I said, “Oh, only a casual one!” Then she started asking me a string of questions about what the beautiful plant was, when to plant, how deep, how long the blooms would last….and on, and on. I couldn’t figure out what made her think I was such an expert, other than that the pink flowers were in the perfect color range with what I was wearing. Fortunately, I looked at the tag to see that the flowers were Dianthas (Pinks) before I mistaken told her they were Bachelor Buttons.
I’ve been a real gardener from time to time. At this time in my life, recent events to the contrary, I am a casual gardener, one who might buy a plant or two along with the milk and cereal at Kroger in the spring, stick them in the ground, and then expect profuse blooming from that moment until doomsday without further attention from me.
We have lived in our house for eleven years this spring. I loved it right away for its tucked in the woods kind of look, in spite of it being situated in the heart of one of the busiest areas of Nashville. A very nice thing about a woodland house is that the garden is supposed to look a little on the wild side. Too much fussing and you end up with a garden that requires more than you want to give in time, exertion and money. In our little woodland paradise, we refer to tangles of vines as “habitat”, and to the honeysuckle growing all around the border as a “welcome buffer to surrounding houses and city sounds.” Over the years, I’ve seen owls, foxes, flocks of bluebirds, deer, and one very lost great blue heron in my yard. I’ve also seen possums, coyotes, and a surplus of rabbits and chipmunks. The wild side and I have coexisted without incident, and I have, with a few exceptions, maintained a casual relationship with this yard and garden. Beautiful flowers open in my garden in every season, yes, even in winter when the hellebores bloom.
From time to time, I’ve gone forth into my garden with a shovel and Tensing in tow, to bring a tiny bit of order to honeysuckle’s rampant growth. Tensing shovels up a honeysuckle by the roots, I shake the dirt loose and put it in a garbage bag. Beyond that I haven’t been willing to go. I’m not oblivious to the damage that honeysuckle causes, but a casual gardener does not pick battles than can not be won, even if capitulation to the enemy means my garden is regarded with scorn by the Native Plant Community.
In addition to a lack of interest in warfare with honeysuckle, I have chosen to omit some other Tennessee gardening challenges from a life well lived. Feeding mosquitos with my own blood is at the top of that list, and, although there is nothing written on my calendar, there is a day in May when I hang up the shovel and gloves, and refuse to be a human sacrifice to those evil bloodsuckers. I have a serious gardening friend who wears a mosquito netting suit so she can work in her garden at any time all summer long. That is simply beyond the scope of casual gardening.
Snakes and Ticks
Although there are only four kinds of venomous snakes in Tennessee (copperhead, cottonmouth and two kinds of rattlesnakes), there are many others that lie under rocks, waiting for them to be overturned by a foolhardy gardener with a false sense of security. Depending on the individual’s ability to handle such trauma, the casual gardener may merely delay further work in the garden while recovering from the shock, or abandon it indefinitely.
Ticks are not as alarming because you don’t come upon them as a big surprise. They are, in fact, something of an afterthought, discovered long after actual work in the garden is done, and do not warrant a bloody murder scream. The casual gardener does not like being surprised by a snake, or any kind of intimate contact with a tick. All the other creatures that live in the dirt that I can think of at the moment are OK and should be allowed to live in peace. Except spiders, and yes, I do know that most spiders are beneficial to the garden. I just don’t see spider bites as beneficial to me.
Grass, or rather, Lack of Grass
As a casual gardener, I do not mind the grime, dirt-caked shoes and broken fingernails that come with the territory. Strange how meditative gardening can be. I’m not sure why. The combination of hard work, hot sun, humidity, and dripping sweat (we get way beyond dewiness while working in a garden) doesn’t come to mind as the most calming activity, but I always feel very serene. Maybe because no one wants to bother you for fear they would be pressed into service, so you can concentrate completely on the task at hand.
The casual gardener does not like to spend money on grass and fertilizer, only to harvest more and more weeds every season. That is nothing but a slap in the face for trying to nice to your yard. The casual gardener does not have an interest in an advanced botanical degree, and how else would one know that a yard needs lime, and that is why it is turning into a dirt pile interspersed with a few wispy weeds and moss?
Poison ivy is not a welcome sight in a casual garden, or any other for that matter. That sneaky devil likes to hide, only to reveal itself in your hand when you thought you were just thinning vinca. It also hides underneath Virginia Creeper and rubs against your ankles and legs like a cat until you’ve uprooted the creeper and can see what trouble you are in. Too late. Might as well put everything away for the day and take your shower.
There wasn’t any poison ivy in my yard until a few years ago. It is a prolific grower, and difficult to eradicate. I bought a can of poison ivy spray, and used it from time to time, but I generally stayed out my garden for a few years until I evidently sprayed it into oblivion . Too risky.
We are coming up on the two year anniversary of the Great Nashville Flood of 2010. My peonies were in the way of that, along with a dozen or more bags of newly spread mulch in the front yard. I’d like to think somebody in the drainage ditch downstream managed to salvage and use it. All I ever get from upstream are broken children’s toys, discarded Christmas trees and empty liquor bottles.
Late freezes are big stressors to gardeners, except to the casual gardener wh0 doesn’t rush the spring season by planting things that then require all the sheets and towels in the linen closet to be thrown over them so they don’t freeze to death when the thermometer drops to 22 degrees after three weeks of temps in the 80’s. Why this should be a surprise, I cannot guess, since it happens every single year! Of course, the casual gardener might miss the planting season altogether, which isn’t good. Thank goodness for those display racks in front of Kroger. Oh, yeah, I should buy a plant and put it in the garden somewhere.
Dry summers are terrible, especially when they are officially referred to as extended droughts. There was a long, destructive one a few years ago. Old trees suffered damage they will never recover from. Conditions were so bad that the yards of those who faithfully watered didn’t look any better than the yards of casual gardeners who did not. It was actually a dead tree, probably from that summer’s drought, that prompted this lengthy discourse on my garden. I’ll get to that.
Several years ago rabbits began multiplying in my yard like, well, rabbits. They ate everything with leaves on it. Everything! They even lived, and, I’m sure bred, under my front porch, running out from under it every time I descended the steps. If people using the porch are so frightening to them, why don’t they pick another spot to convene? One day, as my grandson and I were leaving the house, I lost my live-and-let-live attitude, and took off after a rabbit that ran out from under the step, screaming names at it, stomping and waving my arms. I’ve never really seen a stunned and speechless two year old before that moment. I don’t think he has been permanently traumatized, however, as he is five now, and seems to be OK with rabbits, and with grandmothers.
There might be a home remedy somewhere to get rid of those pesky rodents, but I know from experience that fox urine in powder form does not deter them. I think it is a fake. Just where and how is such a thing collected, anyway? no need to answer. I’m getting one of those mental pictures.
In spite of, or maybe because of, my laissez-faire attitude, I enjoy my garden. What little trouble I endure is worth it when I wander the yard with my camera, but I know where I can visit some spectacular gardens which are completely cared for by others, so my yard shouldn’t start thinking I need it! No weeding, watering, transplanting, fertilizing, or mulching on my part at all in those gardens. No snakes, ticks, rabbits, poison ivy, mud or sunburn, and if I want cut flowers, Kroger has nice ones.
Oh, yes, now, about that dead tree. I think that story belongs in another post since this one is about living as a casual gardener. Nothing has been casual around here since the day the dead tree was called to my attention. That tale will be told in Spring in the Garden of Good and Evil, Part 2. I will add a link here when I get it written.