There are two things going on here in the mind of the Fairegardener as the winter strolls leisurely to its end, taking many side excursions along the path, extending its time in control of sky and earth. There is the conscious effort to back away from trying to insert human control over that which is not meant to be, will not be controlled, in the long term. There is the inexplicable drive to tidy up the garden, whether by habits acquired from a lifetime of gardening, or something deeper in the psyche. Control being the means to make a human imprint on the land, to make it conform to our wishes, fighting the supreme power that nature has over it all.
Would it not be easier to work with that immense power, harness it to do our bidding, by changing what our bidding is? Learning to retrain our mind’s eye,our perception of what is pleasing, to accept the growth patterns rather than do constant battle against the inevitable seems a more reasonable goal in the garden here. And it would be oh so easier on an aging back.
So it is that items on the list of winter tasks previously done by rote, because that is what we had always done, had always read and been told the necessity of doing, have not been accomplished. At first it was a struggle to not grab the pruners and loppers and shears, the rakes and tubs and barrows, to cut and clear the beds to make way for the fresh growth of a new season. But the weather is in cahoots with, or rather an integral part of nature. As are we.
One by one, there has been a reassessment of the value of which chores are needed to maintain a semblance of a garden here, each task evaluated as to the worth of the effort. Cutting the old leaves of the hellebores was the first chore to be evaluated. It was easy when there were four plants, to cut that shabby foliage away to make way for pristine green glossy leaves and bursting buds, but now there are hundreds as the seedlings of the initial planting jumped into our hands and begged to be spread over the entire property. We obliged and now the offspring of the offspring of the offspring are sending out more and more new plants with world domination as the goal. By leaving the old discolored leaves in place to cover those baby plants, they will be starved of the light and moisture necessary for them to prosper and will wither away. So by not doing the leaf cutting, the onslaught of hellebores will be halted. Or so goes the justification for a job left undone. The above photo was taken March 18, 2009.
Another grueling prospect is the mowing of the three curbed areas down by the street. Because this is two properties made into one, there were two seperate driveways that ramp down to the pavement. The two were reformed into one half circle driveway by heavy machinery, forming the frontage of the main house, the middle island between the driveway and the street where the garage was built and the far section that holds the tall pine tree border between us and the house next door. All three of these were planted with three rows of liriope in even spacing to unify them and present an acceptable face to the neighborhood. Many if not every home is planted with liriope here, for it grows well and reduces the need for maintaining the edge of the lawns against sidewalks and curbs. Our planting is interspersed with the daffodil Salome that was planted in the three sections when the clumps of liriope were still small. In a short time small became a solid carpet with the running of roots and throwing of seeds. Pushing the mower has become progressively more difficult as the density thickened, and it should be mentioned that the land is a continuation of the steep splope that runs from the back and highest part of the property down to the bottom at the street. Keeping the mower from sliding downwards was always a battle. We have chosen to lose this battle in order to win the war of save the gardener, in part anyway. The above image of the very first openings of Edgeworthia chrysantha blossoms has absolutely no relevance to this paragraph. We just wanted to show you.
There is one more element that bears mentioning. The center island has been colonized by what began as two plantings of black seeded fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’. It is criminal that this grass is offered for sale anywhere in the southeast United States, but it is. Do not buy it. Do not accept it if a socalled friend offers you some. Run far away as fast as you can. Fair warning. The winter white of this thug completely covers the green liriope. Seedlings of it grow in the asphalt street, splitting the pavement with unstoppable grass roots, that allow even more grass seed to enter and sprout. But the street is the city’s problem, not mine. My responsibility is the center bed, to mow or not to mow it, that is the question. So far we have cut the huge rose Thorny, Rosa ‘Grootendorst Supreme’ down to two foot tall thinned canes. This rose had been allowed to grow for several years untamed and was an eyesore of dead branches tangled with healthy ones. If this kind of behavior continues, it will have to be removed, but for now, it is under control. The tree sized trunks of wild asters were cut with loppers and the native goldenrods, guara, hosta and daylily stalks were stomped down. What remains are the foot tall Moudry blades and seed heads, stomped, so the overall undergrowth is of an even height, acceptable, sort of, if we squint our eyes and adjust our attitude. There are trees and shrubs there also, three green Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Wells Special’, a crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica ‘Zuni’ at each end, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ and J. procumbens ‘Nana’ around the crepes along with several dwarf gold arborvitae. The entire island planting is interspersed with lamb’s ear and nigella seedlings. The bright limbs of red and yellow twig dogwoods, Cornus servicea add color for the cold season.
There is one job that has taken on a new imperative, an area that is the star of the fall garden showcase.
The Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris mass planting along the driveway that has grown to its full potential was cut to ground level and mulched. Rather than the mowing as has been done in the past, it was hand cut on bended knee, pulling stray weeds, only a few can penetrate the thick clumps, and carefully trimming the perennials that were planted behind the grass last year in the creation of our version of the prairie planting at the Lurie in Chicago. Our little strip was christened the Fairelurie, you can read about it by clicking here-Fairelurie Garden-Someday, and it will get the detailed grooming we are still capable of performing until it grows to evolve on its own into something more self sustaining. We still want to garden, but with a lighter footprint. And less wear and tear on the gardener.
The rest of the garden, the part that is not visible to passersby and their untrained scrutiny of what is pleasing and what is a mess of weediness, has been managed in a new way. We stomped around on the standing stalks of dried leaf and seed head, cutting only the tallest and stoutest. Some areas were mulched with bags of soil conditioner, when the weather allowed. There was some adjusting of evergreen plantings with an eye for better spacing and winter interest, moving them closer together if needed. It was usually needed. The inborn method of placing plants, favoring one here one there, has been nearly impossible to overcome. Reaching deep down inside, delving into our core strength of will has been the only way to force the spade to dig the holes closer together for planting, sometimes even making one larger hole and placing the three newly arrived via mail order tiny beings in a magic triangle for future growth. Oh how hard it was to space them so close, like it was somehow being wasteful, knowing they would grow larger and spread, wanting the imagined color, texture and form for which they were purchased to be in many places for enhanced beauty, not just in one mass. We have been slow to see the wisdom of the swath, but understanding has taken root, finally. The newly arrived from Burrd in Australia mini onion finials are standing guard by the pond atop bamboo stakes. They will be used to mark the new lily plantings when they are shipped from Brent and Becky’s. They will be planted close together. Yes they will.
Spring will come. It always has. The new verdant shades of green growth will cover the sins of seasons past. The war of ingrained garden chores versus let it be will settle itself in an easy truce as the flowers bloom and leaves unfurl. Having endured the guilt of the undone once, it will be more readily acceptable with each passing year. It has been justified.