I have them all fooled, you know. All those people who think I work hard at my garden. They go on about my work and I let them because, why not, I have an ego and they are stroking it. But I don’t work hard in my garden. I don’t like to work hard. Mother Nature is the gardener. She does most of the work. I am just the part-time custodian. Between the two of us, we manage to create a pretty nice display every year.
I read about serious gardeners. The ones who are outside in April, planning and cleaning up while I stay indoors until the weather gets better. I ignore the recommended timing for most spring gardening tasks because there are very few April days here in Nova Scotia that are not cold or wet. When the weather does improve, the black flies appear. And don’t get me started on the black flies. I usually try once a year to get outside during black fly season. Only once, and I usually fail. It could be mid June before I get any quality time in the garden.
As of the first of August this year, there were still parts of my garden that I hadn’t touched. Yet things get done to my satisfaction with some help from Mother Nature who works 24-7 in all weather conditions. She contributes by drying up and decaying last year’s garden remnants and by conjuring up a timely winds to blow away remaining leaves.
Serious gardeners are adverse to weeds in their garden beds. I can’t be adverse. There are 15 billion weeds in my garden. If you think I am exaggerating, I am not. But I may be erring on the low side so the number could be closer to 25 billion weeds. I live in a breezy rural area. Weeds can come from across the road or from far and wide to live my garden.
Of the 15 billion weeds in my garden, at least 5 billion are yellow clover. If I picked nothing but yellow clover every day for the rest of my life, I would not eradicate it. It is prolific. It arrived in our lawn several years ago and liked our yard so much it settled in. Believe me yellow clover is not the type of clover they recommend you include in your lawn. At least I like the colour yellow.
My yard is edged with big beautiful trees, mostly maple but also birch, elm and a few evergreens. They like to create seedlings. Infant trees, fighting to create a new forest in my garden beds, make up 2 billion of the 15 billion weeds in my garden. I hate to call trees weeds, but given the definition of the word, they are in unwanted spots.
Another couple of billion of my so-called weeds are actually babies of existing plants that I need to decide whether to pull or let live. I have let many babies live over the years. I would not have the garden I have without all those babies, but these days most babies need to be pulled.
Many of the weeds, future trees and babies are tiny things that my stubby gloved fingers and thumb just can’t get a good grip on. Most of them won’t survive, which is something I take into account. My weeding technique is to grab the larger ones, the about-to-bloom ones and the about-to-go-to-seed ones and leave anything smaller than the length of my fingernail. I know that if I rake the damn things up, I will disturb the soil and expose more weed seeds that will happily germinate, sprout and fill in in less than a week.
I then wait patiently for my favourite day of the summer, usually around July 1st. The day my plants are grown and filled in to the point that I can’t see most of those weeds unless I really look for them. So I don’t look. I am a big-picture person; and when I stand back and look at the big picture, I like what I see. There will always be weeds to pick when I feel like picking them, but I have learned to ignore many of them.
The serious gardeners follow a schedule that requires certain things to be done at certain times. Things like a major garden cleanup in the fall. Why? I wonder, when you are probably going to have to do another cleanup in the spring. Plus, leaving the dead plant material for Mother Nature to naturally decay over the winter feeds the soil and gives me a reason not to have to fertilize. So rarely fertilize.
My strategy for success in the garden is to plant things that are easy to grow. Things that are drought tolerant in the summer and don’t mind the freezing Nor’easters that blow up the slopes of my backyard in the winter. Like a lot of Nova Scotians, I grow ditch lilies. I love them. They remind me of my grandmother, and they help stabilize my slopes. Most elite gardeners and gardening books poo-poo ditch lilies. I also let hardy cranesbills geraniums cover many of my slopes to help hold soil and moisture in place. They are everywhere and look wonderful when in bloom. In addition, Coreopsis, bee balm, hosta and black-eyed Susans, all plants that love my slopes, have spread into large masses of summer colour.
Most of the plants in my garden are pretty common; but as a diversion, I toss in the odd eye catcher, like a huge rhubarb that stands six feet high when in bloom or my stunning Satomi dogwood tree. These oh-wow plants command so much attention that no one notices the weeds and unruly parts of my yard.
Unlike serious gardeners, I rarely water. The Doc waters his veggies but my flowers are ignored. To me, water is a precious resource that I don’t waste. Flower gardens are vanity projects and my water supply is more important than how pretty my garden looks. The year I created my very-large back garden, Mother Nature decided we would have a rainy summer. An Irish summer I called it because everything was so lush and green. I honestly didn’t have to water that summer and now, many years later, I still don’t water unless I have split or moved something or added a new plant. Then it’s only one or two buckets before the plants are left in Mother’s capable hands. She has free reign to decide what thrives and what doesn’t make it in my yard.
As I mentioned before, I am a big-picture person. I don’t get upset over leaves that aren’t green or a plant that has been nibbled by an insect or other creature. I don’t need everything to be perfect. If something doesn’t look well, I just keep an eye on it. Quite often, It comes back on its own. If not the current year, then the next year. I spray aphids with a little insecticidal soap if they are infesting certain shrubs. And yes, I pick off lily beetles. To make this task easier, I have moved all the lilies to more convenient spots.
My policy for gardening is no rules, no deadlines. Something I implemented years ago because I don’t like, rules, structure, deadlines or anything else that reminds me of work. My sometimes unruly garden truly reflects this policy. It is my nice-weather project and a great reason to avoid cleaning the house. It is also therapy. I can either clear my head or do some deep thinking while I leisurely putt around in it without pressure. While I am on my hands and knees pulling yellow clover, the hummingbirds are swooping above my head, the bees are buzzing around me and I can hear the swoosh of ravens’ wings. So I will always be happy to get out in my garden; but if starts to feel like work, which it occasionally does, I will stop and go do something else. Maybe read a book. Maybe pour a glass of wine. My garden will still be there when I feel like returning.