Cheryl Miller: Universal garden rules
I spent most of 2009 enjoying the freedom that comes with retirement. We tossed our rigid schedules and old routines by the wayside and, with the exception of commitment to our pets, we came and went as we pleased. I knew that eventually there would be hell to pay for the nearly total neglect of my gardens, but I did it anyway.
The spring of 2010 came early. Weeds in the gardens multiplied with savage abandon: seeds produced the previous year germinated enthusiastically in the warming soil, taproots grew brawny and deep, and stolons crawled boldly into unoccupied places where they had no business going. Worse, several unknown weed species had hitchhiked in with our last load of topsoil. They hobnobbed with the old familiar squatters, and together they plotted an insidious assault on neatness and order and deliberate garden geometry.
I admit that on seeing the full riot and ruin at the end of May, I had a fleeting impulse to fall to my knees and implore, “My god, why hast thou forsaken me?” Instead, I figuratively grabbed the devil by one of his pointy ears and told him to get on back to hell because I had work to do.
As with any other kind of physical labor, weeding actually has a salubrious effect on the mind and body: it quiets the jumble of anxious thoughts, oils the joints, and tones flabby muscles. After the initial discomfort, it starts feeling good to sweat and strain, to pull and throw. The motion becomes a kind of crazy rhythm punctuated with grunts of effort, slaps at biting insects and occasional lusty swear words. You suddenly realize that you are having a great time.
As I was so enjoying myself yesterday, I found myself compiling in my head a list of what might be called Universal Garden Rules:
1. The grass isn’t greener on “the other side.” It’s greener between the rhizomes of bearded iris, where it grows unnoticed until each stem is sporting a feathery tassel of seeds that dances on the gentlest puff of air. Every effort to remove them results in the unintentional sowing of another square foot of unseemly grass.
2. The most prolific plants in the garden are the ones you didn’t put (and don’t want) there. They either have needle-like spines that lodge painfully in the fingertips; a mechanism that launches hard, round seeds toward the eyes when you bend to pluck them; inch-long flesh-shredding thorns; leaves, stems or seeds that stick like glue to everything that touches them; or ooze a sticky substance that soap and water can’t cut.
3. That carefully selected new plant will never conform to the promise of the literature. If you choose a shrub to neatly fill the space beneath a window, it’s a sure bet that you won’t be able to see daylight after a year or two. If you choose a shrub to block the view of your neighbor’s garbage cans, it will never become more than a puny little stick, a veritable arrow directing attention to the eyesore.
4. The cuter its name, the more diabolical the weed. Bedstraw (Gallium aparine), horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinal) would be more aptly named Velcro, Neverdie and Yellow Curse.
5. No matter what he tells you, the composted horse manure from your neighbor’s pasture is loaded with viable seeds — and they all have really cute names.
This list is by no means exhaustive; I will undoubtedly be inspired to think of others when the air turns blue during tomorrow’s weeding session.
Contact Cheryl Miller at Fortuna_reilly@yahoo.com.