Do You Work Too Hard?

Loyal readers of this column are very hard working people. They love their gardens and the labor involved is one of joy. How do I know this.? Several readers write to me via email... I truly sense your anxiety about making your garden a better place. I understand all this. I will work for hours in my garden pruning, collecting plant material, handpicking Japanese beetles off my beloved rose bushes, collecting elderberries. I love my gardens but am never completely happy with them.

I have been thinking about this. Some aspects of gardening have been simplified over the years. We do not have formally pruned shrubs (and certainly no pruned topiaries). We tend to enjoy shrubs that have naturally attractive shapes such as lilacs, Rose of Sharon, Weigelia, pussywillows, clethra. We keep these attractive by removing stems at the base of the shrub. Cutting such shrubs into shapes is unnatural and ultimately deforms them.

Since I really hate using pesticides in a home garden my philosophy is if the specimen is that disease prone it has no place in our garden. If a specimen requires constant maintenance for survival it is time to say “Good by”.

A problem which I am trying to address is the problem of rambunctious plants. You all know who they are. I rue the day I planted Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) It doesn't simply spread. It comes up in the middle of other plants.  I bought and planted the seeds of the annual Verbena boniarensis several years ago. It certainly does fill in any bare spots in the perennial garden in the waning months of summer and autumn!  There are others......

I know what the solution to all this is! We must lower our expectations. A garden filled with rambunctious plants may indicate healthy soil (or not). Ultimately each of us must find his or her comfort level. I think I will remain a compulsive gardener. I actually love planting, pruning,and transplanting.

On another note you may wish to consider September as a good time to add trees and shrubs to the landscape. There is often so much to do in the spring that the time for making new plantings often slips by.  Balled and burlapped trees (called B & B in the nursery trade) have a large ball of soil . They are preferred for autumn planting.(I like to have the burlap removed just prior to planting. No, Carol Ann does not plant trees as she is a small person but she does plant shrubs.) Trees and shrubs that have been grown in containers must have the roots loosened up prior to planting , even cut, as this promotes new root growth. Save the planting of bare root trees and shrubs for spring planting as they have a lower rate of success getting established before the ground freezes if planted now. If you plan to move and plant the tree yourself remember to carry the tree by the ball, not by the trunk. Take care to dig the hole about 3 times the diameter of the mass of roots in the ball. The tree should be planted only to the depth of the root flare. Only add soil amendments if the soil is in need of this. Otherwise your good intentions may be for naught as the tree settles too low in the ground. Water often and well.

I read my email while away and was delighted to hear from readers. Eugene wrote “My Hens and Chickens have sprouted appendages more than a foot long, with tiny flower clusters nearly touching the ground from the sheer weight. Am I supposed to cut those long stems off at the base, dig them out, or what?” I replied that these were indeed the flower stalks and they should be cut off after they bloom unless you wish to collect the seeds. Hens and chickens usually reproduce by underground stems.

Forever Young Magazine September 2006